Edmonton mayoral candidate Daryl Bonar has signs that say “FIGHT BACK!” I suppose that locates him somewhere in the political spectrum, but I hope readers will forgive me if I say that this particular candidate’s slogan really ought to be “STANDING UP FOR EDMONTON!”

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, who is going to knock out Bonar and all the other would-be fighters in the opening round of the Oct. 18 Alberta-wide municipal election, has one of the better political slogans: “Open. Decisive. Fair.” The fair part is in a cool ecological green. This is an unusual slogan, as political slogans go nowadays, in that it actually says something … even if it’s not entirely true.

The mayor of the town I live in has a slogan that says “Our City – Our Future.” My wife says this should read “My Vision – Your Taxes,” but personally I think this is unfair. However, the mayor will likely only be getting one vote from our household.

Out on my lawn there’s a sign for a city council candidate who takes the minimalist approach. It just says “Wes Brodhead. Councillor.” So is he an incumbent, or what? (He’s not.)

Wes may be taking a chance, because a professional political operative of my acquaintance (NDP) once told me you have to have a slogan if you want to get elected. So I did as he said and had one when I ran for city council back in 2007. I didn’t get elected anyway, so maybe my political advisor was full of hooey, or maybe my slogan wasn’t up to snuff.

Actually, my slogan was so insipid I can’t even remember what it was. “Yes we can!” Nope, that wasn’t it. Anyway, whatever it was, as it turned out we couldn’t.

The thing is, political slogans that actually tell the truth are generally frowned upon in the post-modern era. The theory is that Albertans (and presumably other Canadians too) like straight talkers who say what they mean. This, of course, is complete baloney, because if you said what you meant, nobody would vote for you.

“Vote for Dave: I’m only in it for the money!”

“Vote for Rob: I’m a big fat right-wing slug who wants to wreck your city!” (Shut up! I’m allowed. I lived six year’s in Rob’s town. Anyway, thanks to Duffer Harris, the suburbs get to wreck your city now and there’s nothing you can do about it!)

“Vote for Rory*: I’m a retired pain-in-the-ass and I have time on my hands.” (*Resemblance to actual politicians is purely coincidental. If you’re a politician running for city council and you name is Rory, I’m sorry that I missed it. I really, really didn’t mean you. Rory is my dog’s name. Really.)

Seriously, do you think Alberta voters would reward straight shooters who had slogans like that with their votes? Fat chance! No, voters expect you to lie to them, and if you don’t and they catch on, they’ll punish you on voting day. That’s why there are so many utterly boring generic slogans, like mine, which I still can’t remember.

Here’s one from a would-be councillor who’s really hard to find on the Internet because he shares a name with a semi-famous movie star. “Let’s focus on the future. Together.” (No, whaddya say you just go on by yourself. I’ll catch up later….)

Here are some more actual political slogans from the generic school of political sloganeering (names of candidates, who are all running right now, are not included to protect the guilty), with explanatory commentary provided by your blogger:

Work with [FIRST NAME OF CANDIDATE HERE] to build the future.” (I’d really rather not, thanks very much.)

The BEST choice for city council!” (Good one!)

A positive voice committed to improving our community.” (Does he really mean this?)

A voice of reason.” (Oh dear…)

Refresh. Refocus. Renew.” (Really? How about … Reassess!)

Together, we can make things happen.” (Not tonight, dear. I have a headache.)

A smart direction with fresh ideas.” (The same old Tory bean counting.)

Make your vote count.” (Oh, I will … but not for you!)

“Serious about choices and voices.” (Obviously not the front-runner.)

OK. Enough of that. For my money, political slogans just aren’t as good as they used to be.

Consider John A. Macdonald‘s: “The old man. The old flag. The old policy,” plus sundry variations thereof. Who wouldn’t vote for the guy? In my opinion, things started going downhill in this country, slogan-wise, with “Let Laurier finish his work.” Please! It’s enough to make you want to vote for Robert Borden!

The United States offers a richer vein of political sloganeering. President James K. Polk, for example, was in 1844 one of the last who actually said what he meant: “54.40 or Fight!” (Not good news for you, Canada!)

William McKinley in 1900: “A Full Dinner Pail!”

Warren G. Harding, 1920: “Cox and Cocktails.” (It’s not as bad as it sounds folks. Whereas, “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa, Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha,” is, although it didn’t work.)

Personally, my favourite political slogan of all time is William Henry Harrison’s “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” which apparently meant something to American voters at the time. “Hasta la victoria siempre,” of course, must be counted a close second.

Political leaders of an earlier generation, sadly for us who live in their future, got by without slogans. What would have been Genghis Khan‘s if he had had to run for office? Or Emperor Nero‘s, had he faced the same challenge? Catherine the Great‘s?

And then there’s George Armstrong Custer, who lived in the Slogan Era, but never had the opportunity to follow through with his ambition to run for president of the United States?

Readers are encouraged to offer their suggestions to fill these important blanks in history.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...