The past Ontario election, held on October 2, confirmed a few eternal truths in Canadian politics. The first truth is that Canada is only a reluctant democracy. Only half of eligible voters bothered to show up to vote on Election Day. Of those who actually did cast a ballot, under half of them voted for the eventual winner. The other registered voters were more concerned in watching Survivor than they were in actually participating in the democratic process. As long as politicians don’t touch the amusements of pop-culture, then pop-culture really doesn’t care about politicians. Democracy, tyranny, socialism, fascism – whatever – just don’t interrupt my reality TV. It was the lowest turnout in the history of Canadian provincial elections.
The disconcerting thing about this scandalous abdication of our democratic process is that 25% of the voting population has shaped the Ontario political landscape for the next four years. And because of our disjointed and disproportional parliamentary system of government, the Liberal Party, who won 46% of the popular vote, received 72 of the province’s 103 seats. Compare this to the Progressive Conservative Party who garnered 35% but was relegated to a paltry 24 seats at Queen’s Park. Some democracy.
Another truth of Canadian politics is that the electorate, and the Ontario electorate in particular, has become extremely fickle and unbalanced. From 1943 to 1985, Ontario voters elected consecutive Conservative governments. From 1985 to 2003, however, the voters changed their political sensibilities five times, ranging from rank socialism to neo-conservative fiscalism and now back to lefty middle-ism.
The shifting morality of the 60’s and 70’s took relatively little time to infect our political legislatures. In the distant past, whole families voted for Parties based on their social and fiscal principles, and these family principles rarely changed. In today’s political environment, however, the electorate’s voting pattern is erratic and unpredictable. It is a kind of political jello whose foundation is never set but instead shifts with the rumblings of moral licentiousness and political pandering. It is based much less on principle and sacrifice and much more on pandering and pleasure. The previous generation saluted JFK’s political jingo of “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. In contrast, the baby boom generation and their generation X product are more likely to give JFK the back of their hand and ask him “what have you done for me lately?”
This past provincial election also highlighted another truth of Canadian elections: the media has an enormous role to play in deciding who will ultimately be king. Of course, Ernie Eves, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and now former premier, certainly did not make the media’s job very difficult. Gaffe after gaffe cemented his Party’s fate two weeks before Election Day. Still, the media constantly focused on his missteps while almost ignoring his Liberal opponent’s bumblings, and the Conservative government was doomed to be defeated because of it.
The media kept hammering the Conservative campaign because a Conservative campaign worker fired off an e-mail to a Liberal Party counterpart, describing Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty as an “evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet.” Although it could hardly represent an official campaign “attack ad”, the media exposed and repeated the phrase frequently throughout the campaign. And it worked.
Mr. Eves did not help his chances a few days before the election when he actually repeated a radio host’s indictment against his Party’s falling fortunes. Quipping that the Conservatives were “toast”, the radio host challenged Eves’ rather optimistic outlook for his Party on Election Day. Instead of simply ignoring the metaphor and moving on, Eves took the bait and actually repeated it. “We are not toast”, he retorted. Needless to say, it produced a lethal sound bite against Ernie Eves, and the next day, it was front-page news in the papers.
The final truth of Canadian elections, and the one that most impacted my campaign, is that moral issues have very little impact on elections. I had learned this when I ran for political office in 1995 for the only pro-family, pro-life party in the province – the Family Coalition Party of Ontario (FCP). Despite my development of a comprehensive platform, which touched every major election issue, I was still labeled as a “single issue” candidate – a reference to my uncompromising pro-life position.
Eight years later, when the Conservatives called the provincial election in early September, I believed that there was sufficient voter outrage over the same-sex marriage issue for it to become a major “wedge issue” during the election. Alarmed by the Federal government’s encroachments on the traditional definition of marriage, I believed that the FCP could help reshape the social conservative political landscape in the province. I believed that by stressing this issue, the FCP could provide political leverage against the Progressive Conservative Party who, up until now, had been very resistant to adopting pro-family policies during its term in office. If the Conservatives wanted to avoid possible vote splitting during this election, they would need to become more vocal and firm in defending the traditional definition of marriage.
As the single income earner for my family, I could not afford to take a leave of absence from my job. Consequently, I would have little time to devote to the campaign. But the Party was scrambling to find candidates and so, despite this limitation, they accepted my candidacy – if only to have someone on the ballot. I vowed to do the best I could with the time that I had available.
