#onpoli newsletter - helping you understand this fall’s federal election

A sneak peek at some of the episodes being cooked up for #onpoli's upcoming season
By Eric Bombicino - Published on Sep 04, 2019
Steve Paikin and Ontario Proud founder Jeff Ballingall ready to record.



Hello, #onpoli people,

Anticipation is a double-edged sword.  

Whether it’s standing in the wings of a banquet hall before it’s your turn to speak, sitting in the locker room before a big game, or waiting for your first date to arrive, anticipation can approximate terror. 

In the case of a first date, terror can lead to overthinking your first line and saying things like, “Hello you doing?” followed by another awkward swing: “How you are?” Then the slow realization that you will be alone forever. This may or may not have happened to me.  

But, dear reader, the other side of anticipation is a sure-fire path to joy. According to University of Colorado psychologist Leaf Van Boven, anticipating something is a powerful feeling that can help us lead happier lives. It’s more effective than even looking back on a fond memory. 

Unfortunately, this also applies to events that are negative.

Two men talk in an office.
Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath at work on Season 3.

In an effort to drum up some anticipation about it, here’s a sneak peek at some of the episodes we’re cooking up for this season, some of which I’ve touched on in recent newsletters.

Carbon pricing, where art thou? 

Our resident policy wonk John Michael McGrath will create a handy explainer on everything you need to know about carbon pricing in Canada. To understand the state of the debate over this policy today, we look back to how we got here. The story of carbon pricing over the last decade has been a classic fall from grace. 

John Michael will trace carbon pricing’s previous popularity to its acrimonious present, and what this shift means for the October federal election. He will explain Ontario’s court battle with the federal government over the carbon tax and what the federal parties have on offer. (Hint: one of the parties is not like the others.) 

Is populism … popular in Canada?

“Populism” is a provocative word that we’re hearing more often when people try to explain what’s happened to our global political landscape in recent years. And when we talk about populism, we may be more familiar with it south of the border or in Europe.  

But what do we need to know about Canadian voters and populism as we head into this election? The #onpoli team will find out how populism is influencing Canadian parties on the campaign trail. 

Welcome to the meme wars

Every election season, we’re served a steady diet of negative political attack ads. And every time, we wonder about the impact these ads have on our politics and if they coarsen the discourse. This season, we’re not going to do that. 

Instead, we’ll be focusing on new kids on the block: third-party advocacy media groups.  

Or, at least, that’s how they describe themselves. We’re talking about groups like Ontario Proud and North 99. Who are they and what is their aim? 

They are social media-savvy organizations that deploy super-shareable memes and videos. They are on both the left and the right. And they have a massive online footprint. 

Welcome, dear readers, to the meme wars.

One of the most successful of these groups has been Ontario Proud, founded by conservative Jeff Ballingall. This is the way Justin Ling, journalist and host of the political podcast Oppo, describes the group: “They are a fly-by-night, partisan-for-hire operation. Their opinions are almost entirely dictated by Jeff Ballingall and a handful of others. It’s giving a handful of people an awful lot of power in an election.” 

According to an analysis by BuzzFeed, between June 2018 and June 2019, Ontario Proud generated more engagement on its Facebook page than some of Canada’s largest media outlets, including Global News, the National Post, the Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail.

It has recently created Canada Proud for the federal election. Steve Paikin interviews Ballingall in this episode, and asks him what role he thinks he plays in an angry and divided electorate. We also speak to Kaleigh Rogers, a senior CBC reporter who covers disinformation, about these new third-party advertisers and how they fit into what she sees as a “muddled” information landscape heading into the election. 

Say happy birthday to Steve’s mom! 

The federal leaders’ debates historically have been able to make or break an election campaign. Will that be true in 2019?

I worked hard to find the right expert to speak to this topic. I walked from my desk all the way to Steve Paikin’s office, a distance of approximately 12 cubicles, plus a right turn. Steve, as some of you may know, has moderated a few of these debates in the past.  

John Michael will chat with Steve about some of his experiences, their picks for make-or-break moments in federal debates past, and the strategies candidates use — including the (often clumsy) art of the sound bite and the all-important “spin zone” after the debate.  

Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff and Gilles Duceppe during 2011 federal election debate.

One fun tidbit from Steve? During one debate in 2011, all the leaders were out on stage, about two minutes before going live at 8 p.m. and no one knew what to do with themselves. The nervous anticipation was at fever pitch; they stood awkwardly, or swayed side-to-side, and tried to avoid eye contact with one another at all costs.  

Steve’s solution to break the tension? He asked them to wish his mother a happy birthday and, naturally, recorded it on his BlackBerry. (It was 2011, to be fair, although Steve still uses a BlackBerry today.) Gilles Duceppe, Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, and Jack Layton all wished Marnie Paikin a happy birthday minutes before they went live to millions of Canadians.

And 3…2…1, we’re live! 

Speaking of being live: John Michael and Steve will be recording a live episode of the podcast at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. We would absolutely love to see you there. You can get tickets here.

In an era of increasing polarization, we’re going to explore the dark political art of the wedge issue, which, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a political issue that divides a candidate’s supporters or the members of a party.”  

Personally, I prefer this definition: “an issue that a politician might raise in order to drive a wedge between different groups within his opponent's supporter base.” 

We’ll ask the question of what’s driving Canadians apart. We’ll look at some historical examples of wedge issues (barbaric practices hotline, anyone?), whether they work, and if it’s “good” politics to intentionally divide the electorate. And, of course, we’ll dive into some of the major wedges in this upcoming election.  

That’s just a few things we have in store for you this season. 

Our first episode will be available on Sept. 9. 

As always, please write to me with any questions, suggestions, queries, and even theories at onpolitics@tvo.org. We’ve already received a bunch of great questions and comments that we will mention on upcoming podcasts. Thanks for that, everybody! 

And remember: keep your stick on the ice. (Nope. That didn’t work. I’m trying out new sign-offs. You will never see this one again — it’s also how they signed off on the criminally underrated Canadian TV series, The Red Green Show.) 

That’s all for this week! (That’s better, but a bit basic, no?) 

#onpoli producer

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