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Climate Is the New Populist Wedge Issue – The Atlantic

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Perhaps the 234 scientists behind this week’s landmark climate assessment had hoped that their report—published during a summer of deadly flooding, wildfires, and heat waves—would act as a wake-up call, one that would unite the world’s governments and parties.

But political consensus on the issue of climate change, much like the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, is unlikely to be achieved: Although most mainstream political parties have at the very least acknowledged the reality of human-induced climate change and the need to implement sweeping new policies to address it, several populist parties continue to reject the scientific consensus. Even those that accept it tend to oppose mainstream solutions, including multilateral efforts to address the problem.

Europe, which has experienced some of the summer’s worst climate disasters, offers a preview of the populist right’s next political battleground. What has emerged so far is not a change of heart but, rather, a shift in tone. Populist parties have traded outright denialism for the position that climate policy, like that of immigration and the coronavirus pandemic, represents yet another top-down elite agenda that stands to hit ordinary people, particularly those in the working class, the hardest.

If this line of argument sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In recent years, right-wing populists have positioned themselves as Europe’s staunchest defenders—against immigration and threats to national sovereignty; against pandemic restrictions and the influence of global institutions; and against what they regard as national governments’ hysteria over climate change, which populists have described as “degenerate fearmongering” at best and “totalitarian” at worst.

This isn’t to say that Europe’s populist right is united in its opposition to climate change. According to a 2019 study by Adelphi, an environmental-policy think tank based in Berlin, only two of Europe’s nearly two dozen right-wing populist parties—Hungary’s far-right Fidesz and Latvia’s National Alliance—explicitly support the scientific consensus on the climate crisis. But among the others, differences exist. Some, including the far-right Alternative for Germany and the Dutch Party for Freedom, reject the idea of anthropogenic global warming, whereas others, such as France’s National Rally and Spain’s Vox, have begun to advocate their own brand of nationalist environmentalism—one that supports local policies to tackle climate change but simultaneously rejects international agreements aimed at doing the same.

In practice, this means promoting conservation at the local level (through policies such as favoring local consumption and preserving limited resources) while repudiating international-led initiatives such as the Paris Agreement. In the case of Vox, it has meant advocating to preserve Spain’s “natural heritage” on the one hand and opposing efforts to rein in the country’s carbon emissions on the other.

The populist right’s about-face on climate is partly driven by politics. As voters become more attuned to the threats posed by the climate crisis, the repercussions of which are already being felt in countries such as Germany, Italy, Greece, and Spain, some of Europe’s populist parties have been forced to change tack. Vox, which once dismissed climate change as a hoax, has since promoted its own version of environmentalism as an alternative to what it describes as the “green religion” of the left. France’s National Rally has experienced a similar transition in recent years, from the climate skepticism of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, to the identity-based environmentalism of his daughter, and the party’s current leader, Marine Le Pen.

Populist parties realize that “there are diminishing returns in playing the denialist card,” Catherine Fieschi, a political analyst who tracks dissent against climate policy in Europe, told me. Unlike issues such as immigration or the European Union, climate change simply isn’t as divisive in Europe (something that can’t be said for other parts of the world, including the United States). Until recently, it wasn’t considered a top priority for voters.

Even parties that haven’t explicitly changed course on climate change have found ways to incorporate the issue into their worldview. Climate change, after all, fits neatly within the populist narrative of the “pure people” versus the “corrupt elite.” In the populist right’s telling, green policies such as fuel taxes and decarbonization incentives represent an elitist attack on the lives of ordinary people. “Populists have been very good at saying, ‘We’re not just going to protect you from climate change,’” Fieschi said. “‘We’re going to protect you from an elite that doesn’t give a damn about the cost that climate policy is going to take on you.’”

Beyond the economic argument is another classic from the populist arsenal—the anti-expertise argument. According to Ralph Schroeder, the director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute and a co-author of a recent study on the link between climate skepticism and support for right-wing populists, populist rejection of climate science “is not so much correlated with economic hardship that it may impose,” but rather with the belief that “experts shouldn’t tell us what to do.”

But perhaps the most cogent argument populists are beginning to make about climate change is one that they’ve been pushing for much of the last year: that this is another example of the establishment trying to restrict people’s basic freedoms. “It’s all the more easy to do in the wake of the pandemic,” Fieschi told me, noting the restrictive measures imposed by European governments to curb the spread of the coronavirus, many of which have been met with protests. “What [populists] are saying is ‘This is the thin end of the wedge, this pandemic thing. Now they’re going to really curtail your freedoms.’”

