Veteran political reporters find no ‘galvanizing’ issue in upcoming federal election

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By: Jessica Mazze

With 13 days left in the federal election, veteran journalists have forewarned Canadians of a “splinter” election, during a democracy forum on Oct. 1. 

“I think this is a splinter election,” said Laura Stone, political reporter at The Globe and Mail.

“There doesn’t appear to be one runaway issue.”

On Tuesday Oct. 1, Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts hosted a democracy forum at the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre. Along with Stone, the forum featured two other political journalists: Steve Paikin, a TVO anchor and host of The Steve Paikin Show, Martin Regg Cohn, political columnist at the Star and panel moderator and Susan Delacourt, Ottawa columnist and bureau chief of the Toronto Star.

The event was hosted by Dr. Sanjay Ruparelia, associate professor of politics and administration at Ryerson. Ruparelia is also the inaugural Jarislowsky Democracy Chair, a position that reinforces Ryerson’s position as a leader in the advancement of democracy.

“Most elections are usually about something, this one so far seems to be about not one thing in particular,” said Paikin.

For Delacourt, she said she thought the lack of focus in this election would be a “galvanizing issue” by now. 

She said she recently went door-to-door in Toronto and asked citizens what they thought were critical issues in this federal election. The responses she gathered revealed that eligible voters are split on issues like housing affordability and climate change. 

“It’s almost like a ‘choose your own election’…There’s no overarching narrative to this election.”

Delacourt found that for young voters, issues such as climate action and the brownface scandal have taken the forefront.

On Sept. 19, Time released a photo from 2001 of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing brownface makeup to a party at a private school where he was teaching at the time.  Following the release of the photo, Trudeau issued an apology, but his history of wearing brownface has become a focal point in the election. 

Ubah Guled, a fourth-year RTA student at Ryerson, said that some students might not be keen to vote because of how political content is being framed by older and less diverse people in the media.

“How are young people supposed to be engaging when there are no young people in the room participating in these conversations?” said Guled. “It’s not targeted towards us when it comes to race [or] when it comes to age.”

Regg Cohn asked Guled about the brownface controversy and if it will impact her vote.

Guled said that what Trudeau did 20 years ago does not impact her day-to-day life, but what does affect her “is the structures that allow these racist practices to be propelled…It matters more how these structures work against you than personal opinions.” 

Trudeau has tried to salvage his campaign by invoking Doug Ford’s name, to galvanize young voters and get them to the polls, said Regg Cohn.

“Both Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer are using the ghosts of Kathleen Wynne and Doug Ford as weapons in this campaign,” he said. 

According to Regg Cohn, Scheer seems to have taken “a page from [Doug Ford’s] book” and remind voters that a vote for Trudeau is a vote for policies introduced by Wynne. 

He said that instead of addressing issues at the federal level, Trudeau has highlighted a platform which focuses on pharmacare and student loans in response to Ford’s government.

“There are gaps in provincial government policy that Justin Trudeau is, I think, quite cleverly trying to address…The Canada student loan is his answer to Doug Ford cutting OSAP and saying ‘Hey, we are the anti-Ford party,’” said Regg Cohn.

With just under two weeks left of the federal election, Delacourt said that Canadians are divided by their concerns; for older generations, it’s economic anxiety, whereas young people are concerned about the environment and climate action. 

“This election finds Canadians really anxious…There is this free-floating anxiety out there,” said Delacourt.

 With a “splintered” election like this, Delacourt reminded the audience that it’s important to remember what is being promised in the political conversation.

“If I were the young people, I would be worried about the three to four week gap from this event…A week is a lifetime in politics.”

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