Perhaps it’s time for a political reckoning

Executive Chairman
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This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on 20161204.

It should be troubling to every journalist that so many people do not view the issues and information the media provide them as relevant, believable or representing their interests

Kellie Leitch, the upstart candidate who now appears to be the front-runner for the Conservative leadership, released an email blast on Wednesday morning provocatively titled ‘Revenge of the Comments Section.’ The piece, which railed against the ‘condescending, elitist sarcasm that we get from the media,’ implored supporters to donate in order to send a clear message to ‘the elite of this country that there is a silent majority in Canada who will not be disrespected and who will fight back!’

The email is a microcosm of the Leitch campaign — a campaign that explicitly agitates against the wisdom of Canada’s establishment and revels in being cast as outside the mainstream.

Minutes after the email went out, the eye-rolling began. Pundits pointed out that Leitch’s campaign was a transparent ploy against them, light on policy and heavy on rhetoric. Criticism of her divisive rhetoric soon followed.

We’ve seen this movie before.

Rob Ford. Brexit. Donald Trump.

These movements all had many things in common. They were driven by disaffected voters who felt frustrated with a status quo that wasn’t working for them anymore. They were frustrated and angry and demanded change and they were determined to upset the applecart. They refused to heed the warnings of politicians, economists and professors.

Thousands of speeches were delivered, furious newspaper columns were written, hours of coverage filled the airways. It was unanimous: these movements were wrong, immoral and unacceptable. Dangerous, even.

The result: 383,000 votes for Ford; 17,410,742 votes for Brexit; more than 62,500,000 votes for Trump.

All three campaigns delivered a complete repudiation of the conventional views long held in boardrooms, official halls of power, towers of academia and by media.

How is it possible that in democratic nations, where the press is free and any citizens can share their viewpoint, the mainstream media and establishment forces were in near-unanimous lockstep in favour of campaigns that were defeated at the polls?

Perhaps it is time for a reckoning.

Entire cohorts of people now closely follow news sources that present diametrically opposing views to those of the mainstream media; media institutions that for as long as we can remember have represented the viewpoint of most citizens. Rarely, any more, do these two segments of the population cross paths. Instead, people in each group talk only among themselves, conversing only with others who agree with them.

It should be troubling to every journalist that so many people do not view the issues and information the media provide them as relevant, believable or representing their interests. It is problematic that one of the most foundational components of our democracy, with its ability to challenge governments and inform voters, is now summarily dismissed as opposed to the viewpoints of a large segment of the population.

It is depressing to realize that so many people feel so disenfranchised and frustrated by the uniformity of the viewpoints found in the media that entire political campaigns can be run successfully against those views, almost alone.

Traditional media outlets hold that some candidates are so dangerous and their views are so reprehensible and problematic that they have a duty to cover them as critically as possible.

What is troubling about that perspective is it makes the media an active player in the game, rather than an objective observer. Policy proposals become tribal, supporters become targets, and the divides between political camps widen.

Instead of dispassionately observing and criticizing ideas, mainstream media has allowed itself to fall into the pit of active engagement against certain candidates.

Of course, the media’s role is not the only issue. Society has grown increasingly fragmented between those who are urban, educated and wealthy, and those who live in rural areas and struggle to keep afloat in a rapidly changing economy that is leaving many behind.

The first step toward closing that divide, one that continues to grow, is to take a moment to understand policy proposals and campaign pledges through the eyes of those who support them; to take a serious, in-depth look at the underlying tensions of Canada as a nation and dispassionately unpack what they mean for our country.

Doing so, whatever the result, would provide a real service to our country and to the many of our fellow citizens who feel they are no longer a welcome part of the dialogue.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

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