Skip to main content
opinion

Candidates, left to right, Leslyn Lewis, Roman Baber, Jean Charest, Scott Aitchison, Patrick Brown, and Pierre Poilievre at the Conservative Party of Canada English leadership debate in Edmonton on May 11.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

You can’t make it up, although one suspects some of the people involved did make it up. The people in question are the ones who want to lead the Conservative Party of Canada. You’d think they’d want to be accurate and you’d think they’d be superpositive about good Canadian-made productions in storytelling and themes. Especially supersuccessful Canadian TV in the international market.

Not so. In that eccentrically organized but revealing Conservative leadership candidates TV debate the other night, the candidates were asked about their personal taste in books, music and the last binge-watch TV they enjoyed. Not hard questions but good, get-to-know-you questions.

The list of shows they mentioned amounts to a telltale revelation. These people seem to be completely ignorant of Canadian-made TV that’s renowned, award-winning and made in their own backyards. It was like dirty laundry being aired; it was an excursion into the mind-boggling.

Catch up on the best streaming TV of 2021 with our holiday guide

Roman Baber made the extraordinary claim of having binge-watched the execrable Married ... With Children, which ran on the Fox channel from 1987 to 1997. The thirty-year-old show can only be found here on the CTV Throwback channel. Go to it and you will find a very wise warning onscreen. “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain language, attitudes, cultural depictions and racial prejudices which may cause offence. Al Bundy is a misanthropic women’s shoe salesman with a miserable life. He hates his job, his wife is lazy, his son is dysfunctional (especially with women), and his daughter is dim-witted and promiscuous.”

You’re told you’re watching misogynistic trash from a bygone era; offensive, raunchy and sleazy, featuring appalling figures who insult each other constantly. One of Al Bundy’s refrains is, “I hate my life. Can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t bury the wife in the backyard.” Baber says he learned English from watching it. The mind recoils from imagining the sort of conversations they have in the Baber household, built on deep knowledge of Married ... With Children.

Jean Charest claimed to binge and admire the French series Call My Agent!, but got the original French title wrong. Hello? He’s never heard of M’entends-tu? (Can You Hear Me?), a work of genius about ordinary life in Montreal? There are multiple seasons on Netflix. Or Way Over Me (Sortez-Moi De Moi) an exceptional Quebec-set series that takes viewers inside the world of mental health care, as a unique kind of thriller.

Scott Aitchison cited Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a good comedy and about as Canadian as Brooklyn itself. Patrick Brown said “hockey,” of course, to nail his taste in TV and mentioned Ozark. The mayor of Brampton, Ont., should be aware that there are at least eight series made or filmed in and around Brampton, including two big Canadian hits in Flashpoint and the classic Orphan Black. Go local, Mayor Brown.

Sofia Hublitz as Charlotte Byrde, Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde, Skylar Gaertner as Jonah Byrde and Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde in Ozark.Tina Rowden/Netflix

Leslyn Lewis said she’d watched Bridgerton, American-made and set in England at around 1815. Then she made a crack-brained declaration about her enjoyment of, and the validity of, choosing Bridgerton: “It was a different era and people did not see race. They just existed and co-existed.” Rarely has the vacuity of a politician’s mind been so illuminated. Bridgerton is fiction, it is not historically accurate. It is a fantasy version of the past. You have to wonder if Ms. Lewis is fit to lead a book club reading group, let alone a political party.

As has been noted elsewhere, Pierre Poilievre cited Trotsky, a miniseries made by Russian state-controlled TV and notorious for its sinister “wildly antisemitic imagery.” (That’s according to Benjamin Stephens, in the online magazine The Wire.) It hasn’t been on Netflix for several years and it’s unclear if it was ever on Netflix Canada.

I’d like to ask Poilievre some questions about Trotsky, in his own distinctive style of quizzing people: “Did you actually watch Trotsky? Day and time, sir, day and time! And did you note its sinister ‘wildly antisemitic imagery’? A yes or no answer, sir, yes or no?”

The Canadian film and television industry generates about $9.5-billion a year in production volume. It employs about 120,000 full-time and many more part-time or in connected roles. Those are people concerned about their jobs, mortgages and inflation. They also make phenomenally successful TV. Have these candidates not heard of Letterkenny, Kim’s Convenience, Schitt’s Creek, Alias Grace, Frontier, Transplant and a dozen more? Their taste is in their mouths and their ignorance an insult to a Canadian industry and Canadians.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.