Posts Tagged 'people’s party of canada'

Pretty / fair assessment.

I didn’t pay all that much attention to the recently concluded Canadian election campaign. It was only on voting day, while scraping together links to give the illusion of substance to my hot take on the outcome, that I learned about Maxime Bernier’s one-sided feud with Greta Thunberg.

Thunberg’s name you already know – she’s the sixteen year old Swede who skipped school to protest government insouciance toward what she believes is a looming global warming apocalypse, thus sparking an international campaign of climate truancy.

Bernier is the leader of the conservative splinter faction the People’s Party, who, after eliciting torrents of outrage from Canadian commentators about the infection of our heretofore pristine politics by an alien strain of right-wing populism, managed in the end to nab 1.6% of the vote.

A week before the election call, referring to an Instagram post in which Thunberg had discussed how her Asperger’s made her “a bit different from the norm”, Bernier tweeted:

@GretaThunberg is clearly mentally unstable. Not only autistic, but obsessive-compulsive, eating disorder, depression and lethargy, and she lives in a constant state of fear.

She wants us to feel the same: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I fear every day.”

For this and other offenses to propriety he was challenged by a questioner at the English language leaders’ debate, who wondered whether a politician willing to express such thoughts had the “character and integrity” to serve as prime minister.

Now, I don’t think Bernier’s tweet was so horrible. I guess the idea is that Thunberg, as a mere child, is too precious to be exposed to such a vicious partisan attack.

Putting aside the question of why, then, we ought to be taking seriously the opinions of the wee dainty thing, pretending to worry about a political foe’s mental stability strikes me as a more gentlemanly way to discredit her than the customary tactic of questioning her decency or honesty.

Compare Nancy Pelosi’s comment, after a noisy meeting with Donald Trump, that the president was losing his grip and that we all ought to “pray for his health”. I mean, sure it was cynical and sanctimonious. Still, it was a refreshing change from calling him a racist liar like she does every other day of the week.

But I suppose I’m defending Bernier because, when I saw that famous picture of Thunberg at the climax of her speech at the UN – the “How dare you” speech – I couldn’t help thinking, “The poor kid looks nuts.”

greta thunberg how dare you

Jason Decrow, AP Images.

Speaking of unflattering pictures, a couple months back this letter to the editor appeared in the print edition of the Vancouver Sun:

I was struck by the rather telling body language in the photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump on Page NP1 of Monday’s Sun. Trudeau smiles and extends a hand in conventional diplomatic greeting while Trump looks away with a disdainful expression and keeps his hands clasped together. The picture neatly summarizes our two countries’ relationship and shows Trump has no tact.

When I got home that evening I looked up the photo, which was taken at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France:

trump trudeau handshake g7 meeting 2019

“In my considered opinion as a professional photojournalist, the key moment of this encounter occurred just after the leaders’ handshake, as the president turned to look for his chair.” – Nicholas Kamm, Agence France-Presse.

No doubt the author of that letter would deny that his political opinions are so malleable that a photograph could alter them. He wouldn’t despise Trump a jot less if the Sun had opted to publish this more conventional shot, taken a few seconds earlier:

trump trudeau handshake g7 meeting 2019

Carlos Barria, Reuters.

I’m not so confident that I’m immune to the effects of media image manipulation. Suppose I’d never seen that memorable photo of Thunberg with her face twisted in rage – suppose the Vancouver Sun had instead gone with the more complimentary angle favoured by the Toronto Star:

greta thunberg how dare you

Spencer Platt, Getty Images.

In that case, when I later came across Bernier’s ruminations about Thunberg’s mental health, they would have struck me as entirely out of left field.

I don’t mean to imply that the Sun, or the many other newspapers that published the rage-face photo, were trying to discredit Thunberg. It’s definitely the more interesting image, just as the image of Trump appearing to snub Trudeau is more interesting than a customary grip-and-grin would have been.

