Opinion by Darren Clarke, September 15, 2021
More than any federal election in recent memory the 2021 Canadian election has caused many Canadians to wonder, “Why is Canada so divided? Why is Canada so angry?”
The good news is that the main drivers of the division and anger are easy to identify. Easy to the point that much of the supporting evidence comes in picture/meme form. The bad news is the responsibility doesn’t fall evenly between our political parties. Sadly, for lovers of the both sides narrative the evidence clearly indicates one political party as being the source of heightened political polarization.
The last few days that polarization came into focus in the Niagara Region with two prominent local politicians having their homes vandalized. The first was a local Liberal candidate Chris Bittle, the second was the non-partisan, Mayor of St. Catharines, Walter Sendzik. The St. Catharines Standard broke down the events-
“Sendzik woke up Tuesday to find spray paint strewn across the front of his home, front door, the window, along the fence and across two vehicles.
The scrawls included “F–k communists,” “F–k Trudeau,” “commie,” “NDP” and “Jagmeet 4 PM.”
The vandalism comes two days after St. Catharines Liberal candidate and incumbent MP Chris Bittle discovered his Mazda SUV had been spray painted with “FU Liberal” on his driveway while his family slept.“
These attacks mirror the numerous aggressive campaign protests against the Liberal Party, sometimes including rock throwing, sometimes manifesting in actual physical attacks like the September 14th attack on Marc Serre, a Liberal candidate in Northern Ontario, in his office.
Now, it’s worthy of note here that local Conservative candidate Krystina Waler has also reported dealing with aggressive behaviour during this campaign including having been spit on and having election signs destroyed. In the wake of the attack on Bittle’s home Waler told iHeart Radio, ““What worries me is that this weakens our democracy. It makes people not want to engage in a respectful campaign. Last election, someone posted a photo of my home online. It was scary. I felt unsettled. With yesterday’s incident – Chris Bittle’s children were sleeping inside his home while someone spray painted his car outside. It’s beyond words. I’m glad Chris’ family is ok; but this will serve as a call to action for every candidate to stand up against this type of harassment.”
Waler’s concerns are more than valid. The only problem is in the case of the Conservatives, like in the 1979 horror movie, When a Stranger Calls, the phone call is coming from inside the house. The most significant point of origin for the hate and division in Canada is a frequent Conservative party employee’s social media.outlets and by extension the Conservative party itself.
Given how intensely the major Canadian news sources have supported the Conservative party this election, be it the American hedge fund owned Postmedia sources- The Toronto Sun, The National Post, The Financial Post and the Toronto Star (formerly a “Left-wing” paper, but since being’ purchased by Postmedia increasingly showing its’ hedge fund leanings), to the Globe and Mail, you aren’t going to see an honest exploration of why Canada is divided from conventional media sources. But make no mistake, it’s not a mystery, it’s not a, “both sides,” issue, it’s not that complicated and in fact it comes with lots and lots of pictures. Begging the question, why are professional Canadian journalists struggling to figure out the obvious and going with the weak, “both sides,” argument?
I don’t know. I do know Robyn Urback is a journalist with the Globe and Mail, a Canadian news outlet that has aggressively tried to insert itself into the electoral outcome over the past weeks with an onslaught, a complete pilling on, of innuendo and suggestions of scandal attached to the Liberals and in particular Justin Trudeau. And not just any innuendo, National Enquirer level trash innuendo, like- Justin Trudeau’s book was published in *gasp* China? “What could that mean?!?!?!!?!?”
I do know though that if you have been reading the Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, even the Toronto Star, you would be excused if you didn’t know of the federal Liberal government successes in the pandemic. For instance, according to The Guardian as of August 13, 2021, “Today, Canada has the highest vaccination rate – of single and double doses – anywhere in the world. Almost 82% of the eligible population age 12 and older have received at least one dose – and 70.3% are fully vaccinated.”
You also likely wouldn’t know that if not for the Liberal ideologies like supporting Canadians financially through the pandemic and the importance of single-tier Universal Health Care- Canadians would have had drastically poorer outcomes over the past year and a half. If Canada had been solely guided by the Conservative vision at all levels, we would have seen worse financial and health outcomes for Canadians. There would have been less access to healthcare, less financial support and bottom line, we would have had the substantially higher death rates from Covid associated with our neighbour to the south that the Conservatives model so much of their ideals (like privatized health care) off of- The United States. The United States currently has a covid death rate of 201 people per 100k while Canada sits at 72 people per 100k.
