Canada appears to be changing, segmented between traditionalists, progressives and radicals. This opinion is nothing new, but the evidence has finally caught up to the theory, especially in politics and social issues. Sprinkled in the middle are Canadians unfettered by ideology and partisanship, but they are surrounded by a growing number of ideologues who are being prodded and influenced by a media hell bent on making money by evoking emotion instead of dispensing facts.
These new sects of extremists (the opinionated kind, not the violent kind), are still far less in numbers than the reasonable folks but they shout at a much higher volume, creating the false idea that they are speaking for the majority. But this is Canada, where the majority of people remain apathetic and frustrated with the system as a whole. Opinion news, an oxymoronic way of excusing yourself for reporting biases, is growing. Polarization to some, a welcomed fight for others.
So, born out of apathy comes new ideas by Canadians who are beginning to wake up from their political slumber. Some of their ideas are gaining traction and discussions are finally taking place. For example, many Canadians are starting to talk more about our connection to the British monarchy, openly stating their disdain for what they see as an out of date relationship. An easy way to break open that conversation is to ask how Canadians feel about the prospect of Prince Charles on our currency. Traditionalists are just as eager to talk about our history and the vital role the Brits played in our progress as a nation. Both have valid arguments, but the real caveat is the stark differences not in philosophy but age. If you are a younger Canadian you are far more likely to want to disown our British stepparents, but if you are a senior you can't fathom the idea of breaking ties. Age is actually the number one barometer in different political opinions, and the slight erosion of apathy among younger people is making the conversation a more interesting one.
There are also good arguments for changing the Senate procedures, creating term limits and even abolishing the upper house. Provincial powers are currently being tested both by federal legislation and pressure from municipal governments who feel burdened by legislation irrelevant to their riding. Conservatives are finding it difficult to balance their long held notion of abolishing the senate with the current conservative government's partisan appointments to the upper house. A widespread opinion that appears to also be gaining traction is the eventual implementation of an elected senate. In either case we are years away from any significant changes now that our country is in a constant state of political campaigning. Time will tell what kind of ideas will eventually surface and if those ideas are from the people or government officials.
Interestingly, questions are now being raised among a wide spectrum of Canadians pertaining to personal liberty and privacy. The Ron Paul candidacy in the American GOP primary has forced the conversation. Americans and Canadians alike are finding common views with people who are politically opposite, fostering a new discussion between Canadians who do not normally debate the issues gracefully. The most glaring examples of this common ground are foreign policy and the war on drugs, two subjects that are yielding universal support and capturing the conversation among Americans. This kind of cooperation is leading some Canadians towards reopening the debate on proportional representation as ideas and philosophies become more complex and less ideological. The terrain is strange in Canada. As apathy shrinks, ideology grows. There is a debate as to whether or not they are related, but the end result means Canada's political class is shifting.
As Canadian parties adjust to their new placement in popularity, Canadian people are becoming more savvy in who to follow, creating a potential new shift in the landscape and a continuation of a newly awoken Canadian electorate.
As the co-founder of The Red Dot Project, I was hesitant to launch our media center during the Liberal Convention in Ottawa. Canada is currently dominated by partisan politics, and our last federal election solidified the idea that we are becoming a polarized state, trapped inside a Left vs Right hubris most Canadians see as damaging to our country.
But there is something very real about covering a convention by a federal political party. The Liberals were destroyed in the last election, decimated worse than at any other time in their history and left to recalculate their image, policies and leadership possibilities. As a brand new organization we wanted to both play nice and ask uncomfortable questions. You can decide how well we did with that mandate.
Personally, it was my first appearance at a political convention of any kind. A couple of the Red Dot team members had attended other conventions for a few of the parties, but I was a newbie. My predisposition led me to believe the worst – that these conventions are comprised of blind partisans who act as cheerleaders without the ability to substantially debate the issues with folks who subscribe to the same ideas. On the other hand, I was faced with the notion that partisanship might be productive if it means Canada will be less polarized and ideological. After all, we have 4 parties represented in parliament, a testament to an eclectic system not reliant on black and white legislation and debates. Or, depending where your views are, the system is fragmented into far too many groups who each rely on partisanship and ideology to get their points across.
So our main goal was to allow these Liberal Party members to explain themselves. We knew the big issues going in as far as young voters were concerned: the legalization of marijuana, post-secondary education and apathy among young people in politics. Those three issues seem to be the backbone of issues important to young Canadians, so we did everything we could to allow elder statesmen and regular delegates alike to speak their mind and give viewers an idea of what the party is doing to convince Canadians of their relevancy. It wasn't easy, but we did get to ask the questions no other network was paying attention to, and with the marijuana issue we were ahead of most of the mainstream media who did not print anything about marijuana until after the resolution was passed handily.
Surprisingly, the one politician who seemed the least comfortable taking a pro-marijuana stance was Justin Trudeau, the easiest-to-imagine-smoking-a-joint-on-weekends politician and the man who clearly has the most pull among young Liberals.
Former Prime Minister Paul Martin, on the other hand, seemed genuinely uncomfortable being asked questions about weed, deflecting and then walking away just seconds before his speech in Canada Hall.
