Politics Insider for May 13: Pundits weigh in on the CPC leadership debate; how to combat conspiracy theories; Ontario Liberals lose another candidate
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A number of people think Pierre Poilievre shouldn’t have promised to fire Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem during Wednesday’s CPC leadership debate—starting, not surprisingly, with Justin Trudeau, as CTV reports: “The fact that one of the leading candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada… seems to profoundly either misunderstand that, or not care about the facts at all, is somewhat disappointing in an era where we need more responsible leadership, not less.”
Think hard: In the Post, Kelly McParland, no Trudeau apologist, has a strongly worded column warning Conservatives against Poilievre on the basis, partly, of the Macklem gambit.
It’s a rash, reckless and dangerous pledge. To implement it would be wholly irresponsible. The independence of the bank is vital if Canadians are to retain any confidence in its reliability as an institution. The erosion of public confidence in national institutions is a major cause — perhaps the biggest cause — of the loss in faith in governments themselves. We’re seeing the result of that erosion all around us, in the divisiveness, the partisanship, the corrosive anger that permeates so many corners of life today.
Reckless? In the Globe, Konrad Yakabuski has a column calling Poilievre’s promise reckless.
Mr. Poilievre’s critique of Mr. Macklem suggests he would replace him with a governor who would raise interest rates even faster and higher than the central bank is currently doing. That would hurt the “working people” he claims to be fighting for far more than the drop in purchasing power they have experienced this year as a result of inflationary pressures. It would also create an entirely new set of problems (see: recession) that could potentially wreak enormous economic damage on average Canadians. This is precisely why most elected politicians know better than to undermine the independence of the Bank of Canada.
Remember Crow? On his site, Paul Wells inveighs against the debate at which Poilievre made his promise to fire Macklem, and considers the historical precedent for turning the governor of the central bank into a political football.
In 1990 a Bank of Canada governor, John Crow, ran high interest rates to fight inflation — roughly the opposite of the Bank’s recent approach, though in very different circumstances. What did the Liberals do in response? Why, what any responsible opposition party does, of course. They ran against the governor of the Bank of Canada. In this cover story from an old magazine, a bank economist said the Crow was running “a stupid policy.”
Paddling: Like Wells, Don Martin, writing for CTV, didn’t think much of the debate’s format.
Far from giving candidates the latitude to compare and contrast their positions, they were shoehorned into soundbites with strictly-enforced time limits. You simply can’t beat a clock which divides one minute into multiple answers from competing candidates and expect a vote-swaying answer from anybody. It was, for those forced to watch out of party loyalty, morbid political curiosity or a journalistic paycheque, a jaw-dropping disappointment guaranteed to prevent voters disenchanted with the Trudeau Liberals from rushing inside the true-blue Conservative tent.
The right debate: Writing for CBC, Aaron Wherry notes that the debate did get to the heart of a matter.
That’s what links the convoy, cryptocurrencies and the governor of the Bank of Canada — as well as Poilievre’s embrace of suspicions about the World Economic Forum (which actually predates Poilievre’s run for the leadership). Poilievre might say the current state of things in Canada justifies such stuff. Charest might say that choosing to follow that path only leads to bad places.
Other candidates: In the Post, Sabrina Maddeaux writes that the debate did give two dark horses a chance to show their stuff.
As the frontrunner, this was Poilievre’s debate to lose, which he certainly didn’t do. However, I wouldn’t say he won, either. The strict format undermined his signature attack dog style, which, for better or worse, prevented any standout moments. The real fight was for the position of Poilievre’s main adversary. Until now, many assumed it was Charest. However, after this evening, I’m not sure that’s still true. Charest seems out of touch with today’s Conservative party and unable to find a tone and message that clicks. He’s calm when he should be angry, and angry when it’d make more sense to strike a neutral tone. Rather, it was (Patrick) Brown and Scott Aitchison who presented the most compelling alternatives to Poilievre.
Dangerous: Jagmeet Singh, at a pro-choice rally in Ottawa on Thursday, commented again on a nasty scene in Peterborough, Ont. this week, where he was set upon by anti-vax yahoos, CTV reports: “I think about the message that’s being sent to a lot of people out there that might consider politics and may not now, seeing that level of tension and aggression. And that’s going to be a lot of the people that want to participate in politics, that are going to be discouraged and I think that’s very dangerous.”
Wider scourge: In the Star, Raisa Patel has a thoughtful article about what can be done about the rising tide of conspiracy theories.
The incidents are just a few examples of a wider scourge of misleading content plaguing Canada, the consequences of which will be far-reaching, says Marcus Kolga, a disinformation expert with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Kolga has observed how Russian state media has amplified anti-vaccination narratives and conspiracies in Canada, which coalesced into convoy movements across the country. In turn, he’s seen Canadian anti-lockdown groups seizing on and spreading Russian disinformation about Ukraine.
Counter the threat: And at CBC, Elizabeth Thompson has an article on security and policing officials who testified on Parliament Hill Thursday that the threat of violent extremism has increased in Canada during the pandemic, and the government must also work to counter the threat.
Nastier business: Writing in the Walrus, your correspondent has a long article looking at how the growing number of conspiracists is making the business of politics more dangerous and unpleasant.
Another one: The Ontario Liberals apparently lost another candidate on Thursday, the Star reports, which raises questions about their vetting.
Poisoned well: In the Calgary Herald, Don Braid has a column about the mistrust around the UCP leadership vote that Jason Kenney must win if he is to keep his job.
History lesson: At TVO, Jamie Bradburn has an interesting history lesson on the surprisingly (to your correspondent) ideological 1945 Ontario election campaign.
— Stephen Maher
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