COLUMN: Not just puppets on string

The Federal election campaign is really heating up, and voters should do their best to be as informed as possible.

Although the federal election has legally been underway since Aug. 2, it only really began in earnest this week.

There was one leaders’ debate in August, the details of which no one can now recall. There were few signs up in August, and they were ignored by almost everyone. Attempts by candidates to portray themselves as saints and their opponents from other parties as the worst types of sinners have, for the most part, gone unheard.

Far too much media attention focuses on party leaders. This is not only unhealthy for democracy, as it makes leaders think they are in charge of the entire campaign and every aspect of their parties, but it also ignores reality. We vote for candidates in our own ridings. We elect them as our representatives in Ottawa. They are far more than just puppets on a string, controlled by a leader and his aides.

Surrey and Delta have had many good MPs over the years, from six different political parties – Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Social Credit, Reform and Canadian Alliance. Surrey North voters also elected Chuck Cadman as an independent in 2004, a decision that is actually relevant to this election.

In October, people living in this area will elect six MPs, who will then go to Ottawa. It is likely they will be part of some high-stakes drama when they arrive, as current polling indicates no party will gain a majority. This is good for democracy, as it means no leader can act as an absolute dictator, as happened far too much in our Parliament.

This trend started in earnest under Pierre Trudeau, who famously said MPs were nobodies a few yards off Parliament Hill. Brian Mulroney eased up a bit, but Jean Chrétien did Trudeau one better, and Stephen Harper is far more controlling than Chrétien was.

In a minority Parliament, leaders have to be more careful how they treat their MPs. Independents and parties with a few seats – likely the case for the Greens and Bloc Quebecois – will play a significant role.

It seems likely that Surrey and Delta will elect Conservative and NDP MPs, and possibly a Liberal. Former MP Sukh Dhaliwal, after a four-year absence, is up against incumbent NDP MP Jinny Sims and Conservative candidate Harpreet Singh, and all three have a decent shot.

Given a likely minority parliament, electing MPs of character who will do more than just bow meekly to their leaders’ orders make sense. It is entirely possible that decisions in Ottawa will come down to one vote. That’s what happened in 2005, when Cadman was the deciding vote in the Paul Martin Liberal government surviving.

Unfortunately, Cadman was battling cancer and did not live much longer. His integrity and willingness to run as an independent after losing the Conservative nomination set a high standard for future MPs.

There will be plenty of chances to find out more about local candidates in print or via the airwaves or Internet. Despite the negativity from many politicians, Canada is a great place to live and we have the a privilege of electing our individual MPs. Take the process seriously. Do not believe everything you hear from politicians, and take the time to research the candidates so your vote will truly count on Oct. 19.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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