June 26th, 2019

Hard to make an informed decision amid all the campaign shouting

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on April 11, 2019.

Several years ago citizens in Western democracies began talking seriously that something may be wrong with our public discourse.

But – in perhaps a telling sign – even that’s up for furious debate.

Of course this leads back to the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president – something neither side likely thought possible.

Facing the unthinkable, his opponents called it a win of propagandists and populists, not the population.

And others see this sour grapes and the 2016 campaign as a great victory. A democratization of information on social media exposed the facts, gave greater voice to average citizens and their will was done.

Each side thinks the other is too dumb or too hypnotized or too self-interested to listen to reason, so why bother trying.

Well, welcome to Alberta on the cusp of a provincial election vote next week.

After some lofty discussion about the social responsibility of tech-giants and the need for citizens to put a more discerning eye on political discourse, we have a campaign focused entirely on hot-button issues that are transforming the political landscape of this province to molten lava.

Human rights, abortion, climate change, the “devastation” in the economy, “rolling back” women’s rights, Confederation, western alienation, racism …

Add the death penalty and you’d have a complete list of things not to mention at a polite dinner party, not that Albertans with slightly differing views are about to break bread any time soon.

The 2011 Alberta election might have been ugliest face-to-face campaign in a long time as the Wildrose Party challenged the Progressive Conservatives.

This time around, everyone seems to be nice enough face to face, but a separate, underlying campaign meant to lock in support and cast aspersions and doubt is being waged mightily on social media and showing up in real life.

A local example:

A protest placard at a rally for UCP Leader Jason Kenney this week included a curse word regarding proposed changes education policy on gay-straight alliances.

“Absolutely disgraceful’ was the general opinion of attendees who awaited Kenney.

However, if you haven’t seen a “F*&^ the NDP” bumper sticker in Medicine Hat since 2015, you haven’t been looking very hard.

At that’s the point, people aren’t necessarily interested in looking, and politicians aren’t really offering a nuanced view of opposition platforms. To do so would be to fall behind in an arms race that appears at some level to be very effective.

Who’s to blame for the increase in foul language?

You’ve read the above paragraph, but your answer is likely either the other guys, or both sides do it, so why bother making a judgment.

In this vote, politicians, mostly party leaders, hammer home manufactured sound bites and local candidates mainly toe that line. More and more voters willingly accept that, and any voter who still cares about informing his or her vote is left in the cold.

More often than not that leads them to their social media accounts, which in many cases are designed to show them posts that they are likely to agree with, thereby reinforcing their opinion.

And don’t place all the blame on politicians.

Several hopefuls in our region have told reporters they’ve tried to dive down into specific local issues on the campaign, connect specific initiatives with voter, but have had trouble finding a receptive audience.

In elections past, typically low turnout has been described as a failure of folks to take part in the democratic process.

This time out, it’s more that likely voter participation will rise.

The real accomplishment, however, should be taking place well before voting day when making a well-informed decision.

(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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