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MONDAY, JULY 04, 2011
There may be some hope for our collective sanity after all. Apparently, the Conservative party of Canada has decided to rework its anti-Stephane Dion smear site, notaleader.ca (details here). I think we can all agree that this is a good thing. The preponderance of childish name-calling in this election campaign so far has been both depressing and exhausting.

People want their leaders to be figures of respect. Consider Pierre Trudeau, who I would argue is Canada's greatest Prime Minister to date. Trudeau was a massively polarizing figure; people adored him in a frenzy or despised him with a passion bordering on violence. Millions of people hated him, hated his policies, hated his focus on centralization, hated his accent. But whether you supported him or not, Trudeau commanded respect. And he still commands that respect, 24 years after his tenure as Prime Minister and 8 years after his death. He wasn't great because repatriated the constitution, or because he decriminalized abortion and homosexuality, or because he laid the seeds for the multiculturalism that distinguishes Canada from every other Western nation today. He was great because he believed in Canada, showed us that he believed in Canada, and fought for his vision of what this country could be. He had dignity, and we loved him and hated him for it.


'Just watch me.'


The Conservative party's tactics to this point have made Canadians uncomfortable because they undermine the dignity of our most prominent public figures. The Conservatives hoped that by making Dion look like a fool, voters would be driven towards their party. What they failed to realize is that Dion does not exist in a vacuum. He is not simply a lone opponent you can embarrass, he is the leader of a Canadian political institution older than the country is. When the Conservatives attacked his dignity, they didn't merely affect him. They also attacked the dignity of the entire Canadian political system, and undermined their own dignity as well. No one wants a government filled with bumbling, childish fools. Accordingly, the political parties should attempt to distance themselves from bumbling, childish tactics.

Canadians supported Elizabeth May's crusade to be included in the television debates because it was a dignified cause. May represents an emerging voice in politics, and is a symbol of an issue that many Canadians consider extremely important. Letting May participate in the debates does not only benefit her, it benefits Canada. It speaks to our commitment to democracy, our diversity, tolerance. If, on October 1st and 2nd, Canadians see five dignified and poised leaders at the debates, they will feel elevated, feel that regardless of who wins the election Canada will have a government to be respected. If, however, they see immature mudslingers, how can they be expected to feel pride? We can only hope that the Conservative party's shift in strategy indicates a new direction that will affect all of the parties. The campaign should be intense and heated, but it needs a sense of decorum and sportsmanship that it has been sorely lacking.


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