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The Dangerous Rewiring of Canadians’ Minds

The convoy blockades highlight the risk of a fact-free, conspiracy-filled future that could destroy our democracy.

Charlie Angus 22 Jun 2022Policy Magazine

Charlie Angus has been the NDP member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay since 2004. This article first appeared in Policy Magazine.

New Abacus Data polling reveals some pretty sobering findings on the state of the Canadian political landscape.

According to the survey, 44 per cent of Canadians now believe that a secret group of elites is controlling elections, recessions and wars. Thirty-seven per cent are inclined to believe the racist “white replacement theory.”

The poll also found that 13 per cent think Bill Gates is tracking us with microchips, while another 21 per cent are unsure if he is actually doing it but believe such things are possible.

The Abacus polling is the first deep dive into the state of Canadian thinking since the convoy blockades last February. The numbers are pretty shocking but I doubt any elected official would be surprised. The propaganda vortex of politicized conspiracy theories is now part of our political landscape.

The Abacus poll was released the same week I participated in a briefing by the Parliament Hill security office addressing rising threats of physical violence to MPs and their staff. Over the years, I have held countless public events, community forums, roundtables and pub nights.

I pride myself on being able to read a room and find common ground with people regardless of their political views. That’s what elected representatives do.

In the post-COVID blockade world, however, that common ground is slipping away and I can no longer count on my political sixth sense when meeting people in public because the conspiratorial mindset fed by disinformation doesn’t fit into a simple profile of age, class or demographic.

Parliament Hill security is advising elected officials to scope out public events before entering, to be briefed in advance on potential threats and have an escape plan in case things go wrong. The security experts admitted that the toxicity, rage and threats faced by elected officials have become so amped up it’s difficult to come up with workable solutions.

The blockade was the breakthrough moment for rage as a political force. This was when Canadians saw the real-time implications of both conspiracy theories and actual conspiracy.

This wasn’t just a bunch of angry people honking horns. It was the first muscle-flexing of a very well-organized, well-funded, decentralized force. Their capacity to engage with Canadians across the country was formidable. They had the propaganda skill to knit together all manner of anti-vax and anti-globalist paranoia into a bizarre satire of Canadiana, complete with hockey sticks and hot tubs.

The Abacus polls suggests this was not simply a one-off case of late-winter madness. Take the Abacus findings of the willingness to believe that secret insiders are controlling our lives.

I remember the moment I got dragged down the rabbit hole of the World Economic Forum conspiracy theory. During the blockades, I was suddenly inundated with messages from retired teachers, young mothers and angry dads about how Klaus Schwab and the WEF controlled the Trudeau government. The speed with which this theory moved from the margins of Reddit chat forums to becoming an apparent obsession with all manner of ordinary Canadians was staggering. And then it was being validated in Parliament.

On Feb. 19, MP Colin Carrie used his time during a debate to make claims about Klaus Schwab and his “subversive” organization “infiltrating” the Liberal government. I called out Carrie for using Parliament as a place to promote disinformation. That intervention touched off a barrage of backlash. Within the hour, my office was overwhelmed with calls, threats and abuse, accusing me of being an agent of the WEF trying to shut down the truth. We still get calls every day.

Admittedly, MP’s offices have always attracted strange and fringe calls. Pressure campaigns come and go, but this one seems to have a determination and capacity to maintain the volume. And the polling suggests it is now becoming normalized within mainstream Canadian views.

This is perhaps why some Conservative leadership candidates have spent so much time promoting all manner of conspiracy claims. Maybe the Conservatives think they will be able to harness the tactical rage of this phenomenon to the faux outrage of political theatrics.

But given the Abacus polling, we need to ponder whether we are facing a more existential crisis in democracy. Is it possible to engage the public in important discussions about the future of Canada and the well-being of Canadians if they are convinced the media lies to them and their elected representatives are merely a front? How does one respond to a constituent if we can’t even agree on what is reality? If we cannot trust medical science in a pandemic, how can we possibly come together to address larger existential threats like the climate crisis?

The Abacus poll suggests a major rewiring of the public mind is underway.

We ignore this rewiring at our peril. Everyone needs to be concerned and remain vigilant about the integrity of the very foundation of our democracy.

This piece first appeared in Policy Magazine and is republished here with permission.  [Tyee]

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