Editorial: Know your local candidates, not just their parties

Will the person you vote for be an active MP, or a mere party mouthpiece? It’s not too late to do a little homework.

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Writing in Policy Options recently, scholar Alex Marland cited a 2015 study that concluded voters are rarely influenced by their evaluation of the individuals running in their particular ridings. That’s a missed opportunity to improve democracy.

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Our voting habits are understandable, of course. Party labels and general impressions of the leaders form a basic political shorthand, pointing busy Canadians in certain directions on election day.

But this shorthand also lets us off the hook. A truly healthy parliament demands voters do some additional homework.That includes a bit of research about local candidates.

Practically, does this matter? Yes. MPs make (or don’t make) commitments specific to their ridings. Can the one you vote for actually follow through? Do their pledges make sense? Second, all MPs, regardless of party, have an obligation to hold government to account — to speak up if they think a policy is amiss, and to strive to keep our politics honest. Have you done enough research to conclude that the individual candidate you support will act in this way? Most MPs will be back-benchers, and some will equate that status with being mere party mouthpieces. The best will be much more than that. Surely we want to send the latter group to the Hill.

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Here are some basic questions. Do you know who your local candidates are? Do you know why they are running? Have you tuned in to an all-candidates’ meeting to get a sense of them? (You can review all-candidates meetings in several spots, for instance on Rogers TV. ) Have you checked out candidate websites?

In the eight Ottawa ridings, 28 would-be MPs recently submitted op-eds for the digital edition of the Citizen (search the candidate’s name and Ottawa Citizen). Most revealed key facts. For instance, some had clearly taken the time to list their local priorities, while others only regurgitated their party’s national platform. Some didn’t know the difference between federal jurisdiction and what a city council does. Some have great qualifications. You need to judge these people on more than the colour of their lawn signs, though that matters too.

On Saturday, Postmedia Network will publish this company’s national editorial endorsement. Editorials and opinion columns help people test and clarify their own views. But remember: while elections are very much about parties and platforms, they’re also about a local MP’s character, knowledge, backbone and integrity. Many talented individuals are running in the Ottawa area. You still have time to find out something about them.

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