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Melanie Woods

We need politicians, not cowboys

The Calgary Stampede always involves too-hot weather, fried food and Canadian politicians descending on the city to flip pancakes and pretend they’re folksy and middle-class.

Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair all arrived in Calgary at the beginning of Stampede to win votes by espousing their commitment to average, hard-working Canadian families and wearing plaid.

But I don’t care how any of them look in a cowboy hat. I don’t care if they like barrel racing, deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or parades. I care about their tax policies, their plans for the Canada Student Loan Program and how they intend to fight climate change.

Politics in North America is an endless circus of who can look the most relatable and middle-class. Harper blasts Trudeau for being out of touch with average Canadians. Mulcair’s campaign videos emphasize how he was raised on “middle-class values.”

When it comes to winning votes, these tactics makes sense. The schtick of a relatable middle-class politician is pursued for an obvious reason — 93 per cent of Canadians identify as middle class, even if they aren’t. By appealing to some vague, undefined idea of the middle class, politicians are addressing almost all of us.

We need to stop rewarding this disingenuous pandering. There isn’t a single elected member of Parliament that is just like you, no matter what their income is.

Politicians are elected to represent us in the House of Commons, where they draft legislation, debate policy and vote on which bills become laws. This is an important job, where individual actions are defined by a specific political agenda.

Tax breaks, housing policy and food subsidies might seem like abstract issues. But the policies that the government puts in place affect our lives — how much it costs to go to school, what kind of jobs will be available, how much food costs, if we’ll be able to purchase a house and how much money we pay in taxes. Your life is shaped by the policies of the Canadian government.

We don’t all need to know the ins and outs of public policy, but we should stop pretending that politics is a competition of who is the most down to earth. Politicians have serious jobs, and we should treat the people who do them with the same level of gravitas.

Doing public outreach humanizes politicians and it’s always going to be part of their job. And their communications teams will always be quick to publicize these gestures, sharing pictures of Thomas Mulcair holding his grandchildren’s hands while watching a parade or Stephen Harper grilling bacon in an apron.

But by showing these images again and again and fussing over who makes the most money, we ignore the crux of what politics is really about — making laws that improve the day-to-day lives of real people.

Do you believe in a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage? Do you support Bill C-51? What are your thoughts on the Truth and Reconciliation report? These are all issues that will come up during the federal election, and none of them are wearing a cowboy hat.

Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair aren’t anything like me. I don’t need them to be — but I do want them to stop pretending that they are.

 Kate Jacobson, Gauntlet Editorial Board

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