Things you can’t say in elections

British Columbia Views column by Black Press reporter Tom Fletcher.

Another election campaign has come and gone, with the ritual posturing of political parties and most news media searching for anything they can portray as a conflict.

Now comes the time to wonder why not enough people cared, or informed themselves about the real problems of running this $40 billion corporation called the B.C. government.

Why would they, when the whole thing is presented as a combination of beauty contest and sports event, with endless discussion of polls and “attack ads” and who’s ahead and what’s the score?

Again we have seen the truth of former prime minister Kim Campbell’s observation that elections are no time to talk about serious issues. Indeed, there are some things you can’t speak of at all.

Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm caused a stir at a candidates’ debate when he referred to constituents’ concerns that disabled children can cause difficulties in classrooms.

He didn’t say classrooms should be segregated, although that’s a discussion worth having. He didn’t deny the need for more support for special needs kids. But his opponents immediately portrayed it that way, and media seized on the conflict despite the factual inaccuracy.

West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan had a similar experience when he referred to his study of poverty in that affluent area. He noted that there was a high correlation between single parenthood and kids in poverty. Picking on single mums, his detractors exclaimed, and that’s what got reported.

The B.C. Conservatives kicked their Boundary-Similkameen candidate out of the party because he wrote an article saying women shouldn’t choose to be single mothers.

You can talk about child poverty, as long as you only discuss it based on federal statistics that do not measure poverty. Christy Clark started doing this as soon as she became B.C. Liberal leader, one of several issues where she dispensed with the facts and tried to copy a popular NDP stance instead.

She was all about families, which can of course be single people, single parents or pretty well anything you want them to be.

In fact the decline of the traditional family and the abdication of responsibility by many parents, fathers in particular, are central factors in the problem of poor and neglected children. But you can’t talk about that, at least not during elections.

Whole areas of political discussion have devolved into euphemisms that are chosen because they can’t be defined. Everybody’s in favour of “affordable housing,” for instance. What they won’t admit is that this is code for subsidized housing, because then they would have to talk about how much the subsidy is, and who has to pay for it.

Good grief, that might raise the question of whether the state should be taking money away from some people and giving it to others so they can live where they otherwise couldn’t afford to live.

We even have rules preventing the media from reporting polls on election day. People might be influenced by this, you see. If you tell them Party X is far ahead, they might stay home and mow the lawn instead. If you tell them someone is making a comeback, they might change their vote because they want to be on the winning side, or the one that has “momentum.” Just like any other sport.

The news media are steadily losing influence with the public. There are many factors involved, including the vast array of information sources that are available at most people’s fingertips.

Another factor is treating the public like they’re idiots.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com.

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