You would likely not know of the massive provincial failures by Conservative governments over the course of the pandemic specifically or their tenures generally. And you especially wouldn’t know that the division, the hate, the rock throwing, the spray painting, the giant, “Fuck Trudeau,” flags on pickup trucks, were all pretty much generating from one place- A frequent Conservative staffer under Stephen Harper, and more recently in Erin O’Toole’s Conservative leadership bid, Jeff Ballingall.
If Robyn Urback and Krystina Waler genuinely want to understand where the seeds of hate and division are being sown in Canada, it’s as difficult as typing, “Ontario Proud,” in the Facebook search bar and pressing Enter.
If you’re trying to understand how Canadian political discourse has descended to its’ current level this is it. Consider that Ballingall’s Ontario Proud played a significant role in Doug Ford’s Conservative party win in 2018 with Ballingall announcing at that time he was planning to use the same brazen tactics used to villainize Kathleen Wynn to unseat Just Trudeau, telling iPolitics, “We want to defeat Liberals all over the country,” Canada Proud founder Jeff Ballingall told iPolitics in an interview.”
Canada Proud (for which Ballingall’s Mobilize Media is also the main vendor) has 338,524 followers, Ontario Proud 448,087 followers. That’s massive. There is no meaningful social media counterpoint to these pages. They run amok with their arsenal of inflammatory innuendo and disingenuous information entirely unchallenged. I wrote an in depth breakdown on what Ontario Proud does and how they do it in 2019 entitled “What is Ontario Proud? Who is Ontario Proud? (And why are they lying to your Mom?)” that gives a deeper look at their methodology. I can break it down here simply though- Ontario Proud first works to get invited into your house. They get invited in via clickbait posts like meme’s about the beauty of Canada’s natural wonders or a stories about kittens being thrown onto a highway or the Toronto Raptors Championship run. Once people click on an article and/or follow their page, once they allow Ballingall into their house, they are then lined up via the Facebook algorithm for daily bombardment of weaponized misinformation that seeks to prevent family and friends from talking and listening to one another. But mostly, mostly Ballingall looks to cultivate rage and undermine even the most modest vestiges of respect for his opponents. That bombardment of bombast, that litany of hate is pointedly aimed towards the Trudeau government while on the flipside, Ontario Proud portrays the Conservative party in only a positive light.
Of course the various Proud aren’t the limits of the drivers for the anger and division in Canada. There’s also alt-right bonkers outlets like Rebel News, there’s the regional nature of Canada and the various incarnations of alienation that come along with that, there’s the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic and any number of political missteps at the Federal level. But the hyper-emotional, entirely irrational, levels of hate for the Trudeau government have all the hallmarks of cult like programming. Hey, Justin Trudeau has flaws no doubt but the level of hate for him is wildly out of touch of the reality of him. Ask somebody why they hate Justin Trudeau and the emotionally charged, factually challenged, landslide of anger will tell you only one thing- They’ve been trained to hate him. Jeff Ballingall’s outlets reinforce that training repeatedly, every day.
Ontario/Canada Proud masquerade as media outlets while routinely drawing vastly more clicks than conventional media outlets. They also posture themselves as spokesmen for the Everyman. What they are however is drastically different as pointed out in a National Observer article in October 2019, “Though these pages’ folksy humour suggests they might have grassroots origins, interim financial filings to Elections Canada show they are often funded by corporations — which aren’t allowed to donate to political parties — and wealthy donors, who are limited in how much they can donate to parties and candidates.”
Here is where you get to the source of the problem. Here’s where you get back to the call coming from inside the house. The funding for Ontario Proud is directly attached to those affiliated with the Conservative Party. A 2018 CBC article conveyed the setup, “Ontario Proud’s fundraisers used the publicly available list of PC donors to recruit donors to its cause, said the group’s founder Jeff Ballingall. “We looked up donor records and we saw who was giving previously and we contacted them. We wanted to make sure we were reaching and talking to the right people,” Ballingall said Tuesday in an interview with CBC News.”
The CBC article went on to list developer Mattamy Homes as well as home builder Nashville Developments as two of the most significant contributors to Ontario Proud during the period 2014-2016. Ontario Proud went on to play a significant role in helping Doug Ford government get elected in 2018. In the wake of Ford’s election any number of attacks on environmental and planning regulations provided a substantially more developer friendly lay of the land for Ontario Proud’s financial backers.
