The reasons why we stop paying attention to media and political narratives are many, and occasionally, they bring about a growing disconnect between Canadians in general and those who are supposed to be taking care of their public affairs and reporting on them. We appear to be undergoing such a distancing at present.
There are those occasions when scandals appeal to citizens and institutions alike. The clearest example has been occurring 24/7 south of the border. Fixation with Donald Trump’s activities is the stuff of water coolers, coffee shops, board rooms, law offices, and political hallways. And in Canada, there is an increasing likelihood that the scandal swirling around China’s election interference will dominate the political agenda for the foreseeable future.
But there is a distinction. The circus atmosphere around Trump is akin to a feeding frenzy across the country – polls show it, and media empires bank on it. Yet north of the border, coverage of Chinese political intrigue is landing with a thud. While the Trump story has been unfolding for years, reaching every part of the country, Canadians view the election meddling by the Chinese government with a “meh” mentality. It’s fairly recent. It’s beyond much of our understanding. And it’s not getting the purchase in this country that media and political elites had hoped.
Clearly, Canadians should be concerned with what they are learning about China’s dalliances with our electoral process. It makes sense that we’d want to understand more. In fact, Pierre Poilievre and the Canadian media establishment are betting on it.
Why, then, do recurring polls reveal that while the majority of respondents believe the Asian economic giant is at least partially guilty of interference, they aren’t pressing harder for answers or tuning into the Ottawa hearings about the scandal? They definitely aren’t looking for a federal election to clarify the issue. Listen to Canadians speaking in coffee shops across the country and you’ll rarely hear the word “China” mentioned, and if it is, it appears far down the list behind high rents, the cost of food, inflation, or the ability to pay the mortgage allotments on time. The problem with the China story is that Canadians are preoccupied with issues that they had hoped politicians and public policies would solve.
This week, a cross-party grouping of Ontario MPPs gathered at Queen’s Park to hear stories of how the province’s food banks are at the breaking point. Politicians of all stripes sat in silence as they heard moving stories of long-term disability clients considering ending their lives following a decade of having their support payments frozen. Food bank leaders spoke of being close to going under and that if the political class didn’t act urgently, the bottom would fall out on hunger and homelessness. But how will that happen when partisanship runs so strong? In my city of London, Ontario, all three provincial members are NDP, while the provincial government is Conservative and its federal cousin Liberal. What are the chances they will collaborate to stave off what will be a crisis?
Broaden that reality a little further and you hear of millions of Canadians experiencing difficulty facing accommodation costs. Concerns over high food prices are now endemic. Lack of access to institutional healthcare continues to be near the top of polling about what Canadians are most worried about.
These are the daily realities and hurdles faced by average Canadian families. In their struggle to overcome these economic challenges, they have little time to dedicate to an electoral scandal perpetuated from the other side of the world. Are they concerned? Yes. But is it a priority, given all the economic pressures just listed? No. They just aren’t that into China, especially following years of growing disinterest in elections and political shenanigans.
None of this is to minimize the challenge China’s interference has brought us. But if media and political concentrations remain as fixated on the subject as they presently are, Canadians facing economic fallout on so many fronts will come to view the China affair as just further evidence of elitist myopia. That potential should prompt reporters and politicians alike to recalibrate their efforts into a more balanced coverage of the dangers threatening our hegemony. Canadians won’t care about a country far away if they are losing their house or their job. It’s just the reality of the average person in this nation and it must be addressed before Canadians lose further trust in their political institutions.