The issues of the day - Shawn Loughlin editorial
After years as the MPP for Huron-Bruce in Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal provincial government, Carol Mitchell lost her seat in 2011 to Conservative Lisa Thompson. I recently came upon my reporting from that election and, when the candidates all met in Holmesville to debate the issues of the day, it was industrial wind turbines that dominated the discussion.
While I’ll be careful to not offend any of the folks who really got worked up over the wind turbine issue - brought about by the Liberal Government’s Green Energy Act - at the time, it is an issue that has faded from the forefront.
It got me thinking about issues that have taken centre stage, catching fire just before an election, whether it be federal, provincial or even municipal, that dominated discussion at the time, influencing voters and changing minds at the polls, only to matter very little after the votes had been cast. Sometimes these issues are manufactured, other times they are legitimate, but it’s always fascinated me that something can be so important one day, only to be jettisoned the next - kind of like a Christmas tree: the centre of attention on one day, sitting out on the curb the next.
The first one that comes to mind over the course of the last 15 years with The Citizen is the debate over whether to allow Muslim women to wear a niqab while they took the oath of citizenship in order to become Canadian citizens.
This became an issue in 2011, when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism at the time, Jason Kenney (yes, that Jason Kenney) banned the wearing of the niqab during the ceremony. Just a few months later, the Federal Court of Canada found Kenney’s ban to be unlawful and, eventually, Zunera Ishaq, the Mississauga resident at the centre of the issue and the ensuing court challenge, became a Canadian citizen. The 29-year-old woman took the oath while wearing her niqab and officially became a Canadian citizen in 2015.
The incident caused a “political firestorm” and, yes, it was even mentioned at an all-candidates meeting in Huron County.
I remember finding it odd that such a small, isolated issue could so dominate discussion on the federal stage, but that’s what happens during elections. Issues arise and, if they ignite a voter base on either side of the aisle, they’re used to help and harm candidates.
At the time, I thought we’d be talking about healthcare, taxes, infrastructure, the future of the country or any of the other dozens of issues that impact us all on a day-to-day basis, but candidates were talking about whether a woman could wear a niqab during her oath of citizenship ceremony.
In the 2018 provincial election, the proposed Liberal reformation of sexual education in the province really got people talking. Some found it progressive, others found it lewd, but it dominated discussion at the debates.
Also in the 2011 federal election, the long gun registry became politicized, with the Conservatives promising to scrap it, if elected.
It was James Carville, a strategist for Bill Clinton in 1992, who said that election was about “the economy, stupid” as part of what many have called one of the best campaigns ever run. And while it may seem overly reductive, the economy and its overall health is something that affects us all. The same can’t necessarily be said for someone’s attire during an oath of citizenship ceremony or any of the many issues that have affected our elections in an outsized way over the years.