Safeguarding the right to vote for all citizens, regardless of age

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, October 13, 2019.

As we all gathered around to celebrate thanksgiving this weekend, I felt especially grateful for my incredible family and so lucky to have with us my amazing mother, a woman whose view of the world and commitment to the service of others has so profoundly influenced me and the person I have become.

Sadly, in recent years, my mother’s cognitive facilities have declined with a swiftness that is both devastating and unspeakably heart breaking.

As our family, like so many others, talked about the election together this weekend, I began to think about the role played by Canadians — approximately 500,000 Canadians — with cognitive impairments in our most basic democratic tradition. How, I wondered, do individuals like my mother participate in our democracy and what supports are in place for them to do so?

By the next election in 2023-2024, nearly 1-in-5 Canadians will be older than 65, and with that demographic shift will come increased rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia. We also know that older voters turn out to the polls in disproportionate numbers.

Having reached her eighth decade, my mother lives in a country almost unique in the world where there are no restrictions on her ability to vote regardless of how much her mental condition deteriorates. In a survey of 62 countries, only four lacked a mental capacity requirement on the right to vote. (The others are Ireland, Italy and Sweden.) Within Canada, only one province or territory, Nunavut, has such a restriction on the eligibility to vote.

South of the border, by contrast, such restrictions are the norm. More than 30 U.S. states have laws limiting those with mental disabilities or cognitive impairments from voting if they have been ruled legally incompetent.

These restrictions do not only impact the elderly, as many illnesses or conditions can result in cognitive impairment including multiple sclerosis, strokes, traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease, as well as Alzheimer’s and dementia. In cases where successful legal challenges have been mounted against mental capacity requirements, the plaintiffs are often autistic.

As with so many of the battles over voting rights, the argument in favour of restrictions boils down to a defence against voter fraud. Proponents fear that people will use the vulnerable and the elderly to harvest their ballots.

Until 1988, this was the basis of the law in Canada, as dictated by the mental capacity provision of the Canadian Elections Act, which excluded from voting any person who was “restrained of his liberty of movement or deprived of the management of his property by reason of mental disease.” That year, Madam Justice Reed held that the provision was in violation of the Charter, which guarantees to every Canadian citizen the right to vote.

“It simply does not follow that people who are declared incapable of managing their financial affairs are necessarily incapable of understanding the nature of the right to vote and of exercising it in a rational manner,” wrote Justice Reed.

While subsequent blue-ribbon panels recommended a narrower restriction, Parliament opted simply to repeal the law in time for the 1993 federal election. Nothing has yet replaced it, and so far, our democracy has gotten along just fine since then.

What’s more, a number of informal approaches have developed to ensure abuse does not take place. U.S. surveys have shown that in nursing homes, where this kind of challenge is a perennial problem, staff have figured out a gatekeeping system, quizzing residents on political questions to assess whether they are in a state of mind to vote.

The approach that forbids anyone in a long-term care home or anyone with a cognitive impairment from voting is rooted in an outdated view of mental health. Where once we sought to institutionalize those with mental disabilities to be cared for and saved from themselves, today, the prevailing view favours integration with the community. Today, the goal is a meaningful life lived as much as possible like everyone else. And there is no more meaningful contribution to our society than voting.

That’s why, on Oct. 21, I will be proud to help my mother vote. For the person she thinks is best suited to be her MP.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt

An Obama Occasion in Ottawa

Last week, former First Lady Michelle Obama, graced our nation’s capital with a stop during her current “conversational tour”. In partnership with the Ottawa Board of Trade, this event followed the book tour she was on earlier his year for her memoir, Becoming. Becoming has sold nearly twelve million copies world-wide. The success of her first book, book tour and continued partnership events only seem to be intensifying since leaving the Whitehouse in January 2017.

Over the past two years, Michelle Obama has continued to show the world that she was more than the traditional first lady. She offers advice on everything from issues women face in the workplace, to work-life balance, diversity and combatting racism – all in the pages of her book and to full stadiums across the continent. Last week’s event lived up to all of that and more – and captivated an audience of 12,000 Ottawans, who were eager to hear about her journey from the South Side of Chicago to the White House.

