canadian election

Canada Votes: Don’t Feed the Partisans

BY: James Di Fiore

Canadians have often defined themselves through one main pillar of pride; we are not Americans. Some say it stems from an inferiority complex, others simply say it is due to our unfettered sense of civility. In either case, we have often conducted ourselves with an understanding that our politeness and reason would see us through.

Sadly, the days of the polite Canuck are over, thanks to a new divisive attitude fostered by Canadian politics, enabled by social media and abetted by polling companies desperate to remain relevant.

There was a time when most non-conservatives in Canada agreed that the domestic, wacky, political partisans belonged almost exclusively to the far right. The now defunct Sun News Network cemented this idea, and even gave birth to the notion that Canada was only sparsely populated with intellectual lightweights, glaring hypocrites and hotheads who used ban puns laced with spittle when lashing out at the country’s commies and hippies. If a nutty, right wing network can’t survive here, then surely we are still a country of mostly levelheaded sweethearts, right?

Nope.

This election has unearthed a horrible reality in Canada; Liberal and NDP partisans who are just as unreasonable and rigid as their conservative counterparts. This reality is especially glaring if you participate in social media, where a political cesspool of halfwits, pom pom wavers and disinformation agents pollute computer screens from St. Anthony to Victoria, adding a sheen of shit onto an already nauseating campaign. Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau: all of them, according to their following of amateur pundits, can walk on water, ride unicorns, and have never, ever farted. They’ve also, according to their armies of loyalists, have never shown bad judgment. Not once. Ever.

To the apolitical, the apathetic or the average Canadian voter, this new reality is doing a horrible disservice. Supporters frame obvious gaffes as oppositional propaganda out of blind loyalty, setting the stage for an eventual prime minister who will have a chunk of the electorate that never calls truth to power.

Think of the last nine years as the dry run where conservative loyalists turned a blind eye to scandal after scandal, insuring that at least one third of the nation acted as the enabler for an out-of-control government. This unfortunate landscape, combined with majority status over the past four years, created the building blocks for unchecked power, the kind in which governments can run amok, pass any legislation they want and mold Canadian institutions without the consent of most Canadians or the input from Parliament itself.

The examples are everywhere in this election. Trudeau, who clearly lost a tangible chunk of support due to his bizarre doublespeak on Bill C 51, is propped up by fans – and I use that term literally – who were dead against the draconian legislation when it was announced by prime minister Harper, and have now done their best impression of a veteran politician by collectively flip flopping on the issue. Of course, if Mulcair or Harper had supported legislation they were on record saying they abhorred, those same partisans would be the first to yell and point. Not this election though. Trudeau, who also went on record two months ago chastising Harper’s use of deficits, only to announce his intention to run three consecutive deficits should his party win the election, managed to convince his fans that propping up Harper’s bill was a nuanced approach. Hey, what’s doublespeak to a clan of blind followers in 2015? Trudeau said back in April “Our platform will be fully costed, fiscally responsible and a balanced budget.” Today, Trudeau’s main campaign promise is to run three straight deficits. During one of the debates he even looked straight at the camera and told the country he was the only leader being honest with Canadians. The only thing more rich than that statement is the person who gave it, but his fans didn’t even blink.

Mulcair’s base is also giving their leader a free ride, even as they listen to him make contradictory statements in French and English regarding the Clarity Act. Make no mistake, Mulcair says different things depending on the language of his audience, but supporters give him a pass, knowing the strategy in Quebec has to focus on beating the Bloc and not leveling with all Canadians. The NDP also have the dubious honor of trying to balance their lefty brand with a newly adopted conservative economic plan, complete with balanced budgets and not much for working class Canadians.

As for Harper, his base is probably the most loyal group of followers since the exodus of the rats in Hamelin, ready to mark an X beside a man who has been lying to the country for nearly a decade. He lies to his base to solicit money, he lies to his base about his economic record, he lies to his base about terrorism issues, and has uttered a whole host of other fibs and half-truths designed to compartmentalize the base away from the vast majority of Canadians. It’s an Us VS Them strategy that demonizes non-conservatives, amalgamating the Christians, the racists, the climate change deniers and the wealthy hermits under one roof.

