2019 Federal Election – Week 2: Our Racist Country

I have been trying to figure out what to write since Time posted that now famous article about Justin Trudeau.

It was a week that, by Monday, had already seen The Globe and Mail platform Ezra Levant, the Leaders’ Debate Commission give Maxime Bernier a spot on its stage, and the Conservative Party of Canada use white supremacist Faith Goldy as a co-signer on a campaign attack.

By Tuesday CTV ran an article about an NDP supporter not wanting to vote for Canada’s first national racialized Leader Jagmeet Singh because of his ‘hat’. And by early Wednesday evening, Canadians were getting their first glimpses of their Prime Minister in brownface. An image of him in blackface followed by a video of him in blackface would shortly follow. Before the weekend had even started, Elizabeth May admitted one of her candidates also had put on blackface in the past.

The campaign about nothing suddenly became a campaign that questions the self-constructed Canadian identity so many of us hold dear of a nation of inclusive, diverse people who are a beacon to the world. That Canada never existed anywhere but our minds, and certainly not in our politics or our communities.

The Fallout

The fallout has been different for everyone. In the Liberal circles I spend so much time in, the feeling is mixed. Some can no longer support the leader but want to continue to fight for the progress they helped deliver.

Others are disappointed but quick to point out the threat of a Conservative alternative led by Andrew Scheer who is staffed by former Rebel employees and supported by too many white supremacists for comfort. They’ve talked about the government actions taken by Trudeau and point to how that, plus his sincere apology and general lack of discriminatory intent, outweigh his racist actions.

After all, Scheer is said to have told Indigenous people in his own community that he doesn’t need their ‘Indian votes’. And we already know what he thinks of a woman’s right to choose and the supposed canine-likeness of same-sex marriage.

Partisans outside that Liberal bubble have a different take. The Conservatives have ignored calls for Scheer to apologize, turf his campaign team, and clean up his candidate sign-off process while suddenly growing a desire to call out racism everywhere but within their own ranks.

The NDP and Greens have pointed out there are more than two options on the ballot. But this too has its complications after some NDP organizers have spent months trying to undermine Jagmeet Singh because of his race and Elizabeth May made repeated calls to dump those involved in SNC Lavalin’s corruption and fraud charges into Indigenous communities to carry out ‘community service’.

The almost entirely white press pools traveling with each of the leaders have done little to investigate how this supposedly sudden wave of white supremacy and racism sprung up, choosing instead to focus on whether any of the leaders will pay a price at the polls. For political journalists, the horse race must always come first. Big societal questions that form the core of who we are as a nation can continue to take a back seat.

Lost in all of this are the only people who should really matter in any of it – the people of colour who Justin Trudeau decided to play-act as (at least) three times, who Andrew Scheer refuses to defend against his own campaign team and candidates, who Elizabeth May condescendingly talks about as a charity case, who Maxime Bernier vilifies on a near-daily basis, and who the rest of the electorate cherry-picks responses from to justify their own opinions on this entire mess.

People of colour are not a monolith. Differences in opinion, experience, and day-to-day reality exist like they do for anyone. And knowing one person of colour or multiple people of colour who share an opinion about all of this does not give anyone license to speak on their behalf or put forward ‘my black/brown’ friend arguments.

To Vote or Not to Vote

What decision to arrive at in this election, like every election, is each voter’s alone to determine. People who live with daily microaggressions do not need to be told which party is more or less racist and therefore who they should support. Every political party in Canada has had racist policies, racist histories, racist leaders, and racist members. What so few of them actually contain are clear ideas about how to decrease the systemic racism within them and clear platform policies to do the same Canada-wide.

Canada is a country formed out of the original sin of genocide. It is a country that coined the term ‘final solution’ before the Nazis ever made such dark use of it. It is a country that stole children from their families for decades and tried to destroy the very heart of their people until it no longer beat inside them. It is a country whose national anthem was written by a minstrel performer. It is a country that sterilized Indigenous women by force well after wrapping itself in a new flag and official multiculturalism. It is our country and it is racist because too often… so are we.

The non-stop revelations of racism, sexism, and homophobia in this campaign are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our shared past. But these revelations are not a reason to stay at home on Election Day. We may not be better than the version of ourselves we have been forced to come to terms with in the last week. But on October 21 we have a chance to start acting like we could be.

2019 Federal Election – Week 1

This is the first time in over a decade that I will not be spending all my time in a campaign office during an election that’s taking place where I live.

When you’re working on a local campaign in support of a potential member of parliament, you pay little attention to the province-wide or national race. When you’re embedded in campaign Headquarters (depending on your role), you feel every little news item and soundbite reverberate through the office.