Further, the social media programming of Canadians isn’t being done haphazardly. It is a purely predatory, scientific, analytical, endeavour. Alongside the algorithm honey trap employed by Ontario Proud type sites and the distortion through proportion nature of Conservative friendly Postmedia outlets, the Conservative Party is also employing advanced analytics company, James Kanagasooriam’s Stack Data Management, last seen assisting in dividing and angering the British populace on the way to driving the country off the cliff via reelecting Boris Johnson.
Advanced analytics is what allows the Conservative party to divide and anger most effectively. This is predatory social programming leveraging advanced psychology and statistics to not just tap in to your brother, my cousin, everybody’s uncle’s unexplored emotional reactions and biases but to plant the seeds of bias, shape that bias and entrench it. This is social science with an end goal of consolidating a rigid base that provides access to political power for the Conservative party who can then translate that power into access to the infrastructure and natural resources of Canada for their financial backers.
Need an example of how insidious analytics are when employed politically? Consider this Toronto Star story from this Monday entitled, “Erin O’Toole recycles a Scheer-era false claim: No, thousands of asylum seekers haven’t crossed ‘illegally’ at Roxham Road”–
“In a French video posted to his Twitter account Monday with the caption “A conservative government will close the border at Roxham Road, once and for all,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said: “With Justin Trudeau, thousands of people crossed the border illegally. This system is unjust for the families that follow the rules and wait their turn.”
Not only is it wrong to say migrants crossing at Roxham Road in southern Quebec are doing so illegally, migration experts say, O’Toole’s statement — which recycles a similarly false claim made by former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in 2019 — also promotes “harmful anti-refugee myths” by falsely equating Canada’s immigration and refugee systems.”
This video and the false claims within was done only in French. Why? Likely they identified a significant group of people who would be attracted to the lies and the villainization of immigrants.
It’s here we get to the tradeoff- What do the corporations and developers get versus what Conservative party voters get in supporting the Conservative Party of Canada?
Corporations and developers get the keys to the kingdom. Look at the Fortune 500 Companies for 2021 and you’ll notice you don’t have to look too long in the top 10 before you come across Health Insurance companies. The opportunity for private health care and health insurance companies to profit off preying upon vulnerable Canadians is just one of the many things a Conservative government offers to its’ investors.
For Conservative party voters, for the Everyman the party panders to, what they get is very different. They are not going to be immune to the impact of diminishing wealth for the lower and middle income folks as wealth is increasingly transferred to the 1%. They will not be immune from being more vulnerable to the limited access and wildly more expensive health care setup. They will not be immune to the infringement on women’s rights or the eroding of workers and consumer’s rights. They will not be immune to the environmental impacts of Conservatives ignoring climate change.
But they will have the illusion of power.
But they will have the illusion of entitlement.
And if we learned anything from the Trump regime’s four years in power it’s this- For some people the fleeting notion that cruelty is being inflicted upon those who infringe upon their greatest insecurities- the LGTQ community, scientists, teachers, immigrants, etc. is enough.
Sadly, too often, the cruelty is the point.
Too often the cruelty is the only point.
Too often the division is the point.
So, there you go, mystery solved. That’s where the hate generates from. It’s a device, a tool, wielded by the Conservative party to gain power and provide the easiest path to hoarding wealth for themselves and the people that fund their party. The 1% cannot elect themselves after all. They need to galvanize a base. This is how they’ve chosen to do it. And in current day Canada, simultaneously slim on objective news sources while fat with Conservative leaning, American hedge fund owned, news outlets, it’s almost too easy to pull off. .
What’s the answer? Some suggest compromise but compromise with those who seek cruelty isn’t a solution. Where’s the midway point between kind and cruel? Maybe the answers can be found in the things Conservatives most fear, things like- support for the vulnerable, Universal Healthcare, protection for a woman’s right to choose, heightened environmental regulation, compassion for refugees and immigrants, and considerate public discourse. And maybe to facilitate that public discourse the answer would lie in revitalizing the CBC. After all, if the CBC couldn’t provide a platform wherein we could better listen to each other Erin O’Toole wouldn’t be obsessed with, “defunding,” it.
To be honest though I’m not sure exactly what the answer is right now. I doubt that the answer will come in the form of a meme if that helps. Maybe for the time being the key is to simply not support the Conservative party and ensure that anytime a Conservative representative laments the rise of anger and division in Canada, we remind them- “The call is coming from inside your house!”