Canada’s Election: When Fear is Stronger than Facts and Figures

This election campaign has me missing Jack Layton​’s spirit and presence on the trail. While the Conservatives deal in negative emotions and attacks, the other parties respond with Facts and Figures.

The one controlling the emotional battle of this election is the one dealing in fear. Stephen Harper is both the one who tells us what to fear, and the one who others tell us we ought to fear, placing him and his team in supreme control of the campaign’s emotional narrative.

Meanwhile, the contenders have laid out the planks in their platforms, all while evoking next to no emotional response.

Platforms and Plans, Facts and Figures are important, but they sure as hell don’t win elections. They sure as hell don’t win peoples’ hearts. And the heart is where the battle ground is in these last two weeks of the campaign. 

How many Canadians spend countless hours weighing and evaluating the candidates, the platforms and costings of the plan as they seek to make their decision? For the vast majority, election decisions are either entrenched and ideological, or they are emotional.

And correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that the only emotion at play in this election so far is the emotion of fear. And fear, at the end of the day is far stronger than facts and figures.

But I remember a man – you may remember him too – who on the campaign trail, and from his death bed inspired so many of us across this country with the simple idea that Hope Is Stronger Than Fear. 

And where are we now? It’s as if the descendants of this hope-bearer weren’t listening. He said hope – of all things, hope – is stronger than fear, all the while we’re playing the same old fear-against-fear game. Which fear is greater – your fear of the enemy within, or your fear of the enemy without?

So with any leader vying for the top job, I must declare that while I will not be co-opted by fear, my deepest desire is to see a leader and a party paint a picture of What We Might Become Together.

But that might be asking too much.

Our hope as a nation lies in the ways we will come together to deal with and manage the challenges of existence in this time and place, across our differences. Which is to say that the divisive culture of fear that has permeated our ads, debates and campaigns thus far is itself doing damage to the integrity of our relationships with one another. It is subtle, insidious, and unbecoming of the kind of Canada we’ve said for so long we want to be.

Let me say here and now that I don’t want another day of this fear-mongering, facts and figures-averse government. And along with that, I’m looking to cast my ballot for a vision of What We Might Become Together.

No party has it all right. There are elements to each plan that are more compelling than others. But I’m not convinced I have SEEN, HEARD, or FELT a vision compelling enough to draw me in.

Anything But Harper is one way to play it if you still want to traffic in fear. But it’s no different than what Harper’s dishing out. It’s the politics of fear pointed in a different direction.

So here’s my challenge to the leaders of the Federal Parties, and to candidates in my local Vancouver South riding. Paint me a picture. Paint us a picture of the Canada you envision. Tell me a story of what Canada might look like when your plan is put into place. You’ve already got the plan. Help me see myself as a part of it.

And help me see how I can be a part of this, not just on election day (I will vote in this Election, and you can pretty much guarantee it won’t be for Wai Young and the military-industrial complex that got him killed). Help me, help all of us to return to basic civics here. How can I, how can we as neighbours and communities and ridings and municipalities and provinces and people in this land work together to create something great?

Show me vision. Show me the Canada you want to experience, and to share with all residents of this land – not just the middle class, not just its citizens, but everyone who calls this land home. Tell me how you expect foreign leaders to talk about Canada in a few years time, as we work to restore our name on the world’s stage.

Maybe it’s just me, but Jack was able to do that. I didn’t agree with everything he said, or everything the party stood for. But he was able to do this clearly, articulately, with character and poise.

And I miss him for it.

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

2 Responses to “Canada’s Election: When Fear is Stronger than Facts and Figures”

  1. Brian Walsh

    Man oh man. Just naming Jack in this way, Andrew, makes me miss him too. You are so right. There is no one who is painting that picture and telling that story in this election. Jack knew how to win elections, and he was an astute and sometimes canny politician. But you never lost the big picture. You never lost the vision. I have felt cynicism and disappointment rise in me throughout this campaign (even though I’ve got a very fine local candidate to support) and your reflections on Jack have helped me to focus on what exactly it is that has me in such a political funk.

    • Andrew Stephens-Rennie

      Hey Brian – I guess I just don’t get why Elizabeth, Tom or Justin aren’t doing that. Each of them have decent plans that resonate in some ways (and don’t in others), but the moments of true vision are sparse. Don’t they get that that’s actually a significant part of their job?


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