Now I fall somewhere in between – aware of what the top news of the day has been, but not all the other smaller items that didn’t pique the media’s interest. Essentially, I’ve become an interested everyday voter.

And for people like me, and those paying even less attention, week one of this federal election has been a disaster. With a fixed election date this campaign has been revving up for well over a year. And now that it’s here, we’re already one week down and not any closer to knowing what Canada could look like after October 21.

It’s All Sausage to Journalists

When an election takes place in Australia, voters often leave the polling station with a sausage or piece of cake in hand. So-called ‘Democracy Sausage’ selfies fill twitter on election day as voters stop by the polling station and then the sausage stall outside after they exercise their mandatory vote.

It’s become so ingrained in Australia political culture that the last national election saw the creation of a website to track stall locations for voters to visit. Why do Australians do this? I’m not sure even they know beyond simple tradition. But it’s a mix of sausage and politics I can fully get behind.

The kind I’m not as interested in is the kind I saw from journalists across the country all week – story after story about campaign process issues that don’t matter one bit to Canadian voters. There’s an old saying about politics that like sausages, no one wants to see how laws are made. The same is true about how a campaign is being run when the future of the country is at stake.

And yet coverage of the first week of the campaign focused on a light scrape between the Liberal plane and a media bus, the fact that Jagmeet Singh’s communications team sent out a media-copy of a speech he gave with staging notes still included, and that Andrew Scheer’s tour team chose a venue for an event where Doug Ford once posed for a photo with Faith Goldy.

Literally none of this matters to anyone beyond campaign teams looking to pump themselves up for the campaign at the expense of their opponents and the media who love process stories and then wonder why voters are so turned off by elections, political parties, and the media.

Rob Benzie from the Toronto Star smartly quoted Susan Delacourt in summarizing this entire approach by the press:

The one journalist who has been on top of everything in the first week is the CBC’s Katie Simpson who has doggedly pursued candidates who have done or said problematic things in the past and have yet to own up to them or demonstrate the kind of real growth that most Canadians want to see. One of those candidates was Andrew Scheer himself.

There is still plenty of time for journalists to dive further into whether candidates really represent the views of the people whose votes they’re vying for and what kind of Canada each of the parties hope to build. In week one they were largely spoon-fed the former from campaign war room teams and barely touched on the latter.

A Campaign About Nothing

While the journalists have been disappointing, the campaign teams have provided even less hope that this campaign might actually reflect the concerns of Canadians by October 21.

The party who had the best week was the NDP. Jagmeet impressed many in the corporate media leaders’ debate, there were no major gaffes (stage direction notes don’t count), and some of their policies actually broke through in the news.

Of course, their week was made better by the absolute disaster that was the Green’s first week. After being puffed up by journalists and pollsters ahead of the campaign launch, they spent the first week defending candidates who didn’t merit a defense, Elizabeth May failed to grasp the basic details of the sovereignty movement in Quebec, and it became very clear to many progressives that a commitment to the environment doesn’t always come with a commitment to social liberalism. Many people thought the first week might end with voters wondering whether women’s healthcare would be under threat under Andrew Scheer. What they didn’t have on their bingo sheets was the possibility of the same reality under Elizabeth May.

Andrew Scheer also had a terrible week as his only policy that got any coverage was his tax cut that gives a small amount back to lower-income voters while also rewarding millionaires with tax breaks they don’t need. But even that announcement was marred by his inability to apologize for his past comments comparing same-sex marriage to the tail of a dog and refusing to kick out racists, homophobes, and misogynists from his slate of candidates in this election.

Fueling most of the controversy Scheer faced was the talented Liberal War Room team. But with Trudeau (rightly) skipping the corporate media debate and little new to say on policy so far, the Liberal team didn’t offer enough to voters to get them into a polling station to re-elect their government.

In 2015, a mix of nostalgia and hope (and some hard work) propelled Trudeau and his team into office. Some of that is still there for die-hards but swing voters, especially the ‘what have you done for me lately’ type that decide elections from their communities in the 905, have very little to latch on to so far. A lot of the Trudeau record is strong (child poverty numbers as just one example) – but voters who feel like they’re just scraping by won’t coast on the fumes of ‘what’s just been’. I’m not convinced tweaks around the margins of existing policies (first-time home-buyer incentive) will do the trick.

The Bottom Line

When you look at each of these campaigns all together, it’s clear that so far this election is about absolutely nothing. And unless something changes, the polling stations will be just as empty on Election Day.