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John Doyle: We got the election campaign we deserve – bland

Election campaigns shine an unforgiving light on this comatose country. Does it have a pulse? That's my question after watching it unfold as most people do – on TV. This campaign, with an end nowhere in sight, crushes the illusion that Canada is in any way interesting. One watches with agitation, incredulity. So far, an angry old man swearing at reporters is the most invigorating element.

In what seems like the long-ago now, there was a debate on TV. Elizabeth May marshalled facts and deft arguments to swing rebukes at young Mr. Trudeau, testy Tom Mulcair and the Harperman who has been for a decade Our Glorious Leader. Then May disappeared from the TV coverage. She might as well be ensconced in a shack on a remote beach in B.C., off the grid, for all the attention she gets.

Testy Tom Mulcair is running on umbrage. He's so full of umbrage that if you tipped him over – and he looks eminently tip-able – umbrage would come pouring out by the bucketful. Umbrage is, I imagine, an orange liquid of remarkable viscosity. Young Mr. Trudeau is stiff, over-prepared and one suspects is afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. It's odd – he looks more animated and charismatic in still photographs of unrehearsed moments than he does on TV. This was the dauphin's election to lose, and he is.

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The Harperman goes around the country, spiritless, animated as a log, droning on, while men in hardhats stand behind him, glumly staring ahead. He doesn't answer questions. He just says "no" about five times daily.

Maybe it's a decade of "no" that has made Canada comatose and caused this campaign to be so lifeless, bereft of inspiration, lacking in oratory or inspirational heft. Perhaps it's 10 years of negativity about national aspirations that has brought this blandness, this grinding epic of robotically choreographed photo ops and petty promises to save us a dollar here and there. It's what we want, what we deserve. Apparently the Harperman is promising tax breaks for those who wear tan shoes to church on Sundays. This is loyalty-card politics. Stick with us and you'll get a free coffee. Eventually. Television laps it up, the predictability of this grind and its witless dramatis personae.

Enter Nigel "Dudley Do-Right" Wright. Dully rich and religious, the sort of establishment man intuitively lionized by the Canadian media. By tradition, you see, he is the epitome of our betters. He was surely on his way to an Order of Canada and the citation would have read: "For being a very good boy." Now, maybe not. Still, all the slippery shenanigans, secretiveness and office-memo chicanery to save the posterior of the entitlement-obsessed Mike Duffy – that farce of office politics masquerading as scandal – was anchored in the principle of being a very, very good boy.

The Duffy trial shook up the TV coverage. CTV News was loving it. Don Martin was practically bursting with glee. He hasn't looked so cheery since the show Mike Duffy Live morphed into Power Play and Martin became the host. Yes, it's that small a country. CBC News coverage is a disgrace. As insipid as the campaign itself. It relies so heavily on the pedantic punditry of "Andrew, Chantal and Bruce," who might as well be talking about championship show jumping for all the wit and sagacity they deliver.

Enter an angry old man, shouting and swearing at reporters. The gist of his point was that the media is, mainly, made up of lying pieces of excrement. In the context of this election campaign, it was commanding. The economy and flair of his vehemence was admirable. It was also brilliant TV. (CTV News aired it as pure, uncut election news while CBC diluted it badly.) The iconography and theatre of it was exquisite. The angry old man as proxy Conservative Party spokesperson, facing the cameras, answering questions and making forceful arguments. He had what this election campaign lacks – conviction.

Then enter Stephen Lewis, at the age of 77 and not angry at all. Just joyous, boastful and loquacious. Introducing testy Mulcair and the Dipper team, he rose to fine heights of oratory about "the reclaiming of Canada," "a restorative agenda" and "what Canada once was." By that he meant a Canada "decent and humane, principled and generous, inclusive, compassionate." Nice but for all its flair, it wasn't much of a hit on TV. If you searched on CPAC you could find it, maybe. No wonder. It is eloquence about your parents' Canada, not ours. Articulate the future, with conviction, buddy, instead of exalting the past, the long-ago.

Canada imagines itself as the envy of the world. When smart alecks in other countries deride Canada as bland and boring, a lot of people here shrug. Such people have not been paying attention to the epic of dreariness and feeble thought, lacking all conviction, that is the federal election campaign of 2015. In the country of the bland, an angry old man is king.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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