But even when we all see the same image, we don’t. For those already panicky about global warming, Thunberg’s emotionalism seems appropriately modulated: she should be that outraged. Why aren’t the rest of us?

While to cynical geezers like me and, I suppose, Maxime Bernier, she just looks like an overwrought kid who needs a hug.

Looking again at that Trump-Trudeau handshake, to me it’s not the president but the PM who comes off poorly. With his camera-ready grin Trudeau has always struck me as glossy and artificial, like a second-rate game show host; while Trump, for whom I have a grudging fondness, seems appealingly rumpled and unrehearsed.

Obviously this has nothing to do with the two men’s respective policies. Just as obviously, it colours the way I perceive those policies. A news media intent on subtly shifting my political sympathies could probably do so, over the course of many months, by showing me photos of Trudeau looking less like an airbrushed phony, and Trump like more of one.

They’ve been doing that kind of thing – making Personality A look like a saint and Personality B like a shifty weirdo – since the invention of the news. But until quite recently the media’s efforts at thought manipulation have been limited,

First, by the temptation of profits, which created an incentive to publish visually arresting but off-message pictures;

Second, by the diversity of the media market, which meant there was usually a competing newspaper or TV network to serve as a reality check for skeptical audiences;

Third, by the fact that a substantial minority of the audience would always turn out to be perversely attracted to whatever the majority found ugly.

But media consolidation has reduced the salience of the first two factors, while the third – the glorious, ridiculous unruliness of individual human judgement – may turn out to be algorithmically tameable.

Soon media companies will have the power to fine-tune their image delivery to individual readers: to show me Trudeau with a frown and five-o’clock shadow where my neighbour sees him grinning with baby-smooth cheeks; to show me Thunberg cool and scientific where my neighbour sees her bawling for our doomed planet; and we’ll both arrive, by seeming serendipity, at exactly the same set of opinions.

M.

Election 2019: This crank says nay.

This year I officially became a nonvoter.

The last couple elections I dutifully crossed the street to the local seniors’ centre and stood in line for the privilege of spoiling my ballot. I don’t claim this chore was terribly onerous, but it brought me neither pleasure nor reward, and I wondered why I bothered.

Last time, I considered scribbling a penis or a bunny rabbit on my ballot, to at least provide a moment of levity to the poor schmuck tallying the votes. But the line-up, while brisk, was lengthy enough that I felt guilty lingering behind the partition to doodle, and after a brief hesitation I simply refolded the ballot unmarked.

So this year I skipped it. It was raining anyway.

An NDP-supporting friend encouraged me to vote, vote for anyone – even the Conservatives – just so long as I registered my opposition to “the Christian party”, by which I gathered she meant the ex-Tory Maxime Bernier’s reified fit of pique, the People’s Party of Canada.

I didn’t bother explaining that I have about as much or little enthusiasm for the dreaded Bernier as I have for the other leaders; and that if my vote amounted to a die roll, one name was as likely to come up as another; and that if a single vote for the PPC mattered so much to her she should prefer, to be on the safe side, that I abstain. I just grunted and changed the subject.

***

In an earlier essay I advanced a theory of what I might call, if I were a lefty academic, a systemic bias favouring conservative parties:

Young journalists, freshly escaped from the progressivist petri dishes of the North American higher education system, might sincerely intend to give conservatives a fair shake; but they unconsciously communicate their disdain and disbelief through their word choices, their headlines, the photos they choose to illustrate their articles, and of course, through which stories they cover, and which they ignore.

In a multi-party system like Canada’s, this bias affects which parties get taken seriously. Populists and social conservatives, in order to avoid the taint of association with icky “far-right” ideas, self-protectively cluster with libertarians and Bay Street types under a single big conservative tent; while politicians from the lefty fringe, emboldened by their friendlier media coverage, feel free to flake off into purist micro-parties which splinter the left-wing vote – helping the unified conservatives take power.

That’s the paradox: that left-leaning media might, in clumsily putting their thumb on the scales, accidentally be tipping elections to the right.