The biggest challenge facing this populist argument, however, is time—something that, as the United Nations climate report made clear, the world is in short supply of. Extreme weather events are becoming more common; urgency to tackle global warming will grow. While populist arguments against “climate hysteria” may provide temporary reassurance, they are no substitute for real policy solutions. For people displaced by worsening fires and floods, blaming elites will offer little comfort.

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Politics Briefing: O'Toole reaches out to 'angry' voters, urges them not to support smaller parties – The Globe and Mail

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Erin O’Toole appealed to “angry” voters who are supporting smaller parties to instead vote Conservative and block a Liberal re-election, while maintaining his practice of never directly naming Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada in his public comments.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was repeating his own late-campaign pitch for strategic voting Friday, specifically naming the Green Party and the NDP and claiming the Liberals have a stronger climate-change platform. The NDP and Greens disagree.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s entire campaign message has largely aimed at pushing back on the strategic voting pitch, by arguing on the campaign trail and through advertising that the Liberals can’t be trusted to deliver on their promises.

Speaking in London, Ont., Mr. O’Toole made several references to angry and tired voters Friday.

“To Canadians who are fearful, angry and feeling let down. Let me say this: I get it,” he said. “We deserve change here, and If people vote for anything other than the Conservative party of Canada for that change, they’re voting for Justin Trudeau.”

Mr. Bernier is a former federal Conservative cabinet minister who finished a narrow second to Andrew Scheer for the party’s 2017 leadership race. Mr. O’Toole finished third. Mr. Bernier then formed the PPC, which failed to win a single seat in 2019 but is polling higher during this campaign. His campaign has focused heavily on opposition to vaccine mandates, but he has also accused Mr. O’Toole of proposing big-spending policies that are not much different from the Liberals.

Mr. O’Toole’s comments Friday suggest the party is concerned that it is bleeding some of its traditional support to the PPC.

Meanwhile Friday, Mr. Trudeau said said one of his Toronto candidates has “paused” his election campaign after past allegations of sexual assault were revealed, but the Liberal Leader would not commit to removing him from the party before Monday’s vote.

The Toronto Star reported on Thursday that Kevin Vuong, who is running for the Liberals in Spadina–Fort York, was charged in 2019 with sexual assault but the charge was dropped later that year. Mr. Vuong told the newspaper the allegations are false and that he “vigorously fought” them. The Globe and Mail has not verified the allegations and has reached out to Mr. Vuong’s campaign team for comment. Mr. Vuong did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Vuong is also facing a $1.5-million lawsuit from a former business associate in a pandemic mask-making business, first reported on by The Globe and Mail.

On a lighter note, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet was asked about this week’s campaign appearances by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien and former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney and why he has not appeared with former Bloc leaders. Mr. Blanchet noted that Lucien Bouchard has stayed out of federal politics for a long time and Gilles Duceppe, another long-time Bloc leader, is busy as a TV analyst.

“I must say… I listened to Mr. Chrétien and I listened to Mr. Mulroney, and I said they are so much more interesting than the new ones,” he told reporters Friday. “Maybe I don’t want to compare myself to Mr. Bouchard.”

Hello,

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. Filling in today is Bill Curry. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

CANADA CAUGHT OFF-GUARD BY NEW SECURITY PACT BETWEEN U.S., AUSTRALIA AND BRITAIN: The Canadian government was surprised this week by the announcement of a new security pact between the United States, Britain and Australia, one that excluded Canada and is aimed at confronting China’s growing military and political influence in the Indo-Pacific region, according to senior government officials. Story by The Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife and Steven Chase is here.

CHINESE MAJOR-GENERAL WORKED WITH FIRED SCIENTIST AT CANADA’S TOP INFECTIOUS DISEASE LAB: A high-ranking officer in the People’s Liberation Army, recently lauded by President Xi Jinping for developing a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine, collaborated on Ebola research with one of the scientists who was later fired from Canada’s high-security infectious disease laboratory in Winnipeg. Story by The Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife and Steven Chase is here.

CANADA’S 2021 FEDERAL ELECTION PLATFORM GUIDE: See where the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, Bloc and PPC stand on issues of health care, jobs, climate, housing and reconciliation and more. Compiled by The Globe and Mail staff.

