Doorstep Postings: The songs that we sing in the dog days of August’s extremely online politics

Rachel Gilmore, former Global News reporter turned social media pundit, doing her thing.

This is a special edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

And these songs that I sing
Do they mean anything
To the people I’m singing them to
People like you
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jewish actress and singer

When was the last time you were reminded, yet again—as you have been since you were old enough to think—that the Americans are at our gates?

Was it during the last few months where we were reminded that Meta and Alphabet, the rampaging American companies who own Facebook and Google, were “stealing our news” and “refusing to pay” their fair share?

Was it a smug gloss on the latest convulsion in the American political arena, perhaps the Trump indictment or the latest off-putting DeSantisism, or even Joe Biden’s senility, to the effect that we’ve been spared the worst excesses of that place—for now?

Was it the saga over Toronto school principal Richard Bilkszto’s suicide, where one point of contention was whether Canada was more or less racist than the States, or the implication that wokesters are trying to sneak American-style culture-war-mania over the border into our schools?

Was it something not particularly newsworthy, such as when someone makes an offhanded remark like, “If the U.S. sneezes, Canada catches a cold?” Or how they could roll over and crush us?

If none of these specific scenarios have happened to you, you can imagine them without much difficulty. That’s because, even though you also know that Americans have to be reminded we exist, you have internalized the contradictory message that at any moment, at the slightest provocation, we could become—say it with me now—“The 51st State.”

The Americans want our water! No, they want our softwood lumber! They’re drowning out our underdog cultural industry with their loud music, violent movies, sensationalist news coverage and oversexualized TV, their gun-craziness is triggering spurts of violence in Canadian cities and their greasy food is making us fat and unhealthy! And so, we and our leaders must collectively stand up for Canada. By occasionally beating the Yanks at hockey, by enduring ad campaigns from the Dairy Farmers, by plastering enormous black-and-white portraits of Margaret Atwood on the walls of every Indigo store in the land. Whatever you do, don’t get seduced by those American dollar bills, or you’ll be “selling the country down the river.”

With it being all the rage these days to denounce conspiracy theories and the spread of disinformation, you might imagine that we might be able to cool down some of this overheated nationalist rhetoric just a tad. But no, because the powers that be have decided that if a conspiracy theory keeps Canada running along smoothly, if it’s in the public interest to disseminate fear infused nonsense about how Americans are eyeing us hungrily, then what’s the harm?

Well, there is a harm, though it’s not often acknowledged, with allowing our government to get in the business of determining what conspiracy theories are tolerable and which ones are intolerable. Those of us in the dreary business of calling out antisemitism, for example, often have our work cut out for us if the people believing antisemitic falsehoods happen to be playing for Team Government.

But more than that—once it becomes difficult to ignore that there’s a particular partisan advantage to letting some conspiracy theories flourish and declaring that others get stamped out, then we are confronted with an even more ridiculous problem of one side screaming aloud that the other side’s conspiracy theories are the problem, and not their own. People wielding—or potentially wielding pending the next election—the power of the state can decide who and how people become unacceptable, not for believing disinformation, but for believing the wrong kind of disinformation. 

Is it a good thing that Pierre Poilievre continues to focus on alleged nefarious activities at the World Economic Forum? No, but it doesn’t cancel out representatives of official Liberal-dom talking about how, with Trudeau at his lowest ebb, the only way to secure a fourth mandate is to make the other guy unacceptable.

Days later, we had a full court press from newspapers reprinting, in perfect sync, a headline from the Canadian Press on the worrying subject of Poilievre’s conspiratorial and tangentially antisemitic language. A conspiracy amongst journalists, in thrall to the Trudeau government and their media bailout, to accuse Poilievre of being a conspiracy peddler, cry the CPC partisans! And here we go with another few days of both sides accusing the other of being the bigger bunch of conspiracy theorists. There ain’t no flies on us, they cry, like kids at summer camp, while voter turnout goes into a further tailspin. 

How, you ask, could we make this even stupider? Well, just mix in a heaping helping of already volatile Jewish-community politics.

Right on cue, here comes another offensive social media offensive in the wake of Roman Baber’s acclamation as the federal Conservative candidate in the riding of York Centre, the very riding he represented provincially until he fell out with the party over vaccine mandates and decided not to run in the 2022 election.

Now we’re being told by Liberal-adjacents that this (further!) proves Poilivere’s unsuitability—he’s drinking from wells too toxic for Doug Ford. The same Premier Ford, currently dealing with an unfortunate bit of possible old-school corruption himself, who is apparently still more acceptable to Liberal-accessible Conservatives than Poilievre and his WEF fantasies!

But hold on—Baber’s Liberal opponent, Ya’ara Saks, in her zeal to condemn the convoy, which Baber vocally supported, coloured outside the conspiracy line a bit herself when she declared “honk honk” was secret code for “Heil Hitler”. Firing back, Baber declares that the Liberal party calling him “alt-right” is antisemitic because his family suffered in the Holocaust.

Baber’s accuser, Kingston Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen, argues in response that he can’t be antisemitic because his family hid from the Germans in a closet for three years. 

This all started out as an attempt at sophisticated political messaging, but it’s devolved yet again into a meaningless song-and-dance that means nothing, even to the people it’s being performed for. And we have proof that we Canadians are very much able to ruin politics just as well—if not better—than the Americans ever could, in our wildest conspiracy dreams.

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.