This country appears to have gone mad – a portion of it, at least.
And I don’t mean that these people are no longer in control of their faculties. I mean literally consumed by anger. And much of it seems directed at our public figures, particularly politicians, and more specifically Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Late last month, Mr. Trudeau visited Lone Oak Brewing, a brewpub on Prince Edward Island. “It’s not very often the Prime Minister and Alan Doyle show up for Friday lunch, but when they do, it sure is fun!” they posted on their social media feeds, along with a picture of Mr. Trudeau with musician Doyle. Routine, harmless stuff – or at least you would have thought.
Instead, the posts incited a tsunami of online harassment and abuse from people who apparently despise the Prime Minister. And that wasn’t the end of it: The company later posted pictures on Facebook of one of its vans that had its windshield smashed in.
I can’t remember a Canadian political figure who has been the object of more visible vitriol than Mr. Trudeau. The National Post reported in June that the Prime Minister had 59 threats made against him during the 40-day federal election in 2019. It didn’t get much better in 2021, where he was regularly met on the campaign trail with braying mobs screaming death threats and obscenities at him, and, in one case, where he was pelted by small rocks. And earlier this year, he cancelled a planned in-person appearance at a fundraiser in Surrey, B.C., because of aggressive protesters.
Of course, it’s not only Mr. Trudeau. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was surrounded by a mob in Peterborough, Ont., during a stop in the provincial election. Men and women alike were screaming horrible, vile things at him, in some cases just inches away from his face. He was whisked away in a waiting car before violence had a chance to potentially break out.
The anger isn’t only being reserved for our elected politicians, either. Public-health officials like Dr. Bonnie Henry in B.C. have needed RCMP protection. And it was revealed this week that the Alberta government spent $262,000 in 2021 on security for the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, because of the threats she was receiving.
I understand this is not a new concern. Politicians have always lived with some level of harassment. But it feels different now. There is an element in our society that has ramped things up, and has become emboldened, feeling that they have almost been given permission to behave in this manner.
People ask me about this phenomenon often. Why is this stuff happening with more frequency? Is the anger that’s being directed at politicians, and in particular those who identify as progressive, something we’ve imported from the U.S.?
Something is afoot. Social media and the internet broadly have become cesspools of hate, and when you wallow in such toxic waters it is easy to become intoxicated by anger and bitterness. People feed off of one another, too, so it doesn’t take long before you have a mob organizing to disrupt one of the Prime Minister’s public appearances, or to occupy the nation’s capital as the so-called freedom convoy did earlier this year.
I also believe that certain politicians need to own some of what we are seeing. Pierre Poilievre, for instance, is the clear frontrunner to become the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. He has been a federal cabinet minister. He is not some random dude on the internet. When he talks, people listen, and lately, they have been listening in droves to the man.
Yet in videos and speeches, Mr. Poilievre has blamed Justin Trudeau for almost every problem conceivable to man. He has blamed him for high gas prices, high housing costs, high grocery bills, even calling it “Justinflation.” He has blamed him for a lack of jobs and for spying on people. He’s blamed him for COVID-19 lockdowns and the carnage at our airports.
Essentially, he has given people fodder to be really angry with the Prime Minister, even if the issues aren’t necessarily exclusively his fault. He’s surely convinced many of them that whatever problems they have are Mr. Trudeau’s responsibility – that he alone is to blame for the fact their lives are miserable. In that framing, why wouldn’t they be enraged?
Mr. Poilievre may just say that that’s just politics, and some might agree – even if a good amount of the blame that he’s laid at Mr. Trudeau’s feet is misplaced or has been plainly dishonest.
In today’s highly charged world, that is a dangerous game. Leadership should be about easing people’s rage, not feeding it – especially since one day, it could well come at a horrible cost.
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