Perhaps the most central theme in her fireside chat with moderator and professional speaker, Komal Minhas, was on expanding diversity in the spaces we find ourselves within, including the workplace. “You want to have people that don’t look like you and think like you in every room,” she explained while giving insight on how to advance Canadian [and American] workplaces. Although, Obama did not directly refer to politics – nor did she make many comments about Canadian or American politics, she did take a few jabs at the current American administration, where she implied Trump’s team does not prioritize diversity in thought, policy or practice.

On a journey through her own workplaces and career, Obama spoke to her experiences – beginning at graduation from Princeton and Harvard, to her role as a lawyer in a top Chicago firm, to her leadership roles in the non-profit sector, to her important role as a mother and finally to her role as America’s First Lady. She links all of those important roles together by saying, “it’s really all about how you show up every day,” outlining her constant internal work to be a positive role model for both herself and others.

The crowd was left with a lasting impression on the power of words, as Obama declared that “every word you utter can change lives.” She also left each person in Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre inspired to “show up every day” as their best selves.

Obama’s lessons should serve to remind those in the political capital to reflect on the current Canadian election climate – from the ambitious promises to the ugly aggressive undertones and insults between all parties. How can political parties in Canada learn from Michelle that the power of our words matter – and what would change if our party leaders showed up every day on the campaign trail as their best shelves?  For $20.89, maybe candidates running in our election should buy a copy of Becoming from Amazon to find out.

Kait LaForce is an Associate Consultant at Ensight

Sound And Fury: Don Newman’s Reflections On The English Leaders’ Debate

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Bard has the title character offer this observation about what he believes to be the futility of life:

“What is life?” Macbeth harrumphs in his famous soliloquy, “life is but a poor player that walks and struts upon the stage. Full of sound and fury. Signify nothing!”

Those lines were written five-hundred years ago, but they could have been written last night to describe the English language televised debate of the current election campaign.

For two hours, six party leaders and five debate moderators in front of a small studio audience at the Canadian History Museum, and a nationwide audience watching on television and a variety of other platforms, spent their time largely trading their campaign slogans and accusations, being told to only speak one at a time.

It was the only opportunity for Canadians to see all six party leaders at the same time, including Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet, whose party is only running candidates in Québec’s seventy-eight ridings and has no hope of being the next government.

But then, he wasn’t the only party leader taking part with no hope of forming a government after Canadians vote on October 21st. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier are all in the same boat. And because of all the ridings in Québec, Blanchet could finish with more seats than any of the rest in that boat.

There are only two leaders who have the possibility of being Prime Minister after the election; Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who already has the job, and Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, who desperately wants the job.

For that reason their exchanges were often lively, though neither said much about the other that was new.

Mr. Scheer’s best line came when in responding to repeated charges that he would cut federal services the way Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford did provincially, after being elected in 2018. “Mr. Trudeau, you seem to be oddly obsessed with provincial politics. There is a vacancy for the Ontario Liberal leadership and if you’re so focused on provincial politics, go and run for the leadership of that party Mr. Trudeau.”

The line was obviously rehearsed, but the Conservative Leader delivered it well. Mr. Trudeau was similarly smooth when commenting on the participation of Mr. Bernier in the debate. Bernier formed the right-wing People’s Party after he lost the Conservative Leadership to Scheer, claiming the party under Scheer was not conservative enough.

“Mr. Bernier, your role on this stage tonight seems to be to say publicly what Mr. Scheer thinks privately.”

Perhaps to the surprise of some, the smoothest performer of all was the NDP Leader. At one point when Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer were arguing over climate change, Mr. Singh jumped in.

“You do not need to choose between Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny. There is another option,” he said with a smile, referring to himself.

The debate was unique in one way. A leader predicted an election winner that was leader of another party.

In an exchange with Mr. Scheer, Elizabeth May told him:

“Mr. Scheer, with all due respect, you’re not going to be prime minister. The question is going to be on a seat count if we have Mr. Trudeau in a minority or Mr. Trudeau in a majority.”

Scheer looked surprised and was briefly speechless. He then recovered and offered to bet May she was wrong.

For her part, May pleaded with the people listening to make it a minority. That way she, and maybe the NDP, would hold the balance of power and have influence running the country.

On the debate format itself, each of the five women moderating the debate handled one series of questions on a specific topic. That had a tendency to make for inconsistencies and occasional confusion.

But it also made for a lively two hours. As Macbeth described life, there was plenty of sound and fury. The results on October 21st will tell us what it signified.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight and Navigator Limited, a Member of the Order of Canada, Chairman of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Where is the big idea in this election?

