Dwivedi: The politics of rage and disinformation — we ignore it at our peril

A warning against complacency:

From 2016 to 2020, I hosted a morning show on a Toronto talk radio station.

Very soon into the gig, a rather discernable and then predictable pattern emerged: other hosts on the station would promote baseless conspiracy theories or blatant misinformation, such as Justin Trudeau being a George Soros-controlled globalist or that a non-binding motion to condemn Islamophobia would criminalize all criticism of Islam. Then, when the morning show didn’t abide by the same rhetoric, I would see a huge uptick in the volume and vitriol in my email inbox.

One of the more graphic rape threats I received during that time made a reference to burning off my clitoris once I had been gang raped. That morning, I had corrected a false notion circulating in conservative circles, and being bolstered by colleagues at the station, that Canada signing onto the UN Global Compact for Migration would mean Canada would no longer have jurisdiction over its borders or have sovereignty in determining its immigration targets.

It has now been documented that there was a co-ordinated campaign to poison the discourse around the compact by pushing misinformation specifically on the issues of immigration and borders. And it worked. Conservatives in Canada repeated the campaign’s unsubstantiated talking points and worldwide, debate over the compact reached such a pitch, the coalition government in Belgium effectively collapsed.

Misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories don’t exist in a vacuum, nor do they only live online. They spill out into the real world and impact very real people. And when misinformation, disinformation or conspiracy theories target groups of people already on the receiving end of hate, unsurprisingly, the hate experienced by those groups tends to increase.

In the aftermath of the last federal election, one thing that became abundantly clear was that much of our legacy political media seemed either unwilling or unable to report on the very real threat posed by politicians who use misinformation and conspiracy theories as part of their political shtick to appeal to voters.

The People’s Party of Canada (PPC) garnered just over 800 000 votes in the 2021 election, more than double its vote share in the 2019 election. Certainly, not every single PPC voter is an avowed white supremacist, but there were clear ties between the PPC and extremist groups that went largely ignored by legacy media. For example, columns and news coverage alike failed to acknowledge the PPC riding president charged for throwing gravel at the prime minister on the 2021 campaign trail had well-established, explicit ties to the white nationalist movement.

Instead of engaging in substantive discourse on the information ecosystem and political environment that allowed Maxime Bernier, a Harper-era cabinet minister and near-leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, to descend into a conspiracy theory-pushing zealot, our political chattering classes chose instead to focus on righteous indignation, decrying the import of American-style politics into our Canadian sphere.

Then came the “freedom convoy.” Suddenly, white journalists were regularly on the receiving end of deranged diatribes and threats of violence for reporting basic facts, akin to what their Jewish, Muslim, and BIPOC colleagues had experienced for years. There was a glimmer of hope that we’d collectively start to take these issues more seriously.

That was, however, short-lived as the bulk of legacy political media reverted to their natural resting state of being wilfully blind to the conspiracy theory-laden rage in this country and the politicians who encourage it, all under the guise of objectivity coupled with a healthy dose of normalcy bias.

Bernier has been unable to secure a single seat for his party in the last two federal elections, and so it’s easy to write him and the PPC off as having been wholly rejected by the Canadian electorate.

It will become much harder to do that once Pierre Poilievre officially leads the Conservative Party of Canada in September. Poilievre is an enthusiastic and unapologetic peddler of conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum. As both NDP MP Charlie Angus and CPC MP Michelle Rempel Garner have noted, there is a very real danger in mainstreaming conspiracy theories about a secret elite cabal controlling the country.

There are plenty of fundamentally good and decent Conservatives out there, both inside and outside the official party apparatus, who are uncomfortable with the direction their party is taking. However, there is no indication that a CPC with Poilievre at the helm will feel the need to temper its rhetoric. The party will effectively become a better funded, more organized, more mainstream version of Bernier’s PPC.

It’s easy and even tempting to scoff at that notion. But that is being purposefully ignorant to what has happened to conservatism in a lot of places, including right here. When Conservatives point out Poilievre is the best-placed person to lead the party, they’re not wrong. He very much embodies the modern-day CPC core base: angry, aggrieved, and willing to say anything so long as it dunks on Libs in the process.

The revelations from the Jan. 6 committee hearings in the U.S. should serve as a stark warning to Canadians as to what happens when conspiracy theories and disinformation become mainstreamed by the political establishment. Downplaying or even placating this type of rhetoric poses a fundamental danger to democracy itself. The sooner Canada realizes this, the better off we’ll be.

In the meantime, I look forward to Canadian columnists telling us that we should consider ourselves lucky that we’re not in the same boat as the Americans. After all, our conservatives only actively cheered on and supported the people who were trying to subvert Canadian democracy, they didn’t actually try to subvert it themselves.

Supriya Dwivedi is the director of policy and engagement at the Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy at McGill University and is senior counsel for Enterprise Canada.

