On government, viewpoints, and direction

  • Business   Friday, March 11, 2022   Matt Harris

Are we as Canadians who we picture ourselves to be in our minds? Generally speaking, we’re still the polite, hockey-crazy, self-deprecating group that the rest of the world has painted us to be and like any generalization there are always exceptions.

But in recent times, we’ve shown ourselves to be different. Are we becoming something else? Something less polite and more woke? Or is it that we’re simply reacting to the world around us and putting on a face to mirror what we see every day.

There was a time not long ago where Peter Mansbridge helped Canadians see both the world at home and abroad for nothing more than what it was – not always perfect, but an honest accounting of what happened and what we could expect next. While retirement from the CBC came in the not too distant past, Mansbridge hasn’t given up his microphone completely. Anyone who has found www.thepetermansbridge.com and listened to his podcast, The Bridge, can attest that his grasp of current events is still on par or better than many of his former newsroom colleagues.

The Times benefitted from both his time and insights during a recent interview, where topics such as the Freedom Convoy, the Emergencies Act, the current state of politics in North America, and how all politics is local were on the table. This is Part 1 of 2 of this story.

Matt Harris, editor – Stratford Times: What is the most significant thing to come out of the protests that happened across Canada?

Peter Mansbridge: Certainly one of the most significant things is that Canadians can make judgements on the powers they want governments to have. I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how this turns out, using the Emergencies Act that’s never been used before. But once it’s not being used any longer, they have to have an inquiry into why it was used, how it was used and what impact it had. I think that’s going to be really important for everyone to be able to listen to and read about, because you know how these things tend to operate: there’s a big thing that happens, they have an inquiry and by the time of the inquiry reports, nobody gives a shit any more. That would be unfortunate if that’s what happens, because there’s a lesson here for us, no matter which side of this debate you were on. Do you remember the Occupy Wall Street movement? I do. There were a couple of things that came out of that – it was an important protest but it got fuzzy and clouded because there was no central spokesperson. So to speak, it doesn’t have to be eloquent, but it had to be clear as to what it was all about. They didn’t have that. They didn’t have that person then, and these people (in the Freedom Convoy) didn’t have, which didn’t help. And the few times they did stand in front of a microphone, they wouldn’t take any questions, and increasingly as the thing went on, the only people who were talking were some of the protestors and usually ones who did not have a clear idea of why they were there. The message got muddled. It clearly indicated not only from the protests themselves but the support they seemed to get, which is still very much a minority position across the country but probably greater than many people had thought … it did awaken the country to the realization that there were important things to discuss about the use of mandates and how long they would go on for. I think, off the top of my head, all those things were important. I mean I’ve covered a lot of protests and I’m sure you have too. I’ve seen some really big ones on Parliament Hill, you know, back when (Ronald) Reagan was there and they protested against acid rain. It was a huge crowd and they made their case and got huge publicity as a result of it. Most Americans at that point, including many of the reporters, had no idea what acid rain was. I can remember standing there explaining to some of my American colleagues what it was. It became a fixture in coverage of environmental issues in the U.S. after that protest.

There were very strong feelings on both sides of this issue, and if you were a resident of Ottawa, like I guess 90 per cent of the journalists who covered this story were, it must’ve been very hard to separate your personal opinions from your professional duties. That would be a challenge for anybody.

ST: Staying with this general topic, you mentioned mandates and the use of them, but I began to wonder as this protest played out if this wasn’t just an over-aggressive form of pandemic fatigue. In relatively short order, we’ve gone from trusting the science and being considerate of our neighbours and doing whatever we can to help make the situation better to being openly frustrated and just wanting to be done with everything. Was this us just giving in to our baser instincts, or do you think there’s something else behind why we’re getting so frustrated?

PM: The election last year was divisive for a lot of people, and that was six months ago… but it’s nothing like it is today in terms of the feeling that some people were being ignored, and it was time to move on and get this thing (the pandemic) over with. So I’m sure that had some part to do with it, but there’s a difference between being frustrated and taking the law into your own hands and espousing things that are just lunacy, right? And people were calling for the Governor General to get rid of the Prime Minister, talking about how they could appoint a new government out of concerned citizens. I mean, what the hell? If those people want to run for Parliament, they should – we can use some good people running for Parliament there’s no doubt, but I’d love to know how many of them did.