Yesterday’s election illustrates the paradox. The Liberals, New Democrats, and Greens – whose platforms appeared, to this untrained eye, as scarcely distinguishable shades of pale pink – together commanded the allegiance of 55% of the electorate. In Quebec yet another left-leaning party, the Bloc Quebecois, was in contention, so that in some ridings the progressive vote was split four ways.

This five-way split is the only reason the Conservatives were in the running at all. Although by international and historical standards they’re about as right-wing as a kindergarten teacher bottle-feeding a baby goat, apparently it’s enough to terrify an outright majority of the population. Against a unified left the Tories would long ago have been winnowed to a handful of farmers fulminating in an Alberta curling rink. Yet somehow they carry on, to the outrage of all decent-minded Canadians, cobbling together a majority every quarter century or so.

Plainly it’s in the interest of said decent-minded folks that a further-right alternative should emerge – one capable of siphoning off five or ten percent of the Tory vote, to give progressive candidates a bit more breathing room.

And yet when Maxime Bernier, miffed at his loss of the Tory leadership contest to hollowed-out marshmallow Andrew Scheer, declared his intention to launch just such a further-right alternative, did the media give him a respectful hearing? No, they went promptly to work re-installing the limits of acceptable discourse just this side of Bernier’s podium, appointing the nation’s most acute offense-detectors to guard the ramparts.

(Of course Scheer’s Conservatives were happy to give clandestine assistance to this project.)

Although there’s little in the People’s Party platform to support the accusation that it is, as my friend put it, a “Christian party”, it has emerged as a safe harbour for former Tories tired of being angrily shushed by their colleagues whenever they admitted to discomfort with the latest advance in the ongoing sexual enlightenment. Also for those drummed out of respectable society for doubting the reality of climate change, or the sanctity of immigration.

I suspect Bernier doesn’t care a fig about these cranky causes. Given his druthers he would have built his platform around laissez-faire economics of perfectly stodgy think-tank pedigree: ending supply management in the dairy industry, for example. But knowing that such a party would appeal only to a handful of bow-tie-wearing statistics profs, he welcomed his fellow ex-Tory refugees, believing (in the manner of the multiculturalists he now affects to disdain) that their diversity would prove to be a source of strength.

Was this realistic? Putting aside taxes and spending, and focussing on the culture-war issues, according to recent opinion polls:

  • 25% of Canadians remain opposed to gay marriage; [1]
  • 33% are leery of letting trans women use women’s bathrooms; [2]
  • 36% would support at least some restrictions on abortion; [3]
  • 18% are unworried about or doubt the reality of climate change; [4]
  • 55% would like to see immigration reduced. [5]

I imagine there’s a large degree of overlap on the gay marriage, transgender, and abortion issues: let’s say around 30% of Canadians are, on questions of marriage and sexuality, more or less socially conservative.

Bernier probably assumed, contemplating the tastes of this recalcitrant 30%, that they must also be angry about immigration, in denial about climate change, and ready to take the knife to taxes and social services. As many of them surely are.

But although it’s convenient for partisan head-counters, there’s no inherent reason these attitudes should cluster. One of the main lessons of the twin Brexit and Trump upsets of 2016 was that when voters are shaken loose from their customary political allegiances, they’ll reassemble in ways that are confusing to metropolitan observers: working-class Labour and Democratic Party voters, it turned out, weren’t as enthusiastic about mass immigration, cultural dislocation, and the affordable wares of Shenzhen as the folks in the capital thought they ought to be.

***

I think social conservative cranks, climate cranks, and immigration cranks should all feel welcome to air their views. This is probably because I’m an immigration crank myself. Which is to say I share with the majority of Canadians the opinion that immigration should be reduced.

The latest polling on the subject is from June, when 63% of respondents agreed that “the government should prioritize limiting immigration levels because the country might be reaching a limit in its ability to integrate them”. (Of course “limiting” immigration is not necessarily the same as “reducing” it.)

