CALGARY—Make politics more accessible. Again?
Canadian political news is saturated by pundits, news media personalities, and political insiders that have their own language and shorthand for discussing politics that excludes the rest of us. Political news shows sound like a cliquey Skull and Bones order, only for those in the know to pat each other on the back for comparing the polling of the 2020 U.S. election to that of Dewey versus Truman in 1948. What does that have anything to do with a Canadian perspective on a U.S. election? Nothing. It’s the secret handshake that lets them know that you’re in their club.
NeNe Leakes couldn’t produce a sufficiently appropriate eye roll to respond to such obnoxiousness.
The record-shattering numbers of early voters who voted in the U.S. election totalled more than 91.6 million, which represented “about 43 per cent of registered voters nationwide,” according to CNN, which noted on Nov. 1 “pre-election voting has now surpassed two-thirds of all ballots cast during the 2016 presidential election.” This election proved that politics is for everyone, affects everyone, all the way down the ballot and up again. Voter participation was at record numbers, which meant a public that felt the threat of that participation taken away from them through voter suppression efforts of the Republican party. It was also a referendum on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But try getting pundits, insiders, and personalities to communicate that simple reality clearly and concisely in a Canadian context. They do not.
Political communication is dire in this country from both political parties and the media. Firstly, much of the commentary—which is supposed to translate the machinations of the legislature and their political and societal repercussions—is conceived of, and delivered by, Gen X white men. These are people who cannot frame their commentary within the social issues of the day because the issues of race, class, gender, immigration status, and ability—and the intersections thereof—are beyond their comprehension and understanding. However, for a couple of generations succeeding them, issues such as labour, climate change, Indigenous rights, and racial justice are omnipresent. A recent Environics Research poll found that “six in 10 Canadians believe now is the time for the federal government to make ‘major changes to fix long-standing problems in society’ such as inequality, racism, and the climate crisis.” And that’s before the pandemic. As these cohorts become older and a larger proportion of voting society, how much of what these Gen X white men are spouting is relevant to that audience? The audience is changing and therefore the conversation must change. Discussions on parliamentary procedures and traditional exercises of the monarch can only go so far before the audience starts tuning out.
Our pundit class is failing to properly articulate the social and political issues of the day and it’s obvious. In the pandemic, everyone is telling on themselves.
Secondly, there seems to be a paucity of contextual framing when talking about issues and events, since these things don’t occur in a vacuum. How can you talk about Indigenous land rights without talking about the history of treaties signed and ignored, challenged and upheld by the Supreme Court? How can you contextualize revolt without constructing a narrative of past injustices? It’s more siloed thinking by the powers that be and their reticence to tell a story from the perspective of a historical underclass. The classism of our politics is exactly the problem with how we talk about how those politics affect different people in this country—if they’re mentioned at all. The upper class often doesn’t want to have its power challenged and therefore doesn’t want its perspective diluted by a silly thing called inclusion or a little thing called democracy. And it is the upper class, through media, who control how political and social issues are framed and how perspective is presented.
And then pundits want to complain about voter apathy through low voter participation rates. Perhaps if they didn’t treat politics as an old boys’ club, more people might participate.
Most people seem to think that civic responsibility starts and stops at voting. It does not. That is the bare minimum. Volunteering, organizing, activism. and advocacy happen in between and there are a lot of people who take it upon themselves to try and fix the injustices in society by doing so on the ground, at the grassroots, yet they are not included in the political conversation. The people with the most to lose should have a bigger voice, but they do not because of class and that old boys’ network.
In Canada, politics is for people who own property in the correct postal code, and not for the ones who are affected the most. If nothing changes, why should anyone bother?
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.