PANDEMIC ELECTION PUSHES PARTIES TO PUT MENTAL HEALTH IN SPOTLIGHT: During a year of unprecedented stress, mental-health care is garnering more than its usual share of the political spotlight in the federal election. The three main national parties are variously promising money, tax credits and policy changes aimed at correcting a chronic inequity in the system: too many Canadians waiting too long for help, unless they can pay out of pocket for the treatment they need. A Globe and Mail analysis by Erin Anderssen can be found here.

THROUGH TIKTOK, COMMUNITY VISITS, ACTIVISTS AND CANDIDATES CAMPAIGN TO ENSURE INDIGENOUS VOICES ARE HEARD IN THE COMMONS: AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said she is encouraging First Nations people to vote for the party that offers the best solutions and partnerships to keep the country moving forward on the path to truth and reconciliation. She said Indigenous people and Canadians want reconciliation and healing, particularly after the horrific discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools. The Globe and Mail story by Willow Fiddler and Ntawnis Piapot is here.

MILLIONS OF CANADIANS RENT, BUT THEY HAVE BEEN LEFT OUT OF FEDERAL CAMPAIGN PROMISES: Renters have largely been left out of federal election campaign promises to make housing more affordable, even though a growing portion of Canada’s population rents and struggles to make their payments, The Globe and Mail’s Rachelle Younglai reports here.

LEADERS

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau held a news conference in Windsor, Ont.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole held a news conference in London, Ont., and is scheduled to hold an evening event in St. Catharines.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh held a morning news conference in Sherbrooke, Que. He is then scheduled to campaign in Nova Scotia, with stops in Sackville and Halifax.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet held a news conference in Saint-Étienne-des-Grès, Que. His schedule includes campaign stops in Trois-Rivières, Lévis and Quebec City.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul is scheduled to hold an afternoon news conference in Toronto.

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier is scheduled to spend Friday through Sunday in Alberta, beginning with a Friday evening rally in Strathmore.

OPINION

Kelly Cryderman (The Globe and Mail) on how all roads in Alberta’s latest COVID crisis lead back to Premier Jason Kenney: “[Mr. Kenney] continues to present the government’s choices as binary – between ‘permanent, unmovable, consistent, hard, lockdown-style policies,’ and throwing everything open. In fact, there is a lot of grey area in between… So, yes. The province’s health care system is on the verge of a full-blown crisis. It shouldn’t be about Jason Kenney. But it still is.”

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail): writes up a guide for voters focused on which party has presented the best plans in areas including climate change, Indigenous issues, fiscal management and housing. “Canada is a pretty lucky country. From this desk, either Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau or Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole could be trusted to provide competent, responsible government. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet have shown the ability to make a minority Parliament work while holding the government to account. A vote for any of them would be a good choice.”

Don Braid (The Calgary Herald) on Jason Kenney’s handling of COVID-19: “There seems to be no situation — not even the impending collapse of the health-care system — that will mute this man’s impulse to deflect… His Wednesday news conference was a litany of denials for the government’s cluelessness about what was happening in Alberta. The Premier did not apologize for lifting COVID-19 measures in July, only for pushing ‘Open for Summer’ too hard and declaring the pandemic to be over.”

Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It’s not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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In politics, it’s all about the image – especially in 2021 – The Globe and Mail

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Signs outside of an advance polling station in Burnaby, B.C., on Sept. 10.

JENNIFER GAUTHIER/Reuters

J.R. McConvey is a writer based in Toronto.

One thing is certain about elections: they bring out the signs. Lawns and roadsides across the country are cluttered with red, blue, orange and the occasional green. An already busy visual landscape is surrendered to the will of the politically solicitous.

One of politics’ more durable lies is that policy and governance take priority over image management. Contemporary politics is a visual medium. Conducted through signage, carefully orchestrated public appearances, television and social media, political narratives play out as screen content, designed to compete with – and borrow tactics from the creative and commercial content with which they jockey for clicks.

With the pandemic making it harder to court voters in person, screens must convey more of the candidates’ personalities. Hence, in campaign materials for the front-runners, we see a new taste for casual haberdashery. In August, the Conservative Party of Canada launched its platform with a GQ-style mock magazine cover featuring leader Erin O’Toole in a black T-shirt, arms crossed for maximum flex. It evoked a “thirst trap,” slang for a type of selfie intended to elicit praise or desire. Days later, a Liberal ad pictured Justin Trudeau in a similar black tee. In the age of remote work, it’s no longer enough to roll up your sleeves; to connect with the pyjama-clad masses, you must dress down.