Source: The politics of rage and disinformation — we ignore it at our peril

The election showed we don’t know how to cover the far right

Hard to handle, this coverage issue:

Unlike episodes of “Seinfeld,” elections are never about nothing. While our 44th general election might have felt like it didn’t accomplish much in light of the final seat count, it is false to suggest that this vote doesn’t hold valuable lessons for regular Canadians and politicos alike in the future.

One of the major underpinnings of this campaign is that it exemplified just how unprepared our media and political chattering classes are when it comes to dealing with the rise of the far right in this country, and acknowledging the role misinformation plays in our current discourse.

While many political journalists and commentators are quick to dismiss Maxime Bernier and his ilk as being wholly disconnected from the larger conservative media and political network, the actual evidence would suggest otherwise. Bernier’s descent from Harper-era cabinet minister to conspiracy-theory-peddling zealot shouldn’t be viewed as some sort of one-off event, but should rather be seen as emblematic of an ecosystem that allows an alarming degree of misinformation in its mainstream discourse.

It’s incredibly easy to write off those who were protesting hospitals and claiming to be fighting against permanent lockdowns as cranks that are completely detached from reality. It’s much more difficult to question what role mainstream publications and commercial AM talk radio have in shaping some of these views. From columns in print media arguing that climate change lockdowns are in our immediate future, to talk radio hosts explicitly calling the prime minister a “globalist” who will destroy our country, Canadians don’t need to go to far-right online outlets like The Post Millennial or The Rebel to be misinformed.

In a lot of ways, Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) are simply the next step in the evolution of the conservative movement in this country, as sitting Conservative MPs regularly peddle all sort of conspiracy theories. One might try to convince themselves that this is relegated to the Conservative back bench, like Cheryl Gallant echoing the climate change lockdown conspiracy or saying that Liberals want to “normalize sexual relations with children.” But in doing so, one would have to actively ignore Conservative front benchers like Pierre Poilievre, who recently tried to fear monger around the notion of a “great reset.”

The PPC was able to more than double their vote share in this election, garnering just over 800,000 votes this time around. Certainly not every single PPC voter is an avowed white supremacist, but it would be a mistake to ignore the clear ties the PPC has to far-right, extremist groups. And yet, this very salient detail often seems to be lacking in the media coverage surrounding the PPC. For example, columns and news coverage alike failed to acknowledge that the PPC riding president who was charged for throwing gravel at the prime minister had well-established, explicit ties to the white nationalist movement.

This past week Bernier published the contact information of journalists who had reached out to the PPC to ask questions, and called on his followers on Twitter to “play dirty” with the journalists Bernier had targeted. What happened next was predictable: journalists were sent racist messages along with death and rape threats by hordes of PPC supporters, Twitter reacted too slowly to take down Bernier’s tweet, and Bernier’s call very quickly ended up on a white supremacist forum.

It is irresponsible, and arguably journalistic malpractice, to cover the PPC as if it were any other mainstream political party in this country. And yet that is exactly how much of our political media is treating them.

Source: The election showed we don’t know how to cover the far right

The “Ethnic Vote” Is a Myth

This is really a disappointing and shallow article and doesn’t look at exit poll and other analyses that analyse ethnic voting patterns, whether by immigrant status, visible minority or religious group.

There is no monolithic ethnic vote and immigrant and visible minorities largely follow the national trend. In the 2011 election the Conservatives won the most ridings in Ontario’s 905 and British Columbia’s Lower Mainland only to lose them in 2015 to the Liberals. Moreover, most Ontario 905 ridings, held by Liberals federally, flipped to Progressive Conservatives in the 2018 provincial election.

Within this broader context, there are some notable differences. In general, earlier waves of immigrants tend to lean Conservative compared to more recent waves who tend to lean Liberal; East Asians (e.g., Chinese ancestry) tend to lean more Conservative compared to South Asians (e.g., Sikh Canadians) who lean more Liberal and NDP. Canadian Jews have shifted from being more likely to vote Liberal to more likely to vote Conservative and Canadian Muslims, feeling slighted by the Conservatives, increased their turnout in 2015 in favour of the Liberals.

So no ethnic vote but ethnic votes:

GATHER A GROUP of Canadian political observers together and sooner or later they’ll start to debate electoral math. This usually involves discussing which political party has an edge with a specific region or demographic group: who attracts more educated or young voters and so forth. In that context, saying that the Conservatives have an advantage in Alberta, for instance, isn’t exactly controversial. But start talking about the so-called ethnic vote and you’ll soon have as many analyses of which party has better chances, and why, as you have analysts.

Although it is often used by media to mean the non-white vote in general, political scientists and consultants use the term ethnic voteto refer to new or newer Canadians who are also visible minorities. The last two federal campaigns were won essentially by winning the seat-rich, and incredibly ethnically diverse, suburban Greater Toronto Area—ridings where visible minorities and immigrants make up a sizeable voting contingent. Accordingly, a clear narrative has emerged among both political commenters and the advisers who help run campaigns: winning the ethnic vote is essential.

