Barrett: Focus on policy, not fear and smear this provincial election

Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Brian Mason and NDP minister of transportation unveils a website called during a news conference in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Ian Kucerak / Postmedia

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Every election voters ask for candidates to run a positive campaign.

You’d think political parties – and their supporters – at some point would get the message. Yet, every election, be it federal or provincial, some political party or group comes out with a smear campaign, and Alberta’s 30th general election is already no different.

For all the Alberta NDP’s talk of a positive campaign, they’d started one of fear and smear even before the election was called with numerous anti-Jason Kenney websites, claiming he was going to slash health care and education funding, going into his voting record on social issues and very much painting him as the stereotypical “white male” that’s an enemy of feminists and minority groups everywhere.

In fact, it was only on day two when the NDP’s Sarah Hoffman decided to do some excavation and bring up 30-year-old dirt on Kenney, describing him as hateful and cruel, talking about how he bragged about his part in preventing dying AIDS patients from seeing their same-sex partners and going after him in a very personal way.

Shadowed by their attacks are their own policies and promises on how to improve the province, and sadly, they’re not the only ones flinging mud from glass houses.

Derek Fildebrandt and his new Freedom Conservative Party jumped on the negative campaign bandwagon, too. On Sunday evening, he posted a picture of a slam campaign sign accusing Kenney of “Trudeau-style race and gender politics,” with a quote he says Kenney said in December 2017 on why people in Chestermere-Strathmore shouldn’t be allowed to choose their own candidate.

“How would it look if a white, blonde, bearded, redneck defeated one of our only women and minority candidates in a nomination?” the sign reads next to a smiling Kenney headshot, with no context, video or audio confirmation of the words actually being said.

Almost immediately, Albertans jumped on Fildebrandt for the sign, speaking to how disappointed they were in him resorting to going on the attack rather than presenting policy – as they should.

In writing, one of the best pieces of advice one can get is to show, not tell. This should apply to campaigning as well. Don’t tell me other candidates are terrible or who is the better one – show me you are by taking the high road and talking policy and platform.

Sure, mud-slinging can make for great political theatre, attention-grabbing headlines or a short-term rallying cry for those who already support you. At the end of the day, however, it’s not going to help win over someone who’s unsure. No one’s voting for who had the sickest burn, the most defaming campaign material or whose supporters had the better graffiti skills.

Ideally, voters should check the box next to a candidate they believe will truly be their voice and stand up for their interests. They should be voting for someone who will listen to their concerns and endeavor to resolve them, someone whose policies they believe will better lives of people who live here.

Besides, when have relentless attack strategies ever actually worked? They sure didn’t work for Stephen Harper in 2015 when his campaign poked fun at Justin Trudeau’s hair. All this is proving is they fear Kenney getting into power more than figuring out how to get the province on track.

Kenney is of more of a concern to them than helping Albertans.

Is that where Albertans want a potential government’s priorities to lie?

If current polling numbers are any indication, the answer is no, and parties should tone back the fear and smear before it completely backfires.