The election campaigns are just getting under way, but already too many candidates are sliding inexorably toward the gutter.

Before this trend gets out of control, the parties and independent candidates alike should take a step back and recalibrate their messages.

To be fair, many candidates are on the right track. But we can assure the rest that voters aren’t interested in pandering, innuendo, mudslinging, fibs or wordy nonsense masquerading as leadership.

Besides the bad-mindedness of such tactics, they disrespect voters by wasting precious time. This year marks a critical period in Virgin Islands history, and decisions made at the polls next month will have ramifications for generations to come.

Following the Commission of Inquiry, for instance, the threat of direct rule still hangs over the territory. Meanwhile, the world is facing geopolitical turmoil that could well shift the existing order of the western world as we know it. Against that backdrop, the VI’s financial services industry faces existential threats following the European Union’s recent blacklisting and the threat of more censure from other international bodies.

The tourism sector, though recovering steadily from the Covid-19 pandemic, still faces grave problems — far too many of which are self-imposed. Climate change is bringing ever greater threats, as evidenced by the release this week of yet another terrifying report by the United Nations.

In other words, the territory is facing big questions that urgently need answers.

Candidates, then, must put aside gutter politics and focus on clearly explaining their vision so that voters can understand exactly what they would get in exchange for their X.

Constitutional questions top the list. For instance, should the territory pursue greater self-determination? If so, how? Should it go further and work toward independence? If so, when? If not, should it aim to continue the status quo or to fundamentally change its relationship with the UK?

Then there are the egregious governance failings highlighted by the COI. Do candidates agree with the reforms promised by the National Unity Government in the wake of the inquiry? Would they add to the list? For that matter, would they be willing to form another cross-party government if required by the UK?

Economic questions also abound. How do candidates plan to help the VI recover from the runaway inflation, shipping crises, and other woes affecting the world economy? How would they prepare for the possibility of global recession? What about China’s increasing dominance on the world stage?

Domestically, how would they reform the National Health Insurance system to make it sustainable? How would they plug the gaps in its coverage?

Another urgent topic is the government’s long-delayed hurricane recovery. How would candidates repair the many schools, administration buildings, museums, libraries and other damaged infrastructure that has been greatly underfunded since Irma while successive administrations have turned up their noses at a UK loan guarantee? Would candidates seek new loans? When? And from where?

As climate change threatens, how would they protect the territory’s delicate natural environment?

And how would they address rising crime, busted roads, air access, Prospect Reef, solid waste, pollution, sewage, telecommunications, and social issues?

The list goes on and on. Indeed, we could fill many pages with more questions of urgent relevance to the territory. And in the coming weeks, we will.

Candidates should concentrate on offering answers.