Roundup: Oprah and the rot of populist politics

As a rule, I don’t really comment on American politics, but this issue of Americans clamouring for Oprah Winfrey to run for president in 2020 has been getting a lot of press lately. Colby Cosh runs through why it was probably a trial balloon that fortunately deflated, while Rachel Giese worries that the dismissal of the possibility amounts to more racism and sexism rather than dealing with some of Oprah’s ability to connect with people. And she does have that – I used to darkly muse that Oprah could almost certainly run for president and win because back when I worked in book stores during my undergrad years, and every time Oprah mentioned a book, we would be inundated with calls and demands for said tome. Early on we weren’t given advance notice, and it was a gong show, and after she alerted publishers beforehand and we were sent ample shipments of said volumes in time for the show to air, it was more manageable chaos, but it never failed to surprise me with how much she had an ability to influence the viewing public’s shopping choices, and made me wonder how far that power could be extended.

But the fascination with celebrities running for office is not new or novel, and is part of a sign of the deeper rot of populism within our political discourse. The distrust of the political class and career politicians has long been sown by populists, and Canada is no exception. Conservative MP Michelle Rempel penned her own op-ed to talk about this urge for celebrities to be political saviours, and outlined her own particular list of what it takes to make good political leaders (including a few subtle digs at Justin Trudeau in there, naturally), but while she talks about the disconnect that people have between their ability to examine government as its role in our lives has expanded exponentially over the past seventy years, she misses one key point – that Canadians aren’t taught how to engage with the system.

Because we aren’t taught anything other than the fact that you mark a ballot every three or four years, we don’t know how to nominate candidates that speak to our values or that better reflect the diversity in our communities. We don’t understand how the role of joining parties creates a relationship with the caucus because the party creates an interlocutor role between those who are serving in Parliament or in government and those on the ground. We aren’t taught how the act of joining parties entitles us to take part in policy discussions that shape where we want the party and the country to go. All of those are huge ways of engaging in our system of government, but we’re largely not taught them in school, which fuels the disconnect that people feel, which drives people to populists, whoever they may be. Because celebrities are comforting, familiar figures, people will flock to their siren calls, oblivious to the danger of smashing against the rocks they perch upon. It’s why we need proper civics education, so that we can combat the ignorance that fuels the willingness to entertain this celebrity nonsense.

Good reads:

  • The cabinet held the first of two days of meetings in London, Ontario, yesterday, and the focus was a lot on the upcoming budget.
  • Trudeau also held another town hall, and this time had more aggressive hecklers, one having to be escorted out (for the first time).
  • As Trudeau keeps getting heckled or called out about the Omar Khadr settlement, here’s a look at how much more it could have cost Canadians to keep fighting.
  • Chrystia Freeland says they’ve been doing some “creative thinking” about how to deal with the next round of NAFTA talks, but are preparing for “any eventuality.”
  • Here’s another round of handwringing about the CSE being given more cyberwarfare powers, and a response thread from Stephanie Carvin.
  • Karina Gould is launching public consultations on creating an independent body to regulate leadership debates during general elections.
  • The MMIW National Inquiry lost another executive director, after this one was on the job three months.
  • The government won’t commit to declaring a day against Islamophobia on the anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting.
  • Apparently all RCMP communications centres across the country are understaffed, some of them having only half of the required number of staff.
  • The Royal Canadian Navy is looking to loosen up its WiFi policy on ships being deployed to better deal with work-life balance for sailors.
  • A former Obama adviser says that the US is paying more attention to Canada’s new fighter jet procurement than to the question of signing onto ballistic missile defence.
  • Public servants are trying to report Phoenix-related overpayments to avoid tax penalties, but can’t get through to the call centre.
  • Here’s an interesting look at the changed landscape in Alberta following the recession, and why they’re adapting rather than returning to how things were.
  • The Hill Times talks to Iranian-Canadian MP Ali Ehassi about the protests in that country.
  • Jagmeet Singh says that he has personally raised the issue of harassment with his caucus, and has set a zero-tolerance policy.
  • The Canadian Press’ Baloney Meter™ takes on the Conservative claims that the federal carbon tax has “raised the price on everything.”
  • Kady O’Malley evaluates Mary Dawson’s testimony and her faith in the rules that we have – and the goodness of our MPs.
  • Paul Wells takes note of Andrew Scheer’s latest attempt to campaign by way of his biography, and also notes all the things that Scheer left out of it.

Odds and ends:

Here’s an interview with new Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, who says he won’t let Mary Dawson’s interpretations define him, but also talks legislative changes.