“[Attack literature is] not something I would ever do to you [Don Meredith] or do to your leader [Stephen Harper] or do to you in an election campaign. You look at my literature, you will not see a note of denunciation of you or your leader and you will not see it because we are running a positive campaign on our ideas and what we stand for and I think it’s shameful.” – Bob Rae, Thursday February 28th, 2008
“The Harperite farm team is an offspring of the Republican Party of the United States. These guys will do whatever it takes to win themselves, and do whatever it takes to help their friends in the United States…they will do what is necessary to help Republicans. They’re a nasty, unprincipled bunch, who are incompetent to boot.” – Bob Rae, March 4th, 2008
Those of you who have been following my writing know that I’m not a big fan of Stephen Harper or his party (particularly in its current incarnation), but the above shift in Bob’s rhetoric concerns me. Yesterday I gave him credit (and exposure) on this website for rightly advocating positive campaigning and condemning ad hominem attacks. Since Bob spoke those words last week, however, he has shifted to a discourse of fear. Just as our Conservative opponent has tried to exploit fear of crime for votes, Bob is increasingly trying to frighten people with the spectre of those “nasty” American Republicans and their “Harperite farm team.” Further, he has suggested that people should essentially settle for the Liberal party (mirroring the way the Liberals “settled” for a mediocre budget), and that if they vote NDP or Green they aren’t doing their part to stop this scary evil force.
There are two problems with this. One, using fear for votes is cynical and lowers the level of discourse, just as the Conservative attack literature does. Two, it’s completely irrelevant to this by-election. The Alliance/Conservative party is not a factor in Toronto Centre. In the last election they received only 18% of the vote, and in the election before that only 14%. One could reasonably conclude that their decision to fire their duly nominated candidate and parachute in someone who doesn’t live in the riding (or the city for that matter) will hurt them even more this time around. Even the Conservative candidate has said repeatedly that his election would be a “miracle.” So, barring divine intervention, everyone including Bob knows that in the context of this by-election his fear mongering is, well, just that.
The people I’ve talked to are tired of this kind of politics, and rightly so. They know that our political leaders should never tell Canadians to settle for less than what’s possible, or to act out of fear. And they know how to send that message with their vote.