Monday, December 19, 2005

Where are the issues?

I’ve now completed a full survey of the four political party websites I am interested in: Conservative, Liberal, NDP, and Green, and I have to marvel at a comment that I heard on CBC Radio this morning. The intro to ‘The Current” asserted that up until now, the election campaign has been extremely civilized and focused on the issues, with parties announcing policy planks on a frequent basis, and very little negative campaigning and name calling. Never mind that ‘The Current’ went on to complain that the election campaign was boring, and implied that they’d like to see some more mud being tossed around, which I think was remarkably irresponsible. Reward good behaviour, don’t punish!

With that tangent out of my system, I have to say that my survey of the party websites does not support the assertion that the parties have been campaigning on this issues. On a party by party basis, here is my opinion (BTW, I focused on the sections of the parties website actually labelled “Issues” or “Policies” – if they don’t put it where it’s easy to find, that their problem):

Liberals: First of all, I don’t care “What people are saying about the Liberals and x,” even if the people cited are high mucky-mucks of institutions that have a (biased!) opinion on the topic. Second, it is all very nice for you to tell me what you did, and I recognize that some of things you are saying you “did” are actually things that will disappear if you lose the election, but what I’m really interested in are your innovative policies for the future. You don’t really frame any of your website in that way, and therefore, you are sadly lacking in detail for your future plans.

Conservatives: Apart from a detailed plan for improving the accountability of the government, the blurbs on the key issues are brief. Though they set policy goals, they do not give any detail as to the reasons for the choice of policy, or the implementation plan, and they are fairly limited goals at that. For example, the much publicized $1200/family child care handout, which doesn’t talk about why they have selected a number for which it is unrealistic to expect quality child care (just under $5/day, provided that you don’t make enough money to have it clawed back). Or the goal to be: “supporting Canada’s farmers and resource industries such as forestry, fishing and mining. Nice buzz-words, and in general I agree that the things the Conservative Party highlights as key issues are the most important to me; but I don’t get a good sense as to what I can expect if they come to power.

NDP: This site does a great job of ripping apart the Liberal leadership and accomplishments or lack thereof, and repeats about a billion times the fact that they brokered a budget deal which implemented some of the NDP spending priorities. However, what do the NDP stand for? What policy goals would they implement if they had the opportunity? Not a word. This site is all about asking Canadians to elect 30 NDP members instead of 19, so that they can be a more effective counterweight to the presumably minority party in power. But a counterweight in what direction? Every party says they are behind health care; I want to know what innovative policies the NDP would bring to the table.

Green: The party has only recently thrown together some content to occupy their Policies and Platform section, and they still haven’t formally published a platform. Nonetheless, they have the most volume of information published by any of the parties, currently mostly in the form of press releases, which are summarized and linked in each policy area, with a couple of policy papers that are a few pages in length. The site itself doesn’t give me a great sense of cohesive vision, but it does give me a sense of new ideas, and of the reasoning behind those ideas.

So, in my opinion the best website belongs to the Green Party, not that it is going to matter, as they are unlikely to elect more than a few MPs, and the clear-cut worst web-site is the NDP. As Andrew quipped the other day, he’d like to vote for the NDP but Layton is just making it so damn hard! Does he think we have a memory deficit that we need to read and hear “Vote NDP and we’ll get thing done” a million times in order to remember that his party exists?

But if this evaluation was hoping to determine a winner, I think the only conclusion I can come to is that the Canadian public is the loser. Election time should be when the country comes together to engage in debate and dialogue about the issues that matter most. Instead what I see is the four solitudes whistling into the wind, none ever really addressing the questions asked by the others. Even while trying to shred an opponent’s platform, which the NDP and the Liberals do explicitly, all I see are errors in fact and information taken out of context being used against each other.


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