The sartorial relaxation aligns with a general trend away from formality in political imagery. It’s telling that when the CPC had to pull an attack ad featuring Mr. Trudeau’s head superimposed on the body of Veruca Salt – the selfish, petulant child from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory the terminal issue was copyright infringement, rather than the use of sloppy internet troll aesthetics to frame the Liberal Leader as a garish caricature.

Some images aren’t so easily expunged from record. The most recent politician haunted by a revenant from their virtual past is Lisa Robinson. The former CPC candidate in the Toronto riding of Beaches-East York suspended her campaign after Liberal incumbent Nate Erskine-Smith dug up screenshots of posts she allegedly made in 2017, telling Muslims to “go home.” Ms. Robinson claims the posts are fake. Either way, the image has spoken: Mr. O’Toole, striving to project positivity, cannot be associated with hateful tweets, no matter their veracity.

If the discourse is more about the candidates’ social content than their platforms, there’s good reason for that. This is Mr. Trudeau’s arena. With his staged photo-ops and rakish pandemic beard, he set the terms by which others must play. When sunny ways and feely optics are at odds with concrete policy, it doesn’t merely entrench cynicism; it pushes the political conversation deeper into the visual realm. A lesson we should learn from the Trudeau government is that it matters less how Canada’s cabinet looks than how its members represent the communities that voted for them. Keeping the Canadian flag at half-mast might remind us that the Trudeau government feels bad about residential schools, but symbolism without policy to support it is merely theatre.

At present, the tendency is to analyze political iconography in the context of colonialism, fascism and white supremacy. While these are animating factors, they’re all subservient to the only category that matters in today’s media landscape: attention. In his 2016 book, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, media theorist Tim Wu analyzes what he calls “the attention industry.” In exchange for our attention, Mr. Wu argues, “we have accepted a life experience that is in all of its dimensions – economic, political, social, any way you can think of – mediated as never before in human history.” He locates the maturation of the attention industry in 20th-century war propaganda, but claims – writing before the presidency of Donald Trump – that propaganda’s use by tyrants made it unappealing to modern Western governments.

Those days are gone. The visual grammar of Western democracy is now shaped by strategists such as Brad Parscale and Nick Kouvalis, whose work straddles politics and marketing. To call it propaganda feels outdated. But a phenomenon such as Ford Nation, with its slogans and bespoke PR channels, has echoes of the 20th century’s outsized personality cults. Doug Ford is an enthusiastic practitioner of visual politics, filtering every communication through a would-be working-class aesthetic based on sensible conservative blue, with nods to the bold, brash style prevalent in American cable news. Mr. Ford’s brand is so strong that he didn’t need a platform to get elected premier. Meanwhile, many of his greatest misses in office are design gaffes: recall the blue licence plate, the gas-pump sticker, the fundraising flyer designed as an invoice. Whether or not they work – whether the stickers stick or the licence plate is visible at night – they’re pieces in a larger narrative that places attention capture through visual media at the centre of the political project.

The result of this rewiring plays out as we speak, in conflicts over the latest politicized fashion statement: wearing a mask. In a climate where everything is a symbol, a functional piece of equipment designed to protect people from disease has become a statement – of conformity, solidarity or repression, depending on who you ask.

Herein lies the danger of a predominantly visual politics: we are not fully conscious of the ways in which visual information works on our brain – or of how sophisticated the techniques being used to control those functions are. Much as we have done with the intentionally addictive mechanics of smartphones and social media, we proceed without alarm, as though seismic changes in technology and intent do not ripple through our political discourse, our very psychology.

If politics is to continue being waged on screens – and surely that is where most hearts and votes are now won – we must factor aesthetics and design into the discussion. Otherwise, we fail to see what’s right in front of us.

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Slammed doors or warm welcomes for women in politics? – Policy Options

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Canada has had more than 100 years to modernize elections and campaigns so that women candidates can compete on a level playing field.

What’s taken so long? How is it possible that obstacles dating from the suffrage era continue to pose significant barriers?

Veronica Strong-Boag’s forthcoming biography of the first woman cabinet minister in the British Empire reveals problems that continue to this day. In 1892, Mary Ellen Smith left the dusty coal towns of northern England for Nanaimo, B.C. She arrived as an experienced public reformer, committed to improving the living and working conditions of families like her own – composed of white European miners, their wives and children. Smith became a leader in West Coast campaigns to extend the vote to women and to strengthen minimum wage, public pension and child labour laws.

