Opinion: This election is about the kids

It’s arrived. That future Canadian election is now about to unfold in the present tense.

For the next 40 days, until voting day on Oct. 21, think of the children – not the childish sorts filling social media with partisan taunts, or even the real children we will want to shield from the nasty, personal politics bound to dominate Campaign 2019.

Children can’t vote in this election, but they will loom large in the electoral conversation of all parties over the next six weeks.

Kids are evoked by politicians when they want to talk about the long-term future, and so much of the top issues in this campaign will be a struggle between long-term and short-term thinking. Is this election about what happens for the next few years, or are voters making choices for future generations too?

Climate change, of course, will be one of those big issues. What was once a long-term concern – global warming and the future of the planet – has recently been sliding on to the short-term horizon.

Last year’s report from the International Panel on Climate Change, warning that the world had only 12 years to get its act together to avert catastrophe, has prompted many politicians and voters to see the 2019 federal election as do-or-die for the environment.

Certainly that is how it is being cast by Liberals, New Democrats and the Greens.

Many of the “think of our children” appeals of this election will revolve around the climate change conversation. The parties in favour of a carbon tax, for instance, can be counted on to accuse opponents of putting short-term, pocketbook politics ahead of their kids’ environmental future – save a dollar at the gas pump, or save the planet?

Kids, though, are also part of the stretched, working families who are struggling, in the Conservatives’ Campaign 2019 slogan, to “get ahead.”

Affordability is another issue with long-term and short-term dimensions – what’s in voters’ wallets today and what economic future awaits the kids of tomorrow.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will be accused over and over again, especially by Conservatives, of mortgaging the future of Canadian children with all the spending and debt saddled on future generations.

So on these two key policy debates – climate and debt – voters should be braced for a pitched battle over how dreadful a world Canadian kids are poised to inherit and what kind of reckless, short-term thinking created it.

Will that future Canada remain open to immigrants, refugees and their children? This question too simmers in the not-so-distant background of election 2019 and, along with it, some potentially intense, even ugly debates over how diverse Canada really is or wants to be.

Fittingly, as well, childhood and children have been part of the pre-campaign skirmishes leading up to the official launch. Liberals and Conservatives have been trading barbs over the upbringing of Andrew Scheer and Trudeau – can either man claim to have come from humble roots in their own childhoods?

Scheer has also been attacked for saying that marriage was all about having children during a long-ago debate on same-sex marriage, while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh casts himself as the only leader to suffer racist discrimination as a child.

In all these cases, children aren’t just how politicians talk about the future, but how they reckon with their pasts as well.

No one knows at this point, at the outset of the election, what the ballot question will be on Oct. 21. It remains to be seen whether Canadians will be thinking of their short-term or long-term future when they mark their “X” on the ballot.

But keep a special eye focused on three big themes, in all their long-term and short-term dimensions:

Environment, energy and climate politics: Can the next government find a way to reckon with the challenge of climate change and also the important role that fossil fuels play in the current economy?

Affordability and economic anxiety: All parties say that Canada is an anxious nation, despite a growing economy, with people nervous about their finances today and their fiscal future.

Polarization, populism and immigration: The political debates of Donald Trump’s America are reverberating through Canada, whether Canadians like it or not. Will election 2019, and by extension, our country, be shaped by those forces too?

None of these are childish concerns, though certainly we can count on some juvenile politicking in the days and weeks ahead. It’s worth listening when the politicians and voters are talking about kids in this campaign, though – it’s a way of wrapping our minds around how the vote on Oct. 21 will have an impact beyond simply who wins or loses on election night.

Susan Delacourt is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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