All of which presumes that this thing that has been called “the ethnic vote” actually exists. But is it fair to label this the “ethnic vote” instead of the perhaps more accurate “suburban and exurban vote”? Are the concerns of ethnic voters in the GTA markedly different from their white counterparts? There are virtually no data to suggest so.

Political parties like to court the ethnic vote because it seems tactically efficient to do so. Canada has a higher naturalization rate than comparable Western jurisdictions, such as the US and Australia, and while other countries can afford to dial up the xenophobia come election time, Canadian political parties that want to form government do not have this option. (The two most populous and vote-rich provinces, Ontario and Quebec, have the largest proportion of immigrants who have obtained Canadian citizenship.)

In a way, this is good. It means all mainstream political parties must engage newer Canadians. But a cynic might—reasonably—say parties that reduce foreign-born visible minorities of all ages and genders and from all parts of the world to a homogeneous group, and then presume they all think and vote alike, are acting paternalistic, bordering on offensive.

The riding of York South-Weston (in that GTA suburban belt), for example, has a large visible-minority immigrant population, with roughly a quarter identifying their origins in a country in Africa or the Caribbean. Are we to assume that every single Black voter in the riding casts their ballot based on the same set of ideals and issues? Brampton East (Ontario) and Surrey-Newton (BC) both have a majority of residents identifying as having a South Asian background. Do Brampton East and Surrey-Newton have identical electoral politics, devoid of regional distinctions, and mirror each other because of population makeup? Hardly.

This isn’t just a question of being polite or politically correct. To give credence to the idea that there is a discernible ethnic vote, “ethnics” would need to demonstrably vote the same partisan way—both within their communities and across different communities—to an extent that overrides age, gender, education, and other demographic factors that we know shape voting patterns. The pundits who look at regional voting patterns and infer they can be explained because the majority of voters in the area are recently arrived from South Asia or the Caribbean or anywhere else are simply projecting a convenient simplification onto a far more complex situation.

There are, however, some data to indicate that if the members of a certain group feel that they are being negatively targeted, they will vote accordingly. In the 2015 federal election, wearing the niqab during a citizenship ceremony became a hot-button issue, as the Conservatives proposed banning the practice. The Environics Institute conducted a survey of Canadian Muslims at the time; a majority said they had voted for the Liberal Party and that they felt women should be allowed to wear the niqab during citizenship ceremonies. But there is nothing to indicate that this turn to the Liberals was due to some sort of innate political predisposition in this community. What the evidence indicates is that the Conservatives reduced these people to a bloc, and they responded accordingly.

While the electoral math may mean the path to a majority government runs through ethnically diverse suburban ridings, the issues on which the citizens in those ridings vote do not inherently diverge from general population trends. Ethnics do indeed vote, but there is no ethnic vote.

Source:  The ‘Ethnic Vote’ Is a Myth

ICYMI: Canadian and U.S. right not that different | Supriya Dwivedi 

Interesting to see this kind of commentary in The Sun:

The Canadian right also seems to be just as allergic to the term political correctness as their American counterparts. When former Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the election was underway, he made an overt reference to political correctness, stating, “now is not the time for political correctness”.

Several commentators noted it was an odd remark to make at the onset of the election, but as the campaign started to unfold it became clear why Harper made the reference. As much as conservative pundits might opine that those on the left are merely afraid of being anything other than politically correct, I’m not sure that the repudiation of things like the Barbaric Cultural Practices Tip Line, reference to “old-stock” Canadians and obsession with what Muslim women are allowed to wear during a citizenship ceremony was the embracing of political correctness as much as it was the rejection of veiled xenophobia.

More recently, in an interview with Embassy News Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia-Lambton) stated that Trump’s rhetoric has been positive for free speech advocates: “The only bright light is that he has sort of restored freedom of speech to America”. Gladu went on to assert that many people in Canada are fearful of saying what they think out of fear of being accused of “breeding hatred and fear”.

It’s worth asking where Gladu thinks she lives, considering Canada is still indeed a free state, and people are free to think, believe and say what they choose. Similarly, people with opposing viewpoints are free to say they disagree. That is what freedom of speech is. Evidently, confusing freedom of speech and freedom from consequences of that speech is something that Conservatives and Republicans have in common.

The Conservatives were not completely off-base in trying to appeal to nativist politics. The support is there. It just won’t win you a majority anymore. Canadians may not be as comfortable in the overt displays of racism as our American brethren, but we are inclined to dabble in our homegrown brand of racism that tends to be framed in a more palatable manner. It’s coded, it’s often implicit, but it’s there.

Perhaps we’re not the enlightened, toque-wearing citizenry that we like to make ourselves out to be, eh?

Source: Canadian and U.S. right not that different | DWIVEDI | Columnists | Opinion | To