Election slogans do little to inform public of party platforms, says political science professor

Political scientist Shauna Wilton runs through some of the key issues that parties are addressing in advance of the upcoming federal election but admits that slogans do nothing to clear the fog.

Tia Lalani - 25 September 2019

By Shauna Wilton

Leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, whose slogan is "choose forward"… although "images, slogans and campaigns do little to inform the public about what the parties actually plan to do when elected," says University of Alberta Augustana political scientist Shauna Wilton. Photo courtesy of Alex Guibord, Flickr.

As the federal election on October 21 approaches, Canadians will soon be inundated by the campaign slogans of the parties. Slogans embody hours of research with focus groups in an attempt to both sum up and focus the entire campaign in a short phrase. While slogans aim to resonate with voters, they don't really provide much information upon which voters can make decisions. Campaign slogans are often repetitive, echoing one another as well as the slogans of the past.

The Liberal slogan asking us to "choose forward" is very similar to their campaign slogan in 2004 prompting us to "move forward." The Green Party borrowed its slogan "Not left. Not Right. Forward together" from further afield, drawing on Winston Churchill's command, "Forward together."

As the campaign ads roll out over the next few weeks, Canadians can also look forward to seeing Trudeau moving forward on various forms of transportation, Andrew Scheer trying his best to remind us of the good old days under Harper and various politicians shaking the hands and patting the backs of "regular" Canadians in an attempt to show us that they can connect and do care.

The images, slogans and campaigns, however, do little to inform the public about what the parties actually plan to do when elected. In order for us to make a truly informed decision on voting day, we need to decide what matters most to us and look to the platforms of the various parties for information. As of the writing of this column, much of that detailed information is hard to find or has not yet been released. While most of the parties are similar on some issues (no politician ever promises to slash health care), there are some stark differences. The NDP, Greens and Liberals all propose variations of a strong, more progressive plan to deal with Canada's climate emergency. As expected, the Conservatives are putting forward a much more traditional plan. The People's Party actually refutes the scientific consensus on climate change and says that there is no real evidence of catastrophic consequences if we continue on our path of carbon emissions.

The economy is always a key issue in an election and I can safely predict that the Conservatives will probably advocate for spending restraint and that the Liberals will most likely promote targeted spending to boost the economy. Another key issue is likely to be immigration. The NDP TV ad recently released for Quebec tackles this issue head-on through the identity of the party leader, who appears without his turban. While Trudeau, during his time as Prime Minister, attempted to contrast Canada's immigration policies with those of Trump's US, the Conservatives want a return to Harper's policies, guided by being "fair, orderly and compassionate." The biggest outlier, again, is the People's Party, which wants to repeal the Multiculturalism Act (arguably one of the defining features of Canada) and dramatically reduce immigration.

According to CBC's poll tracker, which aggregates and weights the results of all polls based on methodology and reliability, the Liberals and Conservatives are close together at about 34% and the NDP and Greens have 10-14% of Canadians voting for each. This election promises to be contested and close and requires Canadians to get informed and have their say.

For more discussion of the federal election, join Augustana's political scientists Lars Hallstrom, Sandra Rein and Shauna Wilton for the Lunch and Learn Seminar-How the West was Won: Ideology, identity and antagonism in the 2019 Canadian Federal Election on Wednesday, October 2 at noon in the Mayer Family Community Hall. Register by phone or email at 780-672-1626 or rsvp.augustana@ualberta.ca.

Shauna Wilton, Political Studies, University of Alberta. This column was originally published in the Camrose Booster on September 17, 2019.