I’ve known a lot of angry, glass-half-empty people over my long life and sadly I don’t think many of them lived especially productive or happy lives.
There was a time when folks like this were kindly regarded as harmless curmudgeons or eccentrics. Today, as their numbers multiply exponentially, we should consider them downright dangerous. They are quick to lay blame and are easy targets for politicians and other predators offering up bait like hate, retaliation, and hanging out with like-minded people.
Ironically, social media—which was heralded as the elixir that would make communications cheap and accessible, spread knowledge and bring people together—has evolved into a tool to spread hate, lies, and conspiracy theories on a scale that is truly staggering.
We are living in a world rife with lies and misinformation and struggling for what is the truth. Respect for and confidence in our democratic institutions is in the crosshairs.
Like the United States, our society is so polarized that the term “silent majority” has come to describe the mass of people who are afraid to express opinions for fear of economic and social reprisal from those who hold opposing views and have no tolerance for the opinions and rights of others.
Political discourse has become so toxic that the good women and men willing to seek public office speak openly about concern for their security and that of their families.
We daily witness individuals and groups demanding “freedom”, which is code for cancelling the hard-fought freedoms of others.
The pandemic has been a willing partner in the propagation of anger. Isolation has provided a perfect breeding ground and many of us know families torn apart by differing opinions over vaccine beliefs and rules.
The current contest to determine the new leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) has come down to the challenge of appealing to moderate voters while satiating the more vocal angry and extremist elements in the party. Who can heal the divides in the party and in the country?
In a peculiar, typically Canadian way, too many of us have gone silent and withdrawn while the naysayers and the mad destroy respect for and confidence in Canada’s democratic institutions, rights, and freedoms. We’ve handed over the reins to those who shout the loudest.
And by extremes I mean those on both the left and right—from those who would try to cancel our culture by denying freedom of speech and destroying or crating statues of our nation’s founders to those whose religious beliefs would ban women’s reproductive rights and the equality rights of minority groups of all colour, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
And I should pause and say I have empathy for some of the angry and fearful among us. For example, the division between rich and poor in this country continues to widen. Some people simply can’t catch a break.
Governments’ handling of the pandemic has been spotty. Some people actually prospered from government handouts and government job security while many lost their jobs, businesses, and homes. Right now, record inflation is taking its toll on families.
Working parents in particular were beaten down with erratic school openings and closings and online learning. So were the students—from kindergarten to university levels. Thousands quit school and many won’t ever return.
Health care workers put their own lives and those of their families on the line to keep underfunded hospitals and nursing homes open—often without adequate compensation.
The list goes on—and gets worse.
For so long we have been tucked under the protective and prosperous wing of our neighbour to the south, benefitting from American wealth, power, and security while considering ourselves superior in many ways (some of them quite quaint). We’ve celebrated what we have in common with the Americans, twisted ourselves into pretzels to identify and protect our distinctions, and laughed at their foibles.
Today, it is no laughing matter that the United States has run amok and I believe we are hellbent toward the same slippery slope.
It has oft been said that when the U.S. elephant sneezes, Canada gets a cold—or words to that effect.
Some sneeze. Some cold!
Right now, the U.S. is in turmoil over the possible overthrow of a 50-year-old abortion law that will have enormous impact on the U.S. economy, civility, and reproductive rights.
It has also raised the question that if a hard-right Republican Party, with crazed former President Donald Trump still pulling the strings, can wipe out this basic right of millions, what other rights are on the block?
Typically, the issue of reproductive rights has quickly made its way to Canada, raising the spectre of the U.S. debate invigorating those who campaign here to make abortions illegal.
We’ve learned a lot of lessons from our brawny cousin to the south. Not all of them good.
There is little question that the hate-fueled Capitol riot in Washington helped inspire our “freedom convoy” of truckers that was hijacked by some very dangerous people and caused this country untold billions in lost trade and reputation and amounted to a virtual lockdown of our nation’s capital.
An overthrow of the Canadian government was the wet dream of key organizers who referenced the U.S. legal system in their written demands but showed complete ignorance of how Canada is actually governed.
America’s anti-vaxxers quickly became role models for our own.
Their conspiracy theories have become our conspiracy theories.
When Donald Trump took office, he ushered in a whole new era in which lies, deceit, arrogance, and hate became the major tools of governance and governors. Young people watched the successor to Lincoln and Roosevelt and Kennedy turn the White House into a circus and the country into a laughing stock.
Profanity, racism, misogamy, violence, intolerance, and contempt for truth, public discourse, and authority are hallmarks of life in today’s America.
Sadly, they are becoming more familiar to us up here in the Great White North.
CPC leadership contestant Pierre Poilievre (a supporter of the truck convoy), tirades against “elites” and “gatekeepers” and recklessly attacks one of our country’s leading institutions—the Bank of Canada—to show he’s a tough guy who will take on anyone and everything. He’d begin by firing the Bank’s governor.
It turns out to be a convenient distraction from his earlier devotion to bitcoin as a way to opt out of inflation. Unfortunately for him, bitcoin is currently in free fall and hopefully so is his credibility as someone to be entrusted with addressing Canada’s deep and dangerous debt levels and safeguarding confidence in public institutions that have served us well over the years.
Did I mention that he’d also get rid of the CBC ?
There are some good candidates among the six contenders to lead the CPC. Pierre Poilievre and his take no prisoners approach to governing is not one of them.
In my view, Canada is at the crossroads.
Democracies like ours cannot survive where extreme nationalism by a seemingly growing number is fueled by hatred and lies and stoked by silent complicity. We’ve seen this movie before.
If you believe, as I do, that our system of government depends on strong, honest, and competent leadership at all levels and that in Ottawa this includes the leader of the Opposition to hold government to account, then the Conservative Party leadership vote on September 10 deserves our attention.
Only CPC members can vote and membership closes June 3.
The mainstream or “silent majority” has to re-engage or some day try to explain to our grandkids how we allowed the angry and cynical to destroy one of the world’s great democracies that once believed in, practiced, and protected equality, freedom, and opportunity for all.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.
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