A constant point of throat-clearing from pundits and politicians this past election was its sheer length. The tone was mostly negative; the 42nd general election, weighing in at 78 days, was the longest since the 1872 victory of John A. Macdonald in the second ever federal contest. Although many Canadians felt political fatigue after the extended eleven-week campaign, it is undeniably preferable to its shorter counterparts.
In retrospect, it now seems that campaigns past are not long enough to truly decide who will govern the country. The sheer brutality of the campaign is a natural sorting mechanism for those who deserve to lead (for example, when a party loses steam and drive, like the NDP did). A long campaign will show which party is most organized and can best stand up to long hours, media pressure, and citizen scrutiny, and will ultimately uncover who wants it most.
The gauntlet also has the effect of blocking out those who shouldn’t be anywhere near public office. Let it be known: those who are not potty trained or have never heard of Auschwitz need not apply (it is kind of heart-warming, though, that abject stupidity crosses party lines). This is not to encourage a total social media witch-hunt — far from it. Jonathan Kay, editor-in-chief at the Walrus, perfectly describes the danger of this modern day purging, like what happened to Liberal hopeful Ala Buzreba, whose campaign came to an end when some vile teenage tweets resurfaced. As Kay writes, “If Buzreba had instead sold drugs when she was a teenager, her name might be permanently protected from public dissemination under the Youth Criminal Justice Act . . . It may seem cruel that a few online tempests can ruin a young woman’s political career, but that’s how the world works these days.”
This is not to misunderstand the true nature of why this campaign outlasted Charles Tupper’s prime ministership (as the Ottawa Citizen pointed out). It doesn’t take any serious political science to point out that the Conservatives lengthened the campaign because their financial war chest had more armaments. But it wasn’t enough.
Aside from the more negative but useful aspects of the attritional electoral filtering system, there are positives that a shorter campaign just doesn’t have. First, the amount of time that the public has to assess important issues. Although the niqab phantom menace — and the barbaric cultural practices hotline, albeit less so — got people riled up, the electorate was able to come to its senses and see through the obvious Nixonian politics of division before election day (it was also certainly valuable to debate the issue). The corollary of this is that voters physically have more time to choose who to cast their vote for.
Furthermore, the ubiquity of political discussion about who would be the next government is not only a sign of positive and healthy civic engagement, but it is also infectious. This campaign mattered, as almost 70 per cent of Canadians showed up to the polls (and the Island had even higher than average turnout).
Deciding who should form the next government for years to come should not be a quick decision. Rather, voters should benefit from stronger and more dedicated candidates, have more time to make their decisions, and ultimately help to engage more fellow Canadians in the agora. Bring on the longer campaigns.