As you’d probably expect, the highest support for this proposition – 81% – came from Conservative voters. (People’s Party supporters weren’t broken out.) But the pattern beyond that is counterintuitive: 57% of Greens, 44% of New Democrats, and 41% of Liberals also favoured “limiting”.

Maybe those 57% of Green supporters fret about immigration for the same reason I do: they fear it’s pushing up the cost of housing and accelerating urban sprawl.

Maybe a few of them also believe, as I do, that a nation ought to be something more than a bunch of unrelated people scrabbling furiously to drive up the gross domestic product; that citizens should share some common values, common heroes, even a common language, so they can have a chat in the intervals between acts of commerce.

Regardless, there’s no particular reason that the above beliefs must be paired with, say, opposition to gay marriage or abortion. (In fact, someone concerned about overpopulation might logically be in favour of both.)

Or, to look at the pairing from the opposite angle, many of those Canadians who remain unembarrassed to profess social conservative views are themselves immigrants from places where the penalties for incorrect speech are far graver than being called out by some Twitter scold. They may see four more years of declarations from Justin Trudeau that their beliefs are un-Canadian as an acceptable tradeoff for the chance to bring their relatives over from the old country.

Suppose that there were no correlation at all between social conservatism, climate skepticism, and wanting less immigration. In that case the likelihood that a randomly selected Canadian would hold all three opinions would be 30% × 18% × 55% = 3%.

The People’s Party couldn’t manage even that: their final share of the popular vote was 1.6%.

But if there is a correlation, it may simply be that all three of the above opinions are currently deemed unsayable. A citizen accustomed to feeling that his beliefs have been twisted, traduced, and ignored by the media is bound to begin to mistrust coverage of other topics; if they’re willing to mischaracterize my viewpoint, the dissident realizes, how can I trust what they say about anyone else’s?

***

I’m not terribly surprised by Justin Trudeau’s victory, by the way. I don’t think the election really had much to do with pipelines, or taxes, or SNC-Lavalin, or blackface dance routines, or any of the other things pundits thought were important.

I believe what it came down to was that Trudeau makes Canadians feel special. Since he’s been prime minister, the rest of the world pays attention to us sometimes. Andrew Scheer could strangle Elizabeth May on the floor of the House of Commons and it would be reported somewhere around page 9 of the New York Times. Trudeau puts on funny socks and it’s retweeted around the world.

As the singer Nanette Workman enthused after performing at Justin’s dad’s retirement gala, “I’m not very political, but I love Trudeau. He’s a star. Like Mick Jagger.”

I have a feeling that, as we did with his father, we’ll be putting up with Justin for as long he decides to stick around.

M.

1. Same-sex couples…

64% “should continue to be allowed to legally marry”
15% “should only be allowed to form civil unions and not marry”
10% “should not have any kind of legal recognition”
11% “not sure”

Source: Research Co., July, 2019

2. Transgender Canadians…

33% “definitely” should be allowed to use the public bathroom of their choice
19% “probably” should be allowed to use the public bathroom of their choice
16% “definitely” should use the public bathroom based on their biological sex
17% “probably” should use the public bathroom based on their biological sex
16% “not sure”

Source: Research Co., July, 2019

3. Abortion…

53% “should be permitted whenever a woman decides she wants one”
24% “should be permitted in certain circumstances, such as if a woman has been raped”
7% “should only be permitted when the life of the mother is in danger”
5% opposed “under any circumstance”
11% “not sure”

Source: Ipsos, March, 2017

4. Climate change or global warming is…

47% “an extremely serious problem”
35% “a serious problem”
13% “not that serious problem”
5% “not a problem at all”

Source: Abacus Data, Summer, 2019

5. “I would like to see tighter border controls that allow fewer immigrants into Canada.”

30% “strongly agree”
25% “tend to agree”
27% “neither agree nor disagree”
11% “tend to disagree”
8% “strongly disagree”

Source: Ipsos, January, 2019

 


Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

You can find a selection of his cartoons, music videos, and ads on the Gallery page.

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