I’ve been ruminating over this notion that this month’s Saskatchewan election campaign is about the economy.
Polls have shown that most respondents agree with that statement, and Premier Brad Wall has certainly reiterated it a number of times, but I couldn’t buy into it. People don’t sit around their kitchen tables and feel things about the economy. The vast majority don’t discuss Saskatchewan’s debt to GDP ratio around the water cooler, or check their Facebook and the West Texas Intermediate price before going to bed. They feel things about their future, their jobs, and their financial ability to provide for themselves and enjoy their lives.
Saskatchewan residents are obviously deeply concerned about job losses in our natural resources sectors, especially those who have friends or family turning their brand new trucks back over to the dealership, or who have gone from prime rib on a whim to lining up at their local food bank. Yet, the economy in this province has ridden up and down the rollercoaster every decade for the last century.
Then I read an editorial in last week’s Globe and Mail that brought everything into focus.
Saskatchewan’s 2016 election is not about the economy. It’s about who, or which party, can keep us the happiest, and the most hopeful and optimistic.
Sounds cliché right? Well, sometimes a cliché is just a declaration of truth. Bruce Anderson, chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, shared recent Abacus research in his GM editorial revealing that over 80 per cent of Canadians describe themselves as happy, optimistic, and hopeful. When we’re electing our leaders and government representatives, wouldn’t it make sense that we look for behaviors and messaging that we can relate to?
Anderson went on to explain the folly of the attempt to generate anger in a population in which it doesn’t exist.
“Whether authentic emotion, or skilled presentation, or competitive fire, it didn’t matter much in the end,” he wrote. “One eternal truth about public anger is that it can’t be manufactured – it exists or it doesn’t. Even the most intense, fiery orators can’t make those who wake up in the morning feeling okay about their lives go to sleep convinced that they are in much worse shape than they thought.”
Isn’t that the truth? And the reality is that while there are those who are suffering in these uncertain times, many of us are just rebalancing our lives after a few years of oily Saskatchewan decadence. We’re okay, and there’s not enough negative advertising or insistence otherwise to change that.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because resisting the politics of fear, and instead tapping into what appears to be an intrinsic Canadian optimism is the strategy that led Justin Trudeau to victory last fall. In fact, in the quote I shared above, Anderson is referring to the federal Conservative party, and their vain attempts to generate a fear that didn’t exist. A fear of newcomers, a fear of our differences, a fear of the other guy.
As we head to the ballot box in a few weeks, the powers that be inside campaign headquarters would do well to reconsider the negative tone that so far has dominated the discussion. Saskatchewan voters want candidates and leadership that mirror and reinforce our happiness, and promise to preserve it. Yes, that means providing an assurance on managing the economy, but it also means providing assurance that your party is as committed to not only acknowledging and ensuring that optimism, happiness and hope that has prevailed in Saskatchewan, and across the Canada, for decades past, and I’m optimistic will continue for decades more.