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Steve Collins covers urban affairs and other issues facing the nation's capital.

Trumped out? Take a walk on the mild side in Ottawa-Vanier

If you're still recovering from last week's bitterly fought and frankly bizarre election south of the border, some antidote might be found in Ottawa's east end.

In this Nov. 9, 2016, photo, President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally in New York.

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

In this Nov. 9, 2016, photo, President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally in New York.

If you're still recovering from last week's bitterly fought, frequently ugly and frankly bizarre electoral circus south of the border, some antidote might be found in Ottawa's east end Thursday.

If past experience here is any guide, Ottawa-Vanier by-election voters will line up for minutes, not hours, at polling stations where civility, fairness and order are the default settings. Voter suppression? What's that? Intimidation? Just not on.

The local campaign has been blessedly short on (though not completely free of) personal attacks and unsupported accusations. If it weren't for the ubiquitous campaign signs in the east end, you might not even be able to tell it's happening at all. 

One factor in the lower temperature is, I don't doubt, the lower stakes. No matter what happens Thursday, this by-election, and a concurrent one in Niagara West-Glanbrook, won't shift the balance of power at Queen's Park.

The outcome in Ottawa-Vanier is probably not in much doubt, either. The Liberals have held this riding provincially for 45 years, and with only occasional interruption for much of the last hundred. Still, anything can happen, and the governing party, in these days of pollster-confounding upsets, has been taking no chances. 

I myself received a recorded phone message from retired MPP Madeleine Meilleur, and a live call from a Liberal campaign volunteer (and dodged numerous other calls from the Grits and a persistent pollster).

Liberal Nathalie Des Rosiers' campaign also took the unfortunate step of sending an attack mail-out targeting (in both French and English) Progressive Conservative candidate Andre Marin, the former ombudsman for Ontario and the Canadian Forces.

“Who is the real Andre Marin?” it asks ominously, over an unflattering photo of Marin, mouth agape (and eyes reddened, I suspected, with a little help from Photoshop), a couple bowdlerized quotes from old newspaper stories and the completely unsupported conclusion: “Andre Marin only cares about Andre Marin. We deserve better.”

Voters deserve better than this sort of childish non-argument. It's cheap, not terribly convincing, even kind of embarrassing, but it's still miles above the dispiriting months-long mud-wrestle we just witnessed in the U.S.

When the opposition parties are more interested in fighting over Hydro bills than niqabs and other identity-politics fixations, it feels like a sign of relatively solid civic health.

One hot-button social issue in the last by-election campaign – the updated sex education curriculum – has since been shunted off to the side by PC leader Patrick Brown, who now backs it. The banner of opposition has taken up by the fringe candidate Elizabeth de Viel Caste of the single-issue, multi-syllabic Stop the New Sex-Ed Agenda Party.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Watson's survey questions for the major-party candidates, not surprisingly, all come down to funding, a re-re-re-commitment to the second phase of our LRT project (already explicitly supported by all three major parties in the last provincial election) plus early work on a downtown truck tunnel, which a recent report priced at $2-billion, and more cash for police and housing.

It's all very businesslike, practical, a little dull, even. A Donald Trump-free zone, with nastiness kept to a minimum, and, unlike last week, voters here can actually do something about the outcome. What's not to like?

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