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, October 6, 2019. 

Watching the first French-language leaders’ debate this past Wednesday, I was struck by the increasing banality of our current election campaign. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen — and been involved in — many elections. I have seen promising candidates brought down by the pressures of the campaign, I’ve seen parties unexpectedly soar, only to fall again and, through it all, I have learned that no two elections are ever the same.

True, there are always similarities. Some unexpected development will always shift the spotlight away from policy discussions, one candidate will always have something dredged up from their past and the media will almost always decide that a performance in the leaders’ debate has “changed the game.”

That being said, as the leaders unveiled their platforms in recent weeks, I have been struck less by what is new and more by what is missing. Frankly, I find myself asking: where is the “moon shot” designed to capture the imagination of Canadians? Whatever happened to sweeping, bold ideas that would serve to unite our country?

Whether it’s the result of too many focus groups or an overreliance on polling, this election has seen the major parties put forward suggestions that are small, incremental, narrow-minded and focused on the short-term. It has resulted in a series of platforms that are concentrated on the lowest-common denominator.

Gone, it seems, are the days when voters were challenged to think about “What’s in it for Canadians?” Instead, our parties have settled on “What’s in it for you?”

In elections past, parties sought to capture Canadians’ imaginations with a vision of what the future could be.

Lester Pearson rallied Canadians in 1963 with his “60 Days of Decision,” a pledge that his government would do more on key issues in mere months than the Diefenbaker government had. His vision ran from universal health care to the Canada Pension Plan and he pressed a serious debate about our national identity and its symbols.

In 1988, Brian Mulroney championed the possibilities that would come from free trade. Whatever you might think of the issue, it served as a mission, something for Canadians to fight for, together.

In 2015, Justin Trudeau offered a different kind of vision. In contrast to the balanced budget orthodoxy of the Chretien-Martin-Harper years, Trudeau suggested Canadians should embrace deficit spending. For a country that had fared comparatively well in the 2008 recession but was nonetheless still feeling its aftershocks, the Liberals’ vision was a welcome — and in the minds of many Canadians, well-deserved — reprieve from a long period of austerity.

All of which asks the question: what would happen if our parties were focused not just on giving things to the middle class, but instead giving something for the middle class to believe in?

Some say national pharmacare is just that: a vision for a changed society in which no Canadian goes without the medication she or he needs. It’s clear that Canadians are hurting and simplified access to medication could provide help to families and individuals who desperately need it.

But, in my view, pharmacare is an incremental change, not a revolutionary one. And, as any economist or policy wonk will tell you, the problem is that it’s near impossible to capture the imagination with incremental change.

And it is certainly not a big enough idea to serve as a rallying cry for our country as a whole.

So, what would a sweeping policy vision look like in this election? Well, given that we know stable housing is a key determinant of social and health outcomes, how about a pledge to provide stable housing for every single Canadian?

Imagine if the parties committed to such a pledge and that the discussion on the campaign trail was about how to achieve that goal. Imagine if the leaders actually debated their ideas on how to accomplish such a task?

The idea is a moon shot and it may never work. But, at the very least, it would provide the framework for a more worthy debate than the nonsense we have been subjected to this campaign.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt

Closing the Enthusiasm Gap – By: Brayden Akers

Since this election began, a consensus has emerged in national polling showing the Liberals and Conservatives essentially tied in support.  Neither party has managed to sustain a significant lead outside the margin of error.

It’s a frustrating dynamic for both parties. Both have thrown opposition research at the wall, announced various policies targeted to their voters, and taken photo ops designed to break them free of the polling gridlock. But these efforts have been met with limited success.

With the parties so tightly deadlocked, you can expect a renewed focus on making sure their supporters turn out to vote. In fact, much of the Liberal win in 2015 can be credited to a surge in young voters who swamped traditional Conservative turnout.

That means that for each of the parties, rallying their supporters will be essential in the short time left on the campaign trail.

There can be little doubt that the Conservative base is motivated. After months of negative headlines, like the SNC Lavalin affair and the recent unveiling of the Prime Minister costumed in blackface, Conservative frustration has grown and pollsters have increasingly identified that they are among the most motivated to cast their ballots on election day.