The big political picture is even more disheartening than any one party, especially as NDP and Liberal supporters attack each other with the same mindless rage conservatives have been using against both groups for years. Social media has created a wrestling ring of malicious, ad hominem attacks between people who have more in common than any other political groups in Canada. Make no mistake, the Liberal Party and the NDP are close ideological cousins, yet both are engaging in ludicrous finger pointing and absurd comparisons to the Harper Government. Some of this can be explained by their respective strategies of trying to nibble support from red Tories and moderate conservatives (yes, there are still some left), but much of it stems from a rabid mindset where winning is more important than principles.

Finally, pollsters are the gasoline this political hellfire needs in order to flourish. This race has been within the margin of error for so long that even a 1% lead is treated like a coronation of sorts. Daily polls are poisoning the opinions of casual political watchers, while parties themselves are using polling firms to unleash tactical strategies in a way that throws professional ethics out the window. The polling industry today is comprised of partisans and numerical alchemists, a propagandist arm of politics where results almost always mirror the ideology of the agency or the client.

The one saving grace in this particular election is the likelihood of a minority government situation. Harper has shown the other parties what majority governments can do to manipulate the rules of Parliament, and if one lesson can be realized it’s that one. But we should not risk more unchecked power just because the party wielding it aligns more closely with our views. It’s that kind of hypocrisy that has made this election a melting pot of red meat, scarfed down by partisans whose views span the political spectrum.

Advertisements

Election 2011: How Canada is Replicating America’s Hyper Partisan Politics

 

 NDP surge means more than a political shift – it completes the national polarization process

By: James Di Fiore

As far as Parliamentary systems go, Canada once had an international reputation of demonstrating fiscal prudence, strong social policies and a peacekeeping military. It wasn’t too long ago when our national identity was predicated on our ability to differentiate ourselves, respectfully of course, from our American cousins. Canadians, a patchwork of various political leanings, had a reputation of not letting ideology trump civil discourse, even while their politicians took cheap shots or when Question Period looked like Romper Room. Americans, by contrast, treat politics like a blood sport, a tug of war between polar opposites fueled by cable news, conspiracy and the tendency to vilify opposing views. And while the two countries are easily separated by this political distinction, that gap is shrinking ominously.

The 2011 election has been preempted by deliberate tactics of aspersions meant to reinforce political differences rather than spotlight honest disagreements. This reinforcement seems logical on the surface; after all, this is an election of partisan ideas and genuine dissimilarities between the parties. But the tactical trends indicate an increase in hyperbole, demonization and vitriol between regular people, not just the leaders they support. Evidence of this new mindset among voters can be seen on social networking sites, the opinion sections of news outlets and in pubs and coffee shops across the country. The two sides are drifting from the center, espousing far right and far left ideals while warning their fellow Canadians of the perils of political views opposite from their own.

By attacking Stephen Harper on military spending, corporate tax cuts and perceived government secrecy, the Liberals and NDP are inciting reactionary rhetoric from their loyalists rather than a frank discussion on policy differences. Rooted in these talking points may be reasonable concerns, but the conversation is routinely fertilized with fear mongering and allegations of conspiracy.

The far right, disciplined in their ability to robotically stay on message, firebomb the left with labels like ‘socialist’, ‘fiberal’ and ‘anti-Semite’. The latter smear is telegraphed and eerily reminiscent of Evangelical America, the slur being delivered arbitrarily and deliberate. The term socialism, as the Obama era has demonstrated, is now the political equivalent of calling a person a Brownshirt, stoking a reaction among those conservatives who still cynically dub Canada ‘Canuckistan.’

Identical to American politicos in tone and delivery, these two groups have become the loudest voices during this campaign. Television broadcasts may not espouse or endorse the same kind of language, but journalists and pundits quietly recognize the behind the scenes trend of tar and feathering political opponents. As the Conservative base digs in, the rise of the NDP marches on. Ideologies are continuing to drift farther apart. The rhetoric provides the kind of cover that helps avoid the effective discourse needed to reconcile opposing views. You might never hear Stephen Harper publicly utter the word Canuckistan, but you can hear his base cackle enthusiastically when the term is used. Jack Layton probably won’t point and yell ‘Fascist!’ if Harper wins a majority government, but many of his minions are already wearing t-shirts bearing the message.

The chances of further polarization among Canadians is high. Engagement in politics is rising, moods are shifting and party strategists are encouraging an ongoing spirit of anger among their respective loyalists. Torches and pitchforks have been replaced with internet trolling and reactionary, inflammatory language.

Disinformation. Relentless name-calling. A dangerous and tragic replication of American discourse is being born, and many Canadians are unwitting, tragic accomplices.