Independent candidates don’t often get a lot of attention during federal election campaigns, but this week we’d like to turn your attention to one of them: Dustin Wakeford, a satirical candidate on the ballot in Haldimand-Norfolk who’s offering voters a serious message.
Wakeford, a Simcoe small business owner, has crafted a campaign that’s sure to induce laughter from most anyone who hears what he has to say. But behind the humour lies a serious message – Canadian politics is in a sorry state.
We know Wakeford isn’t alone in feeling that way, but what makes him different when compared to most Canadians feeling disenfranchised from the political system is that he’s decided to do something about it.
As part of his campaign, Wakeford has crafted an alter ego candidate who, according to several promotional videos on YouTube, fought in the First World War and practices voodoo in his spare time. Clearly, the 30-something Wakeford did not fight in the First World War, and we’re pretty sure the voodoo bit is a joke, too.
“With the satirical campaign, I’m trying to demonstrate in politics today in Canada the boundary between the real and the unreal has become hazy at best, non-existent at worst,” he said during an interview with Norfolk News. “It’s staged, it’s fake, it’s smoke and it’s mirrors. And politics was always like that. At the end of the day, you’re selling a product. But it wasn’t as visceral and as nasty as it’s become.”
As part of his campaign, Wakeford is aiming to shine a light on what he sees as wrong with our democracy. He decries low voter turnout (which stood at 61.4 per cent nationally in the 2011 election), a general feeling of disengagement and detachment from the political process and the “incredibly destructive” effects of negative political advertising. He’s also concerned about what he sees as a concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office and wants to help stop the slide of Canadian politics into a “blood sport.”
We should note that Wakeford didn’t always feel this way, having previously been involved in mainstream party politics as a member of the former Progressive Conservative Party. He’s worked behind the scenes on campaigns at the municipal, provincial and federal levels and says his current run for office was born out of a frustration with the division and partisanship he sees in politics – and the hope that things can change.
“To me, politics should never be personal and it should never be vindictive,” Wakeford said. “I’m willing to listen to anyone who might have a solution and might help...At the end of the day, I don’t care if they vote for me, as long as they go out and vote.”
Instead of door knocking or taking part in all-candidates debates, Wakeford has crafted short videos to promote his campaign and is sharing them on social media. (You can check them out by searching “Dustin Wakeford YouTube” on Google, but please note that viewer discretion is advised.) Wakeford hopes his online strategy will lead to younger voters – most of whom are utterly disconnected from politics – hearing his message.
While Wakeford’s videos are meant to be funny, we think all voters – young and old – should take note of the serious message behind the laughs. In the end, making our democracy what we want it to be is a responsibility that belongs to all of us. And we can all play a role.
Sitting around and complaining doesn’t do anybody much good. Sharing your views and becoming part of the discourse – like Dustin Wakeford has decided to do – is infinitely more constructive, even if Wakeford’s campaign is being run with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “(The campaign) is heavily satirical, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that there isn’t something deadly serious underneath this,” he said. “Because there is. This isn’t just a joke to me.”
Fostering a more healthy democracy in Canada is certainly no joke to us, either.