In contrast, the enthusiasm among Liberal voters is less certain. The first-time voters and young Canadians who pushed the Liberals across the finish line were unified in their attraction to the promise of change and doing politics differently. Key policy initiatives underscored the Liberals new approach to politics, like the legalization of marijuana, a commitment to overhaul the electoral system, and action on climate change. Hundreds of thousands of voters turned out on that premise.

But those voters who put the Liberals on the government side of the House are now in clear danger of sitting this election out or parking their support elsewhere. The sunny ways that drew them to the Liberals in 2015 have been clouded over by a near-constant barrage of negative headlines. For evidence of this fear in the Liberal campaign, you need to look no further than Trudeau’s tactics of linking Andrew Scheer to Premier Ford and wading into provincial issues such as education and health care.

It remains to be seen is if these tactics will motivate the Liberal’s brittle 2015 coalition this October. But what is certain, both parties will continue to work to close the enthusiasm gap among their base to drive their supporters to cast their ballot.

Brayden Akers is a conservative strategist and Senior Consultant in Navigator’s Toronto office. He previously served as Director of Communications to Ontario’s Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Minister of Indigenous Affairs and worked in Prime Minister Harper’s office.

TVA Hosts «Face-à-Face 2019» Debate : What You Need To Know – By: Philippe Gervais

The two most important considerations for all 4 leaders going into last night’s debate were, first, connecting with French electors in battle ground seats mostly located in rural Québec and suburban Montreal (450), and, second, the post-debate spin and impressions that will influence the majority who have not watched this debate. The wrap-up will start forming expectations for the next one.

Who delivered on that strategy?

  • Mr. Trudeau: On form, he looked too scripted and generally not genuine. On content, he was talking to his base, more urban and center-left, his lack of deep knowledge on some issues was surprising from an incumbent Prime Minister. Strategically, his performance will help the Party in ‘the 450’, but is short of growing past the Greater Montreal Area.
  • Mr. Scheer: Scheer gave a solid performance, but clearly his lack of French language skills put him at a disadvantage. He did differentiate himself from the other three present as the only option right-of-center and aligned with the current Québec Government. This should help him in the more conservative areas of rural Québec.
  • Mr. Singh: He was charismatic, genuine, and clearly talking to his crumbling base on issues. His battle is maintaining the current crop of NDP MPs in Québec. A good performance, but arguably not enough to stop the bleeding.
  • Mr. Blanchet: If we had to declare a winner, he would be it. He was calm, crisp, and explained his positions clearly. His performance will clearly accelerate the resurgence of the Bloc Québécois. They will now not only be challenging the NDP incumbents, but will also be competing with the Liberals in the 450 and challenging them in some Montreal Island seats.

The after-debate spin, Québec media headlines range between “no knock-out punches” to a clear Blanchet victory. As for the others, Singh gets a sympathetic thumbs up while the two main contenders are faced with lingering questions: abortion and energy corridor (pipelines) for Scheer, and Québec’s Bill 21 as well as the two campaign planes for Trudeau.

Philippe Gervais is the Principal at Navigator’s Montreal office, bringing more than 25 years of experience of strategic advice to politicians, corporate executives and not-for-profit sector decision-makers. He has played key roles in political campaigns both here in Canada and abroad, including US Presidential campaigns. During the 2006 election, he served as National Deputy Campaign Manager for the Conservative Party of Canada.

Why You Should Pay Attention to Advertising in #Elxn43 – By: Dennis Matthews

I’m Dennis Matthews and I approve this message. Unlike the United States, we don’t have that ubiquitous sign-off included in every advertisement here in Canada. But it’s definitely the height of political advertising season as we approach the midpoint of the campaign. So why should you be paying closer attention to those pesky campaign ads?

Political advertisements can tell you a lot about what the parties stand for, the voters they care about most and the tone and direction of a campaign.

Political ads are probably the most in your face part of campaigning yet don’t always get the attention they deserve from analysts, pundits and the boarder public affairs community. For a major national campaign, advertising will make up about half of their overall budget, or about $12 million dollars. A huge expense.

It is important to examine advertising closely because how parties communicate has changed dramatically. The decline of traditional media coverage and an increasingly distracted voter base has made it imperative for political parties to pay to get their message across. In some respects, it’s the purest form of the campaign because of the rigor, market research testing and creative energy that goes into producing them.

