Andrea Merrick, our political barometer, is a little low. The 34-year-old is pregnant, which is fantastic, except for the morning sickness, which isn’t.
So, you’ll forgive her for waiting until the waning stages of the election campaign to pore over the policies of the parties competing for her vote. She has done so, though, and has found that at least some of them are speaking to her this time.
That wasn’t always the case. When we first met Merrick just before the 2004 federal election, she was a 19-year-old working at Daly’s Auto Centre in her hometown of Youbou, on Cowichan Lake.
As such, she typified the young and the rural, two groups traditionally ignored during campaigns. Candidates preferred to fish out of more vote-rich pools — city dwellers, older Canadians — by focusing on things such as gang crime, rapid transit or Beachcombers reruns (well, no, but you get the point).
That was 15 years ago. We’ve been using Merrick as a reality check ever since, ducking in at election time to see how her concerns match up with those of the candidates. We have followed her to Camosun College, UVic, a job as a registered nurse at the Duncan hospital and, now, a post as a public health nurse. We have seen her go from her family home in Youbou to a Victoria condo, to a place she bought with her partner — a guy she met in nursing school — to a house they’re renovating in Langford.
This election, Merrick has at least found party platforms giving more prominence to the issues that she has, for years, been telling us are important. Health, for example, including access to pharmacare (“I don’t think people realize how little is available to some people.” she says).
Climate change remains at the top of her list, a position reinforced by impending parenthood (“It’s not just my lifespan that matters”).
Her friends feel the same about climate, worrying about the potential for food, water and other commodities that we take for granted to become the source of conflict. “I don’t want that for my kids,” they say.
But here’s what else her friends tell her: This has been a disheartening campaign. They were particularly turned off by the leaders’ behaviour during the televised debates.
“We would never let our kids act like that,” they say.
Merrick herself has been perplexed by the trivial nature of some of the things the politicians have been squabbling about, with side issues hijacking the spotlight from more substantive matters.
She’s hardly the first to notice the lack of beef in this burger. If the 2015 vote was a referendum on whether A) Stephen Harper had hit his best-before date and B) the shiny, new, yet-to-be-dented Justin Trudeau was ready for the job, the 2019 exercise has played out as a Seinfeld campaign, an election about nothing.
At the outset, it appeared the focus might be on climate, but that issue, while as dominant as any, never really became the central theme. Neither did health care, housing affordability, or anything else.
Instead, the past month has been like a long, meandering road trip with a back seat full of restive kids who, having failed to agree on which movie to watch, have taken to poking at each other out of habit or just to fill the time. The campaign has descended into a series of distractions, a game of gotcha and torqued half-truths. Brownface. Two passports. Two planes. Not an insurance broker. Wild-eyed claims about abortion, hard drugs, 9/11 truthers and who’s playing inter-party footsie with whom. Personality trumping policy.
Meanwhile, up in the front seat, we’re white-knuckling the wheel, gritting our teeth and thinking “just one more kilometre, just one more day.” Justin, Andrew don’t make us come back there. Jagmeet, stop tormenting your sister. Elizabeth, do we have to stop the car? Do we?
Underneath it all, a need to choose a government — preferably one selected on the basis of something deeper than social-media memes. (If you’re looking for a place to start, go to timescolonist.com and scroll down to the info on your local riding. Then scroll down for more election coverage, including the ever-evolving promise tracker.)
It’s time to pay attention even if, like Andrea Merrick, you’re left feeling queasy.