Quick: match the quote to the leader who said it.

Hint: both come from meetings the Star’s editorial board held with the leaders of the federal Liberal and Conservative parties just before the Oct. 21 election was called.

First: “I meet with so many people who have a different version of a similar story: they’re working incredibly hard but they’re not getting ahead. There’s a lot of anxiety.”

And second: “A lot of people, specifically the middle class, feel like they haven’t been getting ahead. And that has led to anxiety.”

Confused? So were we. For the record, the first quote comes from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and the second from Justin Trudeau of the Liberals. But of course they could easily be switched around and no one would notice, including perhaps themselves.

Both major parties, the ones with an actual chance of forming government, have put their finger on the same thing. Canadians are worried about their future and, especially, their kids’ future. All the big-picture good news about the economy hasn’t translated into optimism and confidence. Plus the climate crisis has leapt to the top of people’s concerns. “Anxiety” is the keyword for 2019.

But even if the big parties have essentially the same diagnosis of what ails us, how they plan to treat it and who we choose to trust with the cure will make a significant difference.

Certainly, we can be thankful that we aren’t Americans or Britons. They face much more dramatic elections, involving fundamental, even existential, questions.

Americans must decide whether to rid themselves of the most destructive president they’ve ever had. It’s no exaggeration to say the future of their country is at stake, with grave consequences for the rest of us as well.

And the British may soon have to vote yea or nay on a government hell-bent on cutting ties with Europe and putting the unity of their kingdom at risk. It’s a lot more entertaining, at least when viewed from afar, but we should give thanks that the choices we face are less cataclysmic.

Which is not to say it doesn’t really matter. To anyone tempted by that thought we have two words: Doug Ford.

Almost 15 months ago Ontarians faced a choice between a party that had been around long enough to accumulate a big load of baggage, and an untested leader who offered little more than slogans. But hey, it was just a provincial election!

Now we know how that turned out: not well at all. And the difference is not abstract. There have been real consequences on the ground for real people: students crammed into more crowded classrooms; people struggling in low-paid jobs whose lives have been made just that much tougher; scientists whose research funds have dried up; doctors struggling to keep emergency wards from plunging into crisis. And on and on.

Elections, in other words, matter, even if the choices don’t appear as stark as they do in some other places and at some other times. How the parties deal with the anxiety that is so widespread among voters will make a big difference over time.

In this campaign the Liberals will try to make that point first of all by playing up the choices they made over the past four years that put the country on a different course from the one the Harper Conservatives were on in 2015.

If the Conservatives had continued in power, they wouldn’t have turned on the spending taps to pay for big infrastructure plans and expand child benefits. They wouldn’t have introduced carbon pricing to fight climate change. It’s highly doubtful there would have been such a big reduction in poverty. Whatever you think of what the Liberals did, none of that is trivial.

But the most important thing isn’t what happened over the past four years; it’s what’s likely to happen in the next four. We won’t know what the parties plan until they release their election platforms, but how they propose to tackle the sources of Canadians’ angst will be key.

We’ll be watching for that in four big areas:

  • Technology and the nature of work. Our jobs, and hence our lives, are being disrupted as never before. Achieving some kind of stability amid the storm requires innovative approaches to education, training and social programs.
  • Sharing the benefits of prosperity. Too many individuals, indeed entire sectors of the new economy, aren’t paying their share. They should.
  • Uncertainty around the world. Old alliances are crumbling and it’s not clear what will replace them. As a trading nation, that’s of vital concern to Canada. Jobs are at stake.
  • Climate change and energy. We can face up to the challenge or continue to drive on by. Either way, the consequences will be enormous.

All that is more than enough to explain the anxiety that the party leaders have rightly identified among so many Canadians.

The solutions they offer will tell us a lot about what kind of country they want. Who will benefit most from their plans? Who will pay? What kind of urgency do they feel about the problems we face?

We have just over five weeks to figure all that out.