This campaign we’re seeing a variety on the same theme: affordability. Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats have all crafted slick marketing pitches that present ways to make life more affordable for the middle class (and those working hard to join it).

For the Conservatives it’s been a focus on dollars and cents, with promises of small changes that add up to a bigger difference. For the NDP it’s been grander promises of dental care and pharamcare. For the Liberals it’s a vaguer acknowledgement of affordability struggles paired with warnings of what might come should the conservatives return to power. Even the Greens have managed to expand their message beyond climate change in an attempt to connect with a broader voter base.

So what should you be looking out for as the campaign races to the finish line? First, start with your Facebook and Instagram feed. Parties are spending more online than ever before. Nearly half of all advertising expenses will be funneled online. But more importantly look for that critical emotional connection. Winning campaigns find a way to provoke emotions, help voters justify their decisions and develop creative that cuts through the clutter. Put those pieces together and in a race this close it just might be the winning formula.

Dennis Matthews is a conservative strategist and commentator who is a vice-president at the national communications firm Enterprise Canada. He served as an advertising and marketing adviser to former prime minister Stephen Harper.

The climate is a hot topic but will it motivate voters on Oct. 21

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Saturday, September 28, 2019. 

In a week with no shortage of international political theatre, from the launch of impeachment proceedings in Washington to the showdown between Parliament and the Supreme Court in London, I found myself returning again to watch a clip of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg in tears, excoriating delegates at a United Nations summit for their inaction on climate change.

On Friday, thousands of Canadians participated in a movement of rotating strikes and protests inspired by Thunberg. It seems that more and more of us are thinking longer and harder about the environment than we ever have before.

In the run-up to the election, pollsters told us that voters ranked the environment higher than ever before as a ballot issue they cared about. What’s more, in some polls, it edged out the perennial leading concerns: health care and the economy.

These findings mark a public opinion sea change from 2015, when barely one-tenth of voters were prioritizing the environment and climate change.

And the parties are paying attention. For the second election in a row, each has addressed environmental issues and climate change in their platforms. But given the increase in interest Canadians are showing toward these policies, it will be the first election where voters now claim to actually care about this issue. This sudden scrambling of priorities means that now we might put to the test once and for all the question of whether Canadians truly care about the environment.

The Liberals are certainly hoping so. Much as in 2015, they have embraced environmentalism as not only a core platform plank, but as a fundamental generational obligation.

They have sent the prime minister out canoeing and hiking to illustrate his commitment to the land and have gone further by pledging to protect 25 per cent of Canada’s land and oceans by 2025.

They have gone to the mat defending the carbon tax (or “price on pollution,” as they prefer to call it), even as it has contributed to a wave of right-wing victories at the provincial level. Yet for some voters, their message has been muddled by their simultaneous backing of pipelines.

The Conservatives are offering a business-friendly plan of their own that relies on innovation and the encouragement of the adoption of new technology, such as capture-and-storage. They promise to repeal the carbon tax and help other countries lower their emissions.

The New Democrats have largely been missing in action, proposing to tinker with the carbon tax and complete the move to zero-carbon energy by 2050.

Stepping into the breach, however, has been Elizabeth May’s Green Party, who have the most to gain from this apparent surge in environmentalism. The party has occasionally pulled ahead of the NDP in the polls, and their provincial counterparts have consistently exceeded expectations.

With an entire platform that revolves around an issue that Canadians suddenly profess to care deeply about, this election represents a golden opportunity for her and her colleagues.

May is the most experienced federal leader, no longer a novelty on the debate stage. She may well be an attractive alternative to disaffected Liberals, who often rank climate change as a higher issue than voters in other parties.

To be that alternative, May will need to be more disciplined during the balance of the campaign. She, and her party, will need to avoid such embarrassing sideshows as a rolling controversy this week over a photoshopped image of her, altered to include a reusable cup instead of a disposable one.

So, does this all represent a once-in-a-career harmonic convergence for May?

While Canadians tripped over themselves to tell one pollster just how much they cared for the environment, another poll quietly released last week by Ipsos found that while nearly half of Canadians wanted action on climate change, that number fell to barely a quarter if the cost were to be even a single cent.