ST: This takes me back to one of my beliefs that we just don’t know how to think critically as well as we once did. Go back to when Donald Trump announced his run for the U.S. Presidency and how he used certain language to get his supporters stirred up. I heard Pierre Poilievre echoing some of those early sentiments that Trump played on, so it makes me wonder if we’re at that tipping point where if we don’t start thinking for ourselves again that this is going to get truly messy.

PM: Well, there’s always the risk of that, seeing things getting really ugly. Some of the rhetoric that’s being tossed around now, mainly by the American right but being picked up by some of the Canadian right. I talked about it (in a recent podcast) that a headline out of the States asked ‘Is Trudeau more evil than Putin?’. I mean, how the hell did we get to that point? Some of this stuff is extreme, but some of this stuff touches a nerve, a cord in an electorate, and it’s clear with some conservatives but not all. That’s why this is going to be quite the battle for this (Conservative) leadership, and some will see this extremism as a possible route or pathway to victory. Everything is twisted up right now – when I was covering Reagan, he was in an all-out fight with the Soviet Union. In terms of his rhetoric, he called them the Evil Empire, and he wouldn’t have stood for one moment for allowing the Soviet leader at the time to invade other countries. He wouldn’t have allowed that to happen. And yet today conservatives are kind of, I mean Trump recently called Putin a genius. (Mike) Pompeo, another guy who’s probably going to run for the Republican nomination if Trump doesn’t, was praising Putin as well – again, what the hell? What happened here? What happened to the right’s guiding principles? There’s a huge deficit and debt in the U.S. that was multiplied by Trump long before the pandemic hit. That used to be a basic principle of conservative Republicans, and it’s unclear what they stand for anymore in terms of those old principles. And I think you see, in some cases, some (Canadian) Conservatives doing the same thing. Erin O’Toole, during the last campaign, wasn’t concerned about the deficit or the debt, but when he realized he was in trouble after the election he suddenly started talking about it again. So where are these candidates going to be on these big issues that used to dominate the right in Canada? We’re about to find out because right now, all they seem to be against or for is bringing down Trudeau. It’s all very personal, and there is a market for that – we see it in our own writing.

It’s funny you mentioned the initial feeling of residents about the pandemic at the beginning. You know, I used to stand on the front porch of my place, along with Cynthia and almost all of our neighbours every night at 7:30 … clapping and banging pots in support of healthcare workers. I’m basically in support of what was being done to try and stop the spread. Well, I started my day today out on the porch doing some stuff and I looked out and none of that stuff happens any more. It’s long gone. But I saw two vehicles go by with the ‘No Lockdowns’ and flags that were taped to the front end. Now I don’t want to read too much into that, but you wouldn’t have seen that two years ago to underline your point. So things have changed and it’s not just the sort of crackpots. There’s definitely some of that, but there some, dare I say it, reasonable people who have that position. We’re at a pivot point … people must have every conceivable part of their body crossed, hoping that we are really near the end of this and that Omicron was the last major wave and that we’re slowly going to work our way out over these next 4-6 months. Because while they’re spinning back all the restrictions, Premier Ford certainly is desperate to ensure that by the election they’re all gone. If something goes in the tank on this and they suddenly have to put restrictions back in … I don’t want to be around when that happens.

ST: I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that maybe we just don’t know how to talk to each other anymore, and not just at a political level. People are so beholden to their own viewpoint that they either don’t know how or don’t want to see someone else’s way of thinking. You’ve had the unique perspective of getting to talk to a lot of different people through your career and even now, so how do we change our way of dealing with each other?

PM: It’s partly by trying to understand the opposing point of view, listening to it in a way that’s constructive and assuming they’re offering it in a constructive way. I fault myself on this … I can remember when my son was younger, we’re talking 10 years ago or something like that, and I was one of the coaches for his hockey team along with Dan Mathieson because Dan’s daughter was on the same team. So Dan and I were the coaches and I remember in one game some guy came out of the stands and it was clear that he was madder than hell and I thought he was going to argue with me about how I was using his kid on the ice. But that wasn’t it at all; he was screaming at me about the CBC and how we’re a bunch of liberal hacks, or at that point it was we’re a bunch of Conservative hacks when the Harper government was in power. But he was really mad, and I just sort of brushed him off and told him to get lost or something. And that was the end of it. I’ve never forgotten that moment because I probably should have said, ‘can we talk about this? Let me finish the game and I’m more than happy to sit down with you and try to understand where you’re coming from’, but I didn’t. It’s going to take that kind of thing, obviously on a bigger scale than that. Although a lot of stuff happens in hockey rinks around our country.

This concludes Part 1 of this interview. Check in the April edition of the Stratford Times for Part 2.