Michael Moore vs. Stephen Harper
June 22, 2004
It's been widely reported that Michael Moore wanted his latest documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, released well in advance of the upcoming U.S. election. Moore calls the movie - which is about U.S. President George W. Bush's handling of the Sept. 11 crisis, as well as the war in Iraq - an opinion piece, and it has already generated plenty of headlines because the filmmaker has been unapologetic about slamming Bush.
Moore has made it clear that he hopes Fahrenheit 9/11 will convince American voters to remove Bush from the White House come November 2. What became known only in the last few days is that Moore also hopes his creation will have a similar effect in Canada.
Moore was in this country last week for the film's official Canadian premiere. He said that he pushed to have the movie released here before June 28, apparently over the protests of domestic distributors, who didn't want it to interfere with the federal vote.
"And I said, no, no, no. Even if it's just four days before the election, you've got to get something out there to inspire people to do the right thing here," Moore told the Toronto Star on Saturday. By doing the right thing, Moore means that Canadians should not vote for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, who Moore believes is a Bush toady intent on slashing the social safety net.
But how likely is it that Fahrenheit 9/11 will sway Canadian voters? The film lands in theatres on June 25 - is that enough time for its anti-Bush rhetoric to resonate? Will moviegoers in this country even make the necessary imaginative leap, linking Bush with Harper in their minds?
Tamara Gottlieb is a pollster with the opinion-research firm Compas Inc. She is blunt about Fahrenheit 9/11's chances of taking votes away from Harper.
"It will not have any impact on the election," she says.
In fact, Gottlieb can't think of any instances where pop culture has had an impact on Canadian politics.
"I can think of lots examples where it hasn't," she says. "Paul Martin was going to win the leadership with or without Bono, right? The Barenaked Ladies, which are arguably one of Canada's most successful music groups, have been campaigning for the NDP for years. They really haven't done a lot to help the NDP."
Gottlieb doesn't think that the pre-release buzz about Fahrenheit 9/11 has changed anyone's mind about supporting Harper, either. That's because Moore is preaching to the converted.
"The people who are going to listen to a person like Moore � are not people who would have, by any stretch of the imagination, ever considered voting Conservative," she says, although she does grant that the controversial filmmaker may have given people who have already decided to vote against Harper an added reason to turn out on Election Day.
"Conservatives, by their nature, are less likely to listen to Hollywood stars for advice," she adds.
Kady O'Malley is a freelance journalist who covers Parliament Hill. She disagrees with Gottlieb, pointing out that almost anything has the potential to affect the outcome of an election, especially a close one.
"You never know what's going to do it," she says.
In last year's Ontario election, to name just one recent example, voters were angered when the Progressive Conservatives sent out a press release labeling Dalton McGuinty "an evil reptilian kitten eater from another planet," a description borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It seemed like a trifling matter at the time, but it touched a nerve with many people who were turning against the Tories.
O'Malley refers to the campaign by the cast members of This Hour Has 22 Minutes to get Stockwell Day's name changed to Doris Day as one example of pop culture helping to shape the public's perception of a federal leader — it reinforced the general consensus that Day was a buffoon. And there are others: a 1976 Toronto Star headline - "Joe Who?" - gave Joe Clark the nickname that defined his grey public persona.
"I think everything plays into an election," O'Malley says, adding that Fahrenheit 9/11 may have an impact if the people who see it are reminded that, as head of the Canadian Alliance, Harper advocated sending troops to support Bush's invasion of Iraq.
"Most Canadians are pleased with the decision that the government took to stay out of Iraq," says O'Malley. "As far as Stephen Harper goes, it's probably one of his weakest fronts."
In O'Malley's view, Moore doesn't have to convince that many people to change their votes. "If he persuades even one per cent of Conservative voters, that could seriously have an impact on the makeup of the next Parliament," she notes.
As for the Conservatives, they are staying mum. Conservative spokesman Mike Storeshaw told CBC News Online the party is declining to comment, and noted that Moore is a private citizen who has a right to advance his views in any way he chooses.