Jack Knox: What matters to you this election? Climate change, spending and taxation

With apologies to Bill Clinton: “It’s the climate change, stupid.”

But not only climate change. You’re worried about your wallet, too. Also, to a lesser degree, health care, housing, the environment.

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Every time there’s an election, we at the Times Colonist make assumptions about what voters care about. This year, instead of assuming, the newspaper asked readers to tell us what matters to them. Hundreds replied.

Here’s what they said:

• For about a fifth of respondents, questions associated with climate change are what keep them up at night. The issue easily outdistanced the second most-mentioned worry — a catch-all comprising government spending, the national debt and the burden of taxation — which easily outdistanced the scores of other issue readers brought up.

It seems we have a lot on our minds: inequality, seniors, immigration, addiction, the need for a pipeline, the folly of a pipeline.

But unlike the 1992 campaign in which Clinton rode a U.S. recession to unhorse George Bush, there’s no consensus on what this election is all about.

In fact, what stood out is how little respondents mentioned some traditionally dominant issues. Perhaps because Victoria enjoys the second-lowest unemployment in the country, the economy scarcely merited a mention. Crime, gangs and money-laundering barely resonated (though one person called for the return of the death penalty, and another was dismayed by the amount it costs to keep Paul Bernardo in prison).

While many lamented the cost of buying or renting a home, almost no one mentioned the homeless. Justin Trudeau will be relieved to know SNC-Lavalin drew little more than a yawn.

• Foreign relations appeared to be a low priority for many, but not all. “It appears that the emerging debate will largely be dominated by issues such as climate change, housing affordability and expanded health care,” wrote one reader. “But Canada does not function in a vacuum. Issues like international trade, national defence, the country’s relationship with China, the European Union and the U.S. deserve attention as well.” China’s power induced squirming among several readers.

• “I want to know which leader will be able to handle Trump,” declared another. “Everything else is irrelevant.”

• Where some wielded a broad brush with their questions for candidates (“In my 70-plus years I have yet to see any politician elected who has actually kept all their election promises. Why should I trust you?”) others had narrowly specific concerns.

“Why not ban the manufacturing and sale of filtered cigarettes in Canada?” wrote a Parksville reader who had just counted 39 discarded butts on one block and 62 on a second.

“Will you make the use of glyphosates for agriculture illegal?” asked another correspondent.

“Promise to retain door-to-door mail delivery,” urged a third.

• Others were wary of the messenger: “I want the Times Colonist to cover the election objectively and not be a shill for the Conservative Party.” (Dammit, there go my plans.)

Another asserted that Canadian politics need “less old male energy,” a sentiment that caused me to hyperventilate into a paper bag.

• Many asked for more information about local candidates. As one reader succinctly put it: “We have no idea who these people are.”

OK, the challenge isn’t as great as in a municipal election campaign when, with 91 council seats up for grabs in Greater Victoria alone (I’m not making this up), ballots become the political equivalent of the witness protection program, somewhere a candidate can hide out for years without being detected.

Still, the names of those running for Vancouver Island’s seven House of Commons seats are often just that, names, albeit with party affiliations attached. Voters want them fleshed out, want to know their qualifications and what kind of lives they lead.

“How often do they use public transit?” one person urged us to ask candidates. Another suggested asking: “Do you have a family doctor or do you have to go to a walk-in clinic?” The TC will publish candidate profiles closer to the election.

Other readers asked for an easy-to-read grid comparing parties and their positions. That’s in the works, too.

Also, look to the TC’s opinion pages for more on the topics that readers say matter. For example, based on what you told us, the paper has asked the major parties to submit op-eds defending their ideas for dealing with climate change.

Thanks to all those readers who took the time to tell us what matters.

> Want to weigh in? Fill out our form here

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