As soon as the Alberta election was declared, I was both elated and fearful.
I love election time because I get to exercise my democratic right to vote, to have a say (well, at least a symbolic kind of say) in how our province is run. But I also hate election time because I know I’m gonna see oodles of melodramatic, fear-mongering, attack ads.
Attack ads have a long history in Canadian elections, being used by parties across the political spectrum to sling copious amounts of mud. They aren’t designed to make voters change allegiance from one party to the other; they’re primarily used to hurt morale and turnout for the opposing party. This is where my deep hatred for them lies; they don’t help people engage critically in politics, but just funnel discourse into incredibly simple good versus evil narratives.
I’ve been bombarded with the same goddamn NDP-sponsored attack ad on YouTube for an entire week. In it, the NDP attack Jason Kenney for “[stopping] dying AIDS patients from seeing their same-sex spouses in hospital.”
The issues the NDP have brought up in relation to Kenney through their attack ads are valid and important. We should be concerned about a party leader who has a track record of pushing for anti-abortion legislation and challenging the idea of same-sex rights. But we also need to be looking deeper into actual political issues facing us, which often transcend party lines due to their systemic nature.
When attack ads draw our attention away from issues and towards individuals, we get sucked into discursive spirals that can put blinders on our political outlooks. I will freely admit I’m no fan of Kenney, but I’m also no fan of Rachel Notely and her uncritical push for pipelines in the face of a global climate crisis. If I were to focus on Kenney’s unsavory traits without critically examining Notley’s negatives, what kind of responsible political actor would I be?
Attack ads just suck. Let’s leave them behind.