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This Pandemic Election Is a Crime! Also, This Pandemic Is Over!

Decoding Kenney doublethink. Plus, what may lie behind that terrible Willy Wonka attack ad against Trudeau.

David Climenhaga 16 Aug 2021TheTyee.ca

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca. Follow him on Twitter @djclimenhaga.

It’s an outrage, practically a crime against humanity, for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call a federal election in the midst of a global pandemic, Alberta’s Conservatives say.

The pandemic is over and, thanks to the wise leadership of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, we are open for good, enjoying the Best Summer Ever™ here in Alberta, Alberta’s Conservatives also say.

What’s more, they seem to be able to do this in almost the same breath, without a hint of irony.

I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but back in 1948 George Orwell did. He called it “doublethink,” and it was flourishing in Conservative circles in Alberta Sunday as soon as Trudeau made his long-anticipated trek to Ottawa’s Rideau Hall to ask Gov. Gen. Mary Simon to dissolve Parliament, to be followed by a federal election on Sept. 20, which she duly did.

Alberta’s Conservatives have been screeching that Trudeau must go since the 2019 election left his Liberals with a minority government, and now they’re shocked, deeply shocked, that he’s called the election at a moment a lot of polling suggests he enjoys a significant advantage over Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

Well, that’s the way the Westminster parliamentary system works, as the last Conservative prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, illustrated back in 2008. Alert readers will recall that Harper used the same cynical argument then that Mr. Trudeau did Sunday, that the minority Parliament had become dysfunctional.

Many people observed throughout the day that focusing on the timing of the election doesn’t seem like a great strategy at the best of times, especially for a party that had been insisting Canadians want to see the last of this prime minister.

I’ll give the backup quote to Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt, since he was the first person I noticed making this point. “If the opposition parties focus on whether the election should be called as the ballot question, that is a losing strategy,” he said before 9:30 Sunday morning.

The argument against calling an election during a pandemic might have carried some weight if the Kenney government hadn’t been trying so hard, for so long, to downplay the danger of COVID-19, and to declare the pandemic almost, nearly, just about over.

We also know that elections can be conducted safely during a pandemic — leastways, they have been in New Brunswick, B.C., Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Yukon since COVID-19 arrived on our shores.

Mail-in ballots are a helpful tool, although you have to know it will be a challenge for Conservatives to keep their lips zipped and resist the temptation to start sounding like crazy QAnon believers south of the 49th parallel when the topic of voting by mail comes up.

If that doesn’t get much traction, there’s always Afghanistan. Forgetting, perhaps, how that unhappy country has been in turmoil for 20 years since the Americans first invaded the place, the same Alberta Conservatives were yelling by the end of Sunday that Trudeau should be concentrating on doing something about the collapse of the side we backed in the country’s long civil war, instead of a calling an election they’d really prefer not have to deal with right now.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which Canada has less influence or less ability to act independently than Afghanistan now.

In other news of democratic discourse, many social media users were shocked and appalled by the Conservative party’s first election attack ad, which began appearing online last week, showing Trudeau’s head crudely superimposed on the body of a character from the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

851px version of ConservativeCampaignAdWonkaTrudeau.jpg
Critics, and some Conservative MPs, criticized the party’s first attack ad. But it may have been intentionally bad. Image via YouTube.

The consensus can be summarized as, if this the best the Conservatives can do, they might as well quit right now.

Not so fast, people. An October 2019 report in the Guardian explains the technique, suggesting that while it’s crazy, it may be crazy like a fox.

The article focuses on the work of New Zealanders Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, a pair of right-wing digital propagandists who created successful online campaigns that manipulated Facebook’s algorithms for British and Australian conservatives.

“Purposefully low-quality memes based around popular shows such as Game of Thrones were used in a bid to drive interactions — good or bad — at any cost, on the basis that this would boost the reach of future Facebook posts,” wrote media editor Jim Waterson.

“‘We’d make them really basic and deliberately lame because they’d get shares and lift our reach,’” said an anonymous source quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald, Waterson wrote. “‘That made our reach for the harder political messages higher.’”

“Political opponents lined up to mock the image, inadvertently sending it viral and ensuring it was seen by a wider audience.”  [Tyee]

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