The sudden death of her husband Ralph, an MLA for Vancouver, led Smith to contest his seat in a provincial byelection. Despite fierce competition, she won in 1918 and in two subsequent races. Smith became not just B.C.’s first female MLA but also a minister without portfolio in the province’s then-Liberal government.

As an immigrant from the U.K. whose first language was English, what were her rewards? Smith was provided no stipend, staff or seat at the cabinet table. She resigned as minister without portfolio less than a year after her appointment, stating she refused to be a superfluous “fifth wheel on the political coach.” In 1928, the B.C. Liberals pushed Smith off the stage entirely, running her in a Tory bastion on Vancouver Island. Smith, as well as the B.C. Liberal Party, lost that election.

During much of Smith’s time in the public spotlight, political leaders and media pundits remarked on little beyond her attractive face, fashionable clothes, feminine speaking style and congenial personality. Smith became a sexualized commodity of the time: B.C. Liberal leader John Oliver announced that he’d kissed the victorious candidate out of “duty” rather than sin. Another B.C. Liberal proposed marriage with a $3,000 monetary incentive. In short, the substantive commitments that had long dominated Smith’s civic involvement were buried in a volley of commentary that highlighted her “comely” good looks and “quiet, gentle voice.”

Mary Ellen Smith stands among the first women in Canada to walk away from parliamentary politics with a deep sense of disappointment. But she was far from the last.

What can be done to ensure that today’s women candidates escape these sordid legacies? First, sustained focus in public debate on policy content rather than personal minutiae would go a long way toward improving our political climate. As they did 100 years ago, contemporary news reports and commentaries that highlight hair, wardrobe and tone of voice trivialize the contributions of half the population by turning political campaigns into old-fashioned beauty pageants. This trend is particularly worrisome in our visually saturated era, when social media emphasis on style and imagery is usurping the somewhat more-substantive orientation of older news outlets.

Second, I encourage candidates and leaders to channel Mary Ellen Smith by calling out the biases they confront. To their credit, a number of diverse women who abandoned federal politics in recent months, including Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Vancouver Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, did just that. Back in mid-June, Qaqqaq announced she would not run in the next federal election. A member of the NDP caucus since 2019, Qaqqaq said the House of Commons was “a very uneasy place,” where staff did not recognize her status as an MP. Qaqqaq also felt stymied in her attempts to improve housing and prevent suicide in Indigenous and Inuit communities.

A Liberal MP and cabinet minister for one term and then an independent MP since 2019, Wilson-Raybould explained in July that she’d decided not to run again given a “toxic and ineffective Parliament” characterized by “harmful partisanship.”

Instead of quietly exiting the parliamentary arena, both Qaqqaq and Wilson-Raybould spoke publicly about what ails the system. They. along with embattled Green Party Leader Annamie Paul. have identified problems that continue to impede participants who come from traditionally marginalized outsider groups. Paul’s comments this summer suggest that the internal Green Party debate over the Middle East conflict and the defection to the Liberals of Jenica Atwin, a Green MP from New Brunswick, was far from civil. In fact, Paul told reporters that racist and sexist allegations were levelled against her at an emergency meeting of the Green Party’s national council in mid-June.

Not surprisingly, these contemporary trail-blazers include women who are Indigenous (Qaqqaq and Wilson-Raybould) as well as Black and Jewish (Paul). Their entry to Canadian public institutions that were constructed for and by white Christian men has provoked discomfort, hostility and lots in between.

Third, as the citizens whose voices ought to be represented in legislative chambers and in cabinet meetings, we – as members of a diverse Canadian public – need to demand better. It’s our responsibility to hold editors, journalists, bloggers and tweeters to foundational standards that require fair coverage of election campaigns. Emphases on the coiffure, sexual allure or voice of female candidates tend to go hand-in-hand with neglect of their substantive politics. This approach remains as vapid and imbalanced now as it was a century ago.

We also need to insist that parties and legislatures open their doors to change-oriented participants who don’t look like the Fathers of Confederation. If public institutions remain closed to candidates like Qaqqaq, Wilson-Raybould and Paul, those structures are sure to calcify as bloated parking lots full of status quo advocates.

Our job, in short, is to help ensure the experiences of women candidates and parliamentarians in 2021 are measurably better than they were in the era of Mary Ellen Smith.

Data shows that during this pandemic, public trust in elected leaders in Canada has dipped precipitously. Just imagine how much worse those trends will become if we don’t find ways to elect women like Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Annamie Paul – and ensure they are effective and are able to be influential inside the system.

This article is part of the How can we improve the elections process special feature. 


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