“Us vs them” politics is an inevitable as the next sunrise

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Canada’s federal government recently received the dumbest communications advice ever offered in the entire history of the universe.

Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration – but my point about the dumbness of the advice still stands.

Let me fill you in on the background.

What happened was, a deputy ministry task force on “diversity and inclusiveness” (isn’t that the most Liberal-sounding task force ever!?) brought in a guy named Tim Dixon, who heads up a British think tank, to advise it on how the government could guard against a possible rise of populism in Canada.

Now, I won’t discuss the rightness or wrongness here of the government using tax dollars to hire an expert to teach supposedly non-partisan bureaucrats on how they should counter a totally legal and legitimate political movement.

That should be obvious.

Just imagine if a Conservative government had hired an expert to advise bureaucrats on how to stifle socialistic impulses among the population; I’m pretty sure that would be considered a scandal.

At any rate, what I want to do right now is focus on the quality of the advice this expert doled out to the government ministry task force.

For instance, one bit of advice Tim Dixon reportedly recommended to thwart Canadian populism was that official government communications should build “social solidarity” and “social cohesion” so as to bring the “focus back to the majority” and to “elevate the ‘more in common’ message” and thus “demonstrate the falsehood of narratives of division.”

What does all that mean once you strip away the corporate buzz word gibberish?

Well, to put it more simply, Dixon was saying the government shouldn’t give the perception that it’s pitting Canadians against each other, i.e. he wants public conversations and debate focused on “us” rather than “us-versus-them” narratives.

Totally simplistic advice, the kind of stuff you’d read in a high school political science textbook.

But alas, the real world of Canadian politics is nothing like a textbook and Dixon’s jargon-laden advice would do nothing to lessen an incipient rise of populism in this country.

Why do I say that?

Well, keep in mind, populism is fueled by intense emotions — i.e. anger and resentment – and once they’re unleashed all the “feel-good” rhetoric in the world won’t put them back into the bottle.

To see what I mean, just consider the case of Western Canada, where a populist-style rebellion has erupted over the Liberal government’s handling of the energy sector.

More specifically, when the Eastern oil and the Northern Gateway pipelines were nixed it generated anger and alienation in the West, especially Alberta, which resulted in the Alberta NDP being swept from power and will also likely result in the federal Liberals losing every seat in the province.

My point is, there’s no way the federal government can stem this populist tide by bringing the “focus back on the majority.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can go on TV and talk all he wants about the wonders of “social cohesion” and “social solidarity”, while doing all he can to demonstrate the “falsehood of narratives of division”, but none if it will lessen Alberta’s anger.

Simply put, fancy words don’t matter, actions do.

And there’s another more fundamental reason as to why Dixon’s advice is so dumb.

To be blunt, Trudeau and the Liberals really are pitting Canadians against each other, i.e. they are purposely ripping apart social cohesion and smashing social solidarity for political gain.

Again, we see this most plainly with Trudeau’s anti-pipeline energy policy, (see Bill C-69) he is willingly sacrificing Alberta’s economy on the altar of Liberal political expediency since, for the Liberals, votes in Quebec and Ontario matter more than votes in Alberta.

Or to put that another way, the “narratives of division” are totally true.

And this highlights the ridiculousness of Dixon’s advice to the government.

When he suggests politicians avoid practicing “us vs them” politics, he’s asking the impossible.

All politicians, of all ideological and partisan stripes, pit groups against each other – poor vs rich, east vs west, conservative vs liberal, social conservatives vs progressives – and all practice the politics of divide and conquer.

Yes, even the adorable “sunny ways” Trudeau does this.

Thus “us vs them” politics is an inevitable as the next sunrise.

And since “us vs them” politics can generate resentment among “them”, a populist upsurge is always close at hand.

So whatever Dixon charged the government for his stupid advice, it was too much.

More from Gerry Nicholls.     @GerryNic

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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