"Politics are about people, elections are about choices." -- Enda Kenny, Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister)
Elections are indeed about choices, deciding between political parties with different policies and track records as well as leaders.
Elections determine who forms government, and your vote should be based on your values and important issues.
Most Canadians want change -- to remove the Stephen Harper Conservative government -- and for good reason.
From showing contempt for Parliament, scientists, labour, the environment and First Nations, to shamefully exploiting racial stereotypes in this election, Harper must be defeated.
The Green party simply can't win many seats.
That leaves the New Democratic Party Official Opposition and the Liberals.
And on critical issues, they have dramatically different positions.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau admitted the Conservatives' repressive and widely condemned Bill C-51 security legislation was wrong.
But then Trudeau and his Liberal MPs voted for it. The NDP opposed C-51 and voted against the Conservatives and Liberals.
Now Harper has signed a secret trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- with 11 other countries, including Japan, Mexico and the United States.
NDP leader Tom Mulcair opposes the TPP as damaging details from Wikileaks and others indicate the harm it would cause Canada's auto, dairy and medicine sectors and to intellectual property, privacy, and internet access.
The NDP "will not be bound by Harper's secret deals," Mulcair said Sunday on Vancouver Island. "Harper won't release the full details of it, and if he's so proud of it, why won't he show it to Canadians?"
'Written by corporations'
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a former World Bank chief economist, warns about the TPP.
"The real concern is that the whole thing is being written by corporations behind closed doors, with very little public input... The consumers, who are not at the table, get screwed."
Stiglitz and economist Adam Hersh say the TPP is not about free trade -- it's about corporate interests.
"You will hear much about the importance of the TPP for 'free trade.' The reality is that this is an agreement to manage its members' trade and investment relations -- and to do so on behalf of each country's most powerful business lobbies," Stiglitz and Hersh wrote last week.
"Make no mistake: It is evident from the main outstanding issues, over which negotiators are still haggling, that the TPP is not about 'free' trade," they conclude.
Former U.S. labour secretary Robert Reich is equally critical.
"If the TPP is enacted, big corporations, Wall Street and their top executives and shareholders will make out like bandits. Who will the bandits be stealing from? The rest of us," said Reich, who served under U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Even some Liberal candidates are worried about the TPP's impact on Canada.
"We celebrate what is happening at Ford and then our prime minister is negotiating an agreement that would put those jobs at risk, put the manufacturers at risk and put our community at risk," said Liberal candidate, Pam Damoff in the auto industry riding of Oakville North-Burlington on Oct. 2.
Damoff added that it was "appalling" that Canada was negotiating the TPP during the election.
But Trudeau is clearly neither appalled nor opposed, saying Liberals generally support the TPP and free trade.
"The Trans-Pacific Partnership stands to remove trade barriers, widely expand free trade for Canada, and increase opportunities for our middle class and those working hard to join it," Trudeau said in an Oct. 5 statement on the party website.
"The Liberal Party of Canada strongly supports free trade, as this is how we open markets to Canadian goods and services, grow Canadian businesses, create good-paying jobs, and provide choice and lower prices to Canadian consumers."
Trudeau criticizes Conservatives for failing "to be transparent" during negotiations, but merely promises if in power to "hold a full and open public debate in Parliament to ensure Canadians are consulted on this historic trade agreement."
So on the TPP, Harper says "trust me" while Trudeau says "trust Harper" and trust free trade.
Trusting Trudeau on C-51 didn't work -- neither will it on the TPP.
Standing on principle
How else can voters decide if politicians are sincere? Check their record.
When the Conservatives shamefully made the inconsequential wearing of the Muslim niqab by a handful of women seeking citizenship an election issue, Mulcair spoke out unequivocally against forcing women to dress according to how the government wants. He took this position despite holding the overwhelming majority of seats in Quebec, where many voters -- regrettably -- initially agreed with Harper.
Mulcair is standing on principle when it counts and is politically damaging, and that's leadership.
The NDP was following in the party's past tradition of doing what was right despite negative public opinion, like when it opposed Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau's imposition of the draconian War Measures Act and detention without bail of nearly 500 people in Quebec in the 1970 FLQ crisis. History shows the NDP takes the right position, despite initial public criticism.
If fundamental issues like C-51 and the TPP are important to you, vote for your values -- vote for the party that shares your view, not one that will say anything simply to get into power.