Opinion

Let's stop fixating on soft 'news' and pay attention to things that matter, Canada

Some of the 'big' Canadian stories of 2020 so far should test the patience of any engaged citizen with an interest in the country and the well-being of its people, writes Wyatt James Schierman.

Some of the 'big' domestic stories of 2020 so far should test the patience of any engaged citizen

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seen here speaking to media on Jan. 29, was among those who made headlines and stirred up social media in recent weeks for developments of little practical importance to Canadians, taking attention from stories of real consequence. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

This column is an opinion by Wyatt James Schierman, a freelance writer from Alberta. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

It's been a thoroughly disheartening month in Canadian political and domestic current affairs coverage; one that should test the patience of any engaged citizen with an interest in the country and the well-being of its people.

Don't believe me?

Consider some of the national stories in the first few weeks of 2020 that galvanized the attention of Canadians.

For starters, in the opening days of the New Year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned to the country after a two-week vacation in Costa Rica. His arrival in Ottawa caused quite a stir, though not due to anything of substance.

Trudeau made no significant policy announcements. Nor did he declare any major staffing changes or a cabinet shuffle.

So what was all the media fuss about?

Merely that the Prime Minister came back from his holiday retreat sporting a new beard.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seen at a news conference in Ottawa on Jan. 11. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

That was it. A bit of hair growth on his face. Some salt and pepper stubble to cover what was once Trudeau's clean-shaven jawline.

It was hardly a newsworthy event, but you wouldn't know that from the widespread attention it received at home and abroad.

Unfortunately, that was only the first of many banal and relatively inconsequential stories to come.

The relocation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, to Canada was another story which consumed an inordinate amount of precious journalistic air time and prose

Harry and Meghan's move, along with the relinquishing of their official titles, was even more obsessively covered by media outlets. While the story deserves some attention, it certainly doesn't warrant the immense exposure it received, especially as neither Harry nor Meghan will have any substantial impact on the health, happiness and welfare of Canadians.

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have said that they plan to move to Canada. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AP Photo)

Then an even more ridiculous "news" event occurred.

Just the other week, Justin Trudeau tweeted out a photo of himself purchasing some gourmet doughnuts while en route to his government's cabinet retreat in Winnipeg.

It all seemed harmless enough. But you wouldn't have known it from the outrage on Twitter. Nor from the coverage the "scandal" received, extending even to American news organizations like CNN and Fox News.

And what was it that caused such furor, you might ask?  

Simply that Trudeau, "elitist" that he is, chose to purchase some expensive doughnuts — and not from that staple of Canadian identity Tim Hortons, but rather from a local bakery.

Never mind that Oh Doughnuts, the bakery in question, is Canadian-owned, while Tim Hortons is not. The outrage still ensued. As did the widespread media coverage of the absurdly silly affair.

Of course, this is not to say that genuinely important and newsworthy events haven't been given the time of day. There has been in-depth coverage of a number of recent developments with major effects on Canadians, whether it be the escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Iran, President Donald Trump's impeachment or the spread of the coronavirus.

And efforts have certainly been made to cover the Conservative leadership race here at home. Though not even that has been able to spark much excitement, now that it appears Peter MacKay's coronation is well underway. Indeed, the race could certainly have been much more interesting if Jean Charest, Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilievre hadn't turned out to be such merciless teases.

But that's beside the point.

What is the point here is that far too often it's the trivial news stories which receive an overabundance of attention, at the expense of issues that truly matter and deserve the public's meaningful consideration.

The January release of Oxfam's annual report provides one such instance of an important issue deserving of much more scrutiny. In its findings, the organization detailed absolutely appalling levels of income and wealth inequality throughout the world. In fact, the inequality has become so rife that now, "The world's 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 per cent of the planet's population."

If you think Canada is exempt from such inequality, think again.

Even in relatively wealthy Canada, far too many citizens are struggling to pay their bills. According to the recently released Ipsos survey on behalf of accounting firm MNP Ltd., three in 10 Canadian households are unable to cover all their monthly expenses, and nearly half are on the verge of insolvency.

The latest Ipsos poll asked respondents about their financial expectations looking one year and five years into the future, and found that optimism was near a record low for the survey. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)

What other issues deserve far more attention from the media and the public?

How about the fact that the country is in the midst of a "national crisis" as a result of ongoing and growing problems with opioids. As former Health Minister Jane Philpott has written, in 2019 alone about 12 people died "every day from an opioid-related overdose."

Alas, the opioid crisis isn't the only social emergency Canadians are contending with.

According to a statement from the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada issued Jan. 21, the population of Indigenous Canadians in federal prisons has reached truly alarming levels and continues to grow. Despite representing only about five per cent of Canada's population, Indigenous people now make up over 30 per cent of those incarcerated in federal prisons.

These are just a handful of the extremely important, ongoing issues in this country that deserve serious attention and consideration from both the media and the Canadian citizenry alike. Not whether two members of the Royal Family relocate to Canada. Nor whether our Prime Minister grows a beard or not. And certainly not what type of doughnuts he chooses to purchase.

There's no doubt that the media needs to improve and prioritize its coverage of the stories of greatest importance. But Canadians, too, must be attentive and avoid becoming distracted from the critical issues of our day.

The more actively engaged we are in the really important things happening around us, the more equipped we will be — both as individuals and as a nation — to tackle these issues.


About the Author

Wyatt James Schierman is a freelance writer from Alberta and a regular columnist with Loonie Politics. His writing has also been published in the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Star, the Calgary Herald, Huffington Post Canada and the Hill Times. When he is not writing, Wyatt is traveling abroad as an election observer.

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