In politics, lying is in. I know. I know. You could dig into history and argue that it’s always been in. But, right now, it appears to be front and centre, thanks in large part to that guy in the country south of us whose name I’d rather not mention.
And, as That Guy has shown, if you lie long enough and with enough conviction, a lot of people start to believe your claims, even when there is proof to the contrary. You eventually believe it yourself.
That is an extremely dangerous state to be in. It’s undemocratic. Unchecked, it pushes us toward Orwell’s dystopian world of 1984, where the Ministry of Truth is devoted to quite the opposite. Author Stephanie Ericsson captured the consequences quite eloquently, when she wrote, “Our acceptance of lies becomes a cultural cancer that eventually shrouds and reorders reality until moral garbage becomes as invisible to us as water is to a fish.”
In other words, if we let this go on unchallenged, we lose our bearings. At some point, we can’t even tell where the truth ends and the lies begin.
Canada has plenty of its own truth-challenged politicians. They’re just a little less overt about it. Justin Trudeau, for example, sometimes struggles with his facts, occasionally falling into the trap of telling one audience one thing and another audience in another part of the country something quite different. There are plenty of weasel words to explain it away; you could call it being “contextually appropriate”, for example – meaning you are tailoring your message to the particular audience you are talking to. But, let’s face it, that’s not really what it is.
So, here’s Trudeau’s current problem. On one hand, he supports the construction of pipelines so the country can “continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources …” Then, he is caught saying something apparently quite different in Peterborough, Ont.: “We can’t shut down the oil sands tomorrow. We need to phase them out.”
The “phase out” notion might have delighted some people at the town hall in Ontario but it did little for his popularity in Alberta, where politicians across the spectrum immediately condemned his betrayal.
Trudeau has been here before. In 2012, he was caught out saying in French that, “Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-demographic agenda.” Reporting on the flap in Maclean’s magazine at the time, writer Martin Patriquin quipped, “Career politicians spend their lives trying to be liked, and there is one very effective way of doing so: placate, please and pander to whoever happens to be sitting in front of you.”
It’s the curse of trying to lead a country so large. If you actually take a firm stand, you are bound to alienate a lot of people somewhere whose vote you just might need one day.
One can’t help but wonder what might happen if Trudeau did learn another lesson from That Guy. Although his memory of facts is hopelessly flawed, Trump does speak his mind with little apparent concern for the consequences. Such shocking forthrightness in large part explains his victory over more circumspect “establishment” politicians. Even, it seems, when his bluntness involves a lie.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Trudeau was a little less prone to placating? If he just laid it all out? If he stopped trying to walk on both sides of the street?
Deliver exactly the same message to the entire country, Mr. Prime Minister. How do you honestly feel about Albertans? Should the oil sands be nurtured for some time or phased out? We’d like to hear – not your obfuscation – but what lives in your heart.
There may be one such plain-spoken politician soon on the national scene. Newly declared Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary could give us a new level of blunt talk, if he lives up to advance billing. That alone could make his arrival on the scene refreshing. Now, if he can just be as honest as he is blunt.
Honesty and candor. Is it really to much to ask from our leaders? Wouldn’t we all vote for that?
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.