The question of youth apathy may have been answered in the convention demographics where it was reported that 30% of the delegates were under the age of 30, a statistic which surprised most of the attendees. On a side note, Ray Heard, a reporter who once covered the White House in the 60s and is now relegated to random appearances on the Sun News Network, said through Facebook that newly elected LPC President Mike Crawley had bought the votes of the youth delegates, a startling conspiracy theory which not only tries to paint Crawley as corrupt but also implies that young people can be bought for a couple beers and a subsidized train ticket. This assertion is false as the decision to subsidize young delegates was made 8 months ago, agreed upon by almost every member of the party's executive. Thankfully, Heard is retired and rants mostly to himself on his Facebook profile.
What could reasonably pass for a conspiracy theory is Bob Rae's apparent about-face regarding his leadership ambitions, and judging by his closing speech he is positioning himself as the voice of the party for the indefinite future.
The mood of the convention was actually quite positive as delegates debated issues ranging from the environment to the monarchy, marijuana to foreign policy. And in what could be the most interesting caveat to center-left politicos, NDP MP Olivia Chow made an appearance. You can see her interview with the Red Dot Project here.
Conventions serve several purposes. First and foremost they rally the troops around the party, something the Liberals desperately needed. Second, they forge a path they hope will galvanize Canadians and win votes. And finally, if all goes well, conventions can show political parties as being one of two things: pep rallies or think tanks. The Red Dot Project was fortunate to launch during this convention and will let our audience decide what category the Liberal Convention falls under.
We are proud to be Canada's only non-ideological media center in a world where most news-oriented web sites have chosen fundamentalism over balance. Please send us your thoughts and let us know how you think we are doing.
By: James Di Fiore
There is no issue more controversial and misunderstood than the fight to legalize marijuana. Ever since the 1930s when Christian fundamentalist Dwain Esper produced the propaganda film, Reefer Madness, the North American public have been clandestinely led down a road where weed is the organic equivalent to heroin or cocaine. Historically there are several reasons for the demonization of the plant, including lobbying efforts from the textiles industry who feared the mass production of hemp, a superior raw material, would have sliced the overall demand of the competitive textiles industry in half. This first domino of misinformation created a political climate where marijuana, branded as evil and dangerous for children, fell into the inaccurate abyss of some of the more notorious and addictive narcotics.
75 years after Reefer Madness was produced, marijuana has come a long way. Once you look at the science, both socially and biologically, marijuana not only becomes an attractive substitute for more nefarious drugs like nicotine and alcohol, but as an attractive revenue source during a time when the economy needs it most. Detractors continue to falsely label marijuana as the dreaded ‘Gateway Drug’, a moniker coined by long-time Commissioner of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger. Anslinger, who also claimed non-whites were more susceptible to becoming marijuana addicts, cobbled together police reports from across America, arbitrarily connecting brutal murders with marijuana use while molding a national opinion that the plant was inherently evil.
It all sounds so ridiculous today. The public are more well-versed about marijuana, partly because of access to information not supplied by the government, and partly due to their own personal experience smoking or eating the plant. In any event, the most often cited argument in modern day marijuana activism is still the strongest – if alcohol can be sold on shelves and used as a substance of celebration and generally accepted by society, why not weed?
The answer is simple. After decades of bad PR, marijuana has had an uphill battle unparalleled to any other potential commodity. But a shift has been underway since the early 90s when polls began to show Canadians were softening their stance on marijuana. The most recent polls indicate a majority of Canadians now support fully legalizing and regulating the substance, a tipping point in society that could stimulate the economy and actually help shield children and teenagers from the easy access prohibition has provided. The people are more sophisticated, and the old arguments centered around addiction have mostly been removed from the public zeitgeist. While politicians have yet to decipher an effective messaging strategy that could break the backs of the old fashioned, out-of-touch crowd, whispers of legalization have been heard on Parliament Hill.
Most recently, the federal Liberal Party, reeling from an unprecedented defeat in 2011, have included legalizing marijuana as one of their main policy resolutions for their upcoming convention in January. It might have been just an experiment, a desperate ploy for new supporters, but the resolution is among the top ranked issues on their convention web site, a potentially surprising development that will force the party to create a modern, viable message a majority of Canadians seem to support anyway. The Liberals have an opportunity chart a path that neither the Conservatives or NDP can risk. The base of the Harper government is split between traditional conservatives who are out of touch on the issue and libertarians who care less about the potential adverse effects of the drug and more about keeping the government out of personal decisions like what citizens can put in their bodies. Meanwhile, the Layton-less NDP are trying to shed the label of being too ideological and won’t risk the potential communication gaffes on the issue. This gives the Liberals, if their communications department can competently deliver a sophisticated message, the opportunity to cultivate new supporters through an issue whose time may have finally come.
It won’t be easy and is riddled with potential risks, but if there was ever a time to mobilize Canadians by giving them more liberty it is now, especially when they are being told by their current government that growing a few plants warrants a tougher mandatory sentence than showing a child your genitals. Presenting that kind of contrast can not only sway non-partisans, but should be enough to rally enough Canadians to make the next election closer than you think.