On the Hill – Promises, Promises

These days, Canadians can be forgiven for being overwhelmed by a sudden, giddy sensation; an undeniable feeling that we’re being swept off our feet.

All this unexpected attention feels a little like being pursued by not one but several suitors, caught up in a tizzy of promises and sweet nothings in our ear, not sure whether to wear the formal blue outfit or the functional green one, the practical orange or the stylish red.

Make no mistake about it: we are indeed being wooed. With a general election set for October 14, the political parties have launched a whirlwind courtship for our votes. And just like the hopeful date who shows up at your door clutching a handful of flowers and a box of Laura Secord’s assorted, the politicians are willing to promise you the moon in exchange for your favour.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives claim they’ll bring you ?leadership certainty??a lovely box of lower taxes and improved health care wrapped up in Arctic sovereignty. In the Liberal camp, Stéphane Dion’s offerings include a Green Shift plan and ?a more robust food safety net,? garnished with a stronger economy.

Elizabeth May and the Green Party promise to increase financial support for post-secondary students and end their ?debt sentence,? all while promoting a healthy environment. Jack Layton and the NDP offer solutions for a cleaner environment too, along with an end to manufacturing-sector woes, promising to adopt ?a Made-in-Canada procurement policy for the federal government and its agencies.?

For its part, the Bloc Québécois? goals include reducing dependence on oil and adopting a federal pay equity act, while holding firm to promoting the interests of Quebec culture.

It’s all enough to make your head spin, with the promises coming as quickly as the sound bites can be broadcast. The question is, what’s a poor Canadian voter to believe? With broken election promises, backpedalling, and shifting alliances seeming almost de rigueur these days, the answer is simple: nothing.

That doesn’t mean don’t vote. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t examine whatever basket of tempting goodies each party is holding out with eager, sweating palms.

What it does mean is that, rather than being seduced by soaring declarations of commitment, we need to ask a more significant question about each party: not what they will do, but instead what they already have done.

Instead of getting caught up in the popularity contests as the political posturing gets into full swing, we owe it to ourselves to take a long, hard look at the proverbial pig without its lipstick; at how the parties have behaved when the hard-sell is over (although 15 minutes of Question Period is enough to make a civilized person want to stuff that pig back into its party dress again).

Look at their track record compared to past promises. Major examples from each party aren’t hard to find (the current election call being one, coming in spite of the Conservative Party’s own legislation that set a fixed election date for October 2009).

No political party or leader is perfect, but as the rhetoric revs up, we’d be smart to remember that choosing our leaders should be based on more than just glowing promises. Because as we all know, promises?both political and passionate?are easy to make in the heat of the moment, and just as easy to break in the harsh light of day.