2018 was a political trash fire, and 2019 promises to be worse

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Let’s face it – 2018 was a tough slog if you follow Canadian politics.  On the federal scene, we saw the solidification of trends that began in 2016 in the United States and have slowly been infiltrating our own discourse.  On the provincial scene, we saw populism win out while the hung legislature in New Brunswick saw damage to the Crown happening before our very eyes.  We saw white nationalism making a concerted return, and certain politicians trading in their dog whistles for tubas.  And because 2019 is a federal election, it’s only going to get worse.  So much worse.

In many ways, 2018 was the year in which the Conservatives abandoned all sense of shame and started lying outright to Canadians.  It’s no longer just spin or torque – it’s outright falsehood designed to anger voters, because the calculation is that angry voters will turn to simple populist messages that they feel they can deliver.  It wasn’t just the federal conservatives doing it either – Doug Ford’s relationship with the truth is dubious at best, and Jason Kenney’s is virtually non-existent.  It’s nigh-impossible to debate policy or even ideas if one side is bringing a constant stream of mistruth to the table because the energy of the debate simply goes to combatting the falsehoods, while a pliant enough audience for those mistruths, who won’t question them, and reality is no longer part of the equation.

The Liberals, meanwhile, have virtually abandoned the side of the debate that would ordinarily be concerned with combatting those mistruths.  Instead, they have decided that a steady diet of platitudes and pabulum talking points are what voters are really after, because they’re “positive.”  And if you point out that they can’t communicate their way out of a wet paper bag, the Liberals will simply blame the media for not getting their message across – because that’s helpful.  And this is only going to get worse now that they’ve decided on this $600 million bailout package for legacy media, and anytime journalists like myself go to call out the lies the Conservatives put on the record, we are derided as having been bought off.  So that’s going well for the state of democracy, and will only get worse next year.

There was Maxime Bernier and the white nationalists becoming much more emboldened in the discourse, both in the kinds of xenophobic messages Bernier decided to start pushing (while insisting they weren’t xenophobic and while insisting that he doesn’t want any xenophobes and white nationalists in his party, while they keep flocking to him), and in the ways he and others started buying into the tinfoil hattery of the worst parts of the Internet.  That Andrew Scheer joined him in pandering to conspiracy theorists with both the Statistics Canada data collection project and the UN Compact on Global Migration is another reason why this year has been a trash fire for politics, because it’s further undermining the ability of the press to use facts in debate.  And if they happen to mouth some of the same xenophobic talking points along the way?  Well, anything to move poll numbers, right?

Provincially, Ontario’s change of government went from inept to openly corrupt, where the premier has lurched from interfering in Toronto’s municipal election – to the point of threatening to use the Notwithstanding clause – to settle a grudge, and he’s been firing watchdogs and trying to put his friends into key roles like the head of the Ontario Provincial Police, all while quietly cutting services that people rely on.  In Alberta, Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney are both pandering to an angry population who wants a magic wand to solve intractable problems, neither of them really letting the truth of the situation being a guide for how to respond to things.  And with their own election coming up, that will start getting really nasty quickly.  Won’t that be fun?  Oh, and given the minority situations in both British Columbia and New Brunswick, we could easily see another election in either of those provinces as well before the year is out, so brace yourselves for that.

So what else can we look forward to in 2019?  Those court challenges to the federal carbon tax will certainly be fun once the courts respond by saying that it’s perfectly within federal jurisdiction to impose, and the opponents line up to denounce the judiciary.  It’ll be like the good old days of when conservatives around the country denounced the Supreme Court of Canada for ruling in favour of LGBT rights.  As those prices go into effect in January in provinces where there isn’t a provincial system already in place, the caterwauling about how much more expensive life was for everyday people will contrast with the reality of how little is actually being charged more, plus the rebates passed along through the federal tax system, and we’ll be back to courting the cognitive dissonance of having people believe things that aren’t true because it doesn’t fit their narrative.

And Parliament?  The winter and spring sittings are going to be a gong show.  Beyond just ironing out the logistics of the new chambers after the closure of Centre Block (and when does anything ever go smoothly – just look at the emergency additional renovations they need to make to the new Senate after Public Works ignored their concerns about acoustics for two years), the Order Paper is going to be a battlefield, as the government starts getting aggressive to push its remaining bills through to completion.  That means time allocation motions, filibusters, and procedural games as far as the eye can see – and that’s even before we get to the Senate, whose Order Paper crisis will worsen thanks to their late return, lack of leadership, and lack of self-awareness as to what’s heading toward them.  And all of this doesn’t even contemplate the electioneering that will go on, thanks to the fixed election date.  2019 is going to be one relentless slog of bullshit.  Buckle up.

More from Dale Smith     @journo_dale

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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