Yesterday I spoke about politics to a joint gathering of two grade five classes at St. Martin’s school in London’s Old South district. I had promised I would do it before I knew there was an election but felt I couldn’t break the commitment. I was to talk for a few minutes then permit them to ask questions.
These were keen young minds and their questions covered a wide range of subjects. It was great … until near the end. One student near the back stuck up his hand and asked: “What is Mr. Ignatieff like?” I was about to answer when he added: “Is it true he’s never lived in Canada?” Both teachers grew quickly uncomfortable, as was I, but I did my best to answer. A couple of questions later another boy asked: “Is it true he’s only doing this for himself?” A couple of similar questions were asked in short order.
When it was over, a talked to a couple of the questioners on their way out the door, asking where they got these ideas. Television, of course. I could see the sadness on their teacher’s faces. This was a keen young group, but somehow the Conservative attack ads had descended to the level of grade fives and already coloured their thinking.
Now, as they read these words, some staffers in the PMO will be spinning with glee. It’s proof positive for them that negative advertising even reaches the young. Personally, I find it disgusting. I don’t like negative ads in any form – that’s no secret – and I’m aware that at certain times all parties cross the line. But no one does it like the Conservatives; it’s an art and a Machiavellian craft they are committed to for the duration.
Like so many other characteristics at present, what this says about our political system is discomfiting. The government doesn’t let opposing young minds into their political rallies but it actually teaches them to be negative before they’re even done primary school. The best of governments teaches the young to believe and hope, to use objective reasoning as they journey through life. Yet the Conservatives are luring them like some Pied Piper towards negativism and ignorant belief. Albert Einstein once observed:
“Youth is the first victim of war; the first fruit of peace. It takes 20 years or more of peace and learning to make an adult; it takes only 20 seconds of war to destroy him.”
Well, if yesterday’s class was any example, we have a government that is willing to accept young minds as collateral damage in a political war bent on the pursuit of a majority. It is the worst of all possible outcomes, the most destructive of all adult choices.
I was asked a couple of years ago by a reporter what I would put forward as my first Private Members Bill (these are chosen by a lottery system and my opportunity hasn’t yet been arisen). I had only been in it for two years but I knew the answer immediately – not aid for Darfur or even better assistance for those in poverty. No, I stated that it would be a bill that would put an end to all negative advertising between elections. I was quickly gaining the understanding that negative ads mould young and older alike, rendering it more difficult for students to engage in the public process with the objective skills required to become effective citizens. Every teacher in the land should raise their voice against such ignorant practices.
Yesterday I informed those kids that Michael Ignatieff is one of the finest men I know. I should never have had to even undertake the effort; students would be right to believe that those seeking to be PM would be honourable. The very reality that one leader would okay millions to be spent for an entire two years in order to retain power by eviscerating an opponent with untruths, despoiling the minds of even grade fives is one of the most sinister developments of our modern Canadian politics. And for you PMO types delighted with yourselves – shame on every one of you who devised such a sinister plan.