Not unlike their prime minister, Canadians fall sometimes into the habit of virtue signalling. The environment has always been a victim of the gulf between voters’ intentions and their behaviour. This election will once again test that trend.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt

Canadians’ Climbing Concern on Climate Change

This past week, the UN Climate Summit grabbed global attention and introduced Canada, and the world, to now world-famous youth climate activist Greta Thunberg. The summit brought together world leaders in an effort to shift the global response on the climate change crisis to the front and centre of each and every government’s policy concerns. Of course, the summit takes place amidst our Canadian election, where the environment is already taking centre stage, with all major party leaders having in fact made bold and ambitious promises on the environment. From green transit incentives, support for net zero buildings, tax cuts for green businesses to the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, these promises are gathering the attention of Canadians from coast to coast.

Conversations around the environment have been a more central theme in this election in comparison to 2015, as Canadians have become increasing and incredibly concerned over the past four years. New polling data suggests that 25% of Canadians see climate change as their top priority for politicians to act on…now – and 38% believe that Canadian survival depends on immediately addressing climate change.

As all Party leaders are in full campaign mode, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, did not attend the UN Climate Summit as in previous years. He is however taking part in tomorrow’s Montreal climate protest, which is headlining Greta Thunberg. Green Party Leader, Elizabeth May, has confirmed her attendance, and while Andrew Scheer himself won’t be present, he has promised conservative representation. NDP Leader, Jagmeet Singh, will not be attending, but will attend a march in B.C. tomorrow. This could be a missed opportunity for Scheer and other party leaders not to be present to show their support and concern joining, what is estimated to be 300,000 passionate youth voters. During these times, not only are youth voters looking for a leader to satisfy their growing concern on climate change, but the 42% of Canadians that currently view climate change as a national emergency (Ababcus Data, August 2019). However, this contrasts with recent data that suggests that just over 40% of those 18-29 are not even closely following this campaign.

How Canada responds to climate change is an issue that goes beyond the regional debates around carbon tax or pipelines, offshore oil or hydro rates, and directly speaks to the health and future of every Canadian. Party leaders have 25 more days to have those conversations with voters and their party commitments on the environment could make or break their fortunes on election day.

Kait LaForce is an Associate Consultant at Ensight

One Issue, Two Very Different Perceptions – By: Patrick Doyon

Last week, the «brownface» scandal of Justin Trudeau created a shockwave of outrage across Canada. All of Canada? Not quite. While “English Canada” was busy outlining everything that was wrong with the three instances of brown or black make-up by Justin Trudeau, media and commentators in Quebec spent more of its time outlining why it’s a non-issue.

Some of the same arguments found in publications throughout Canada made their way to French outlets, citing his young age, his record on multiculturalism or his well-documented enthusiasm for costumes. But mostly, in the media at large in Quebec, the outrage was directed more at… the outrage, the reaction itself, not at the act itself.

Columnists and other media personalities in Quebec were quick to give their own reasoning as to why this was the wrong issue to focus on, while in the English media, the scandal was finally what would make this campaign interesting and memorable.

Behind this anecdotal difference of approach lies a deeper reality about the cultural narratives found in French and in English Canada. This has a profound impact on how one should communicate in and outside of Quebec. Racism exists in Quebec just like it does in other provinces. However, the cultural references and the history linked to racism in the Belle Province may be the reason why Quebeckers just can’t seem to care.

Whether we admit it or not, English Canada is highly influenced by our neighbor to the south, whether it be through television, music or literature. With that influence comes a history, a memory almost, of slavery, of segregation and Jim Crow laws. It is part of the cultural landscape most Canadians are familiar with. It’s no surprise then, that when our current Prime Minister, who has praised himself for his record on multiculturalism, appears in “brownface” or “blackface” on multiple occasions, Canadians who have internalized the history associated with it find themselves outraged.

Quebeckers, on the other hand, whose cultural background isn’t so closely associated with such history, are left talking about costumes, cultural appropriation and how there are more pressing matters at hand with the election just a month away. It’s a useful reminder that one does not communicate the same way in Quebec as in Ontario or BC. No matter how comparable we may be on certain issues, there are vastly different cultural and societal references.

Thus, Andrew Sheer’s outrage after Mr. Trudeau’s apologies was probably much more in line with what English Canada was feeling towards the situation. In French Canada, his reaction was perceived as over the top.

Party leaders need to learn how to walk that fine line that will unite the country without turning any region off, they’d do well to remember that what could work “from coast to coast” is not as easy defined as they thought.

Patrick Doyon is an Associate Principal in Navigator’s Montréal office