I used the power of the internet by mass e-mailing friends, church groups, ethnic community leaders, and pro-family groups. I also set up my own website (www.pacheco.ca) in order for the general public to have access to my campaign platform and the policies of the FCP as well. The website hosted daily press releases and political commentaries as the campaign progressed. None of the other candidates had their own personal websites. I participated in one province-wide TV interview, one local televised discussion, a few newspaper phone interviews, and one critical all-candidate’s debate.
By word of mouth and the power of the internet, I was able to raise $10,000 and promptly redirected these funds into two avenues: newspaper advertisements and radio commercials. My objectives were two-fold. First, I wanted to pressure the Progressive Conservative candidate into becoming more forceful in defending marriage. Unless he wanted to lose votes to me, he would have to convince voters that he too was “pro-marriage”. My strategy worked rather well because, in discussions with him during the course of the campaign, he became more resolute in his position. In fact, during the all-candidate’s debate, he made it a point to stress his “pro-family” convictions in order to redirect pro-family votes his way. This was fine with me since my chances of winning were slim. My main objective was to steer the Conservative Party candidate in the direction of social conservatism during my campaign and it worked.
My second objective was to attack Dalton McGuinty, the Liberal Leader. Since Mr. McGuinty, a professed Catholic, was stridently for gay marriage legislation, I focussed all of my efforts on attacking his support for this insidious legislation. Because I was running in the same political district as Mr. McGuinty, I had one golden opportunity to expose his “Kennedy Catholicism” at the one and only all-candidate’s debate.
At the debate, the crowd was comprised of mostly Liberal campaign workers who were bused in from neighboring districts. When I began my opening statement about preserving the traditional definition of marriage, I received thunderous jeers. Thankfully, they were met with equally vibrant cheering from a pro-family contingent that had showed up to support me. In fact, throughout my opening five minutes, the moderator had to silence the mob three or four times.
In my opening statement, I hit McGuinty several times. I needled the Liberal Party Leader about the stark contrast between Mr. McGuinty and his father – the latter representing the same political district as a faithful Catholic. It became apparent that my little tactic got under his skin as he referred to my remark about his father throughout the night. Some considered my tactics underhanded, but I was not there to be pleasant. I was there to irritate him and to tell the truth.
“And what about education?” I continued. “Is Mr. McGuinty going to force our children into learning about certain lifestyle choices which people of faith find objectionable – all because he thinks it is a human right? What kind of respect for freedom and religious liberty is this, Mr. McGuinty?” The question caused an uproar among the five-hundred-plus, standing-room-only crowd. But I had saved the best shot for last in my opening remarks. Here is how a reporter from The National Post described it:
“Reporters were jolted awake by the opening statement from John Pacheco… ‘Mr. McGuinty, if you call yourself a Catholic, it’s high time you walk the walk,’ he said to rapturous applause from some wild-eyed individuals in the audience.”
After the debate, many people, apart from my supporters, congratulated me on a fine performance. Many of these people were Progressive Conservative supporters and even some Liberal supporters! But the most memorable compliment I received was from Richard Raymond, the Conservative candidate. As we were leaving the stage, he complimented me on my presentation. I jumped at the opportunity to do a little evangelization. “Richard”, I said. “I am not really that great at public speaking or even debating. But do you know what my secret weapon was tonight? – the prayers of hundreds of people.” I could see he was visibly moved. We chatted a bit and he said he had been away from his Baptist Church for years. I told him to start going again. There were other great stories like this one that evening, including one involving two homosexuals who were both impressed with the passion of my convictions, but space does not afford me the opportunity to explore them all here. Suffice it to say, that evening touched a lot of people.
Although election night did not prove to be particularly successful for my campaign – I received 562 votes for 1.2% of the vote in the district – I gained encouragement from the support of many people not associated with the FCP or my campaign. The silver lining in the Liberal landslide victory is that many of the social liberals within Progressive Conservative Party were swept out. Most of the prominent social conservatives within the Party, however, retained their seats. This development may prove to be very important as the official opposition begins to rebuild for the next election. And their platform could very well become a much stronger pro-family and pro-life one.
As for my campaign and the other candidates of the Family Coalition Party, we take consolation from our Christian faith. Realizing that our eventual success is still many years away, we cannot afford to become despondent or dejected but instead we must press on as Christian soldiers. We also remember that when Pilate offered to release Jesus, the mob rejected Our Lord and chose Barabbas instead. In two thousand years, not much has changed.