Out in the Open

How to speak 'uncomfortable truths' to the Canadian status quo

Writer J.J. McCullough pushes up against what he calls Canada's "unquestioned assumptions".
JJ Mccullough is a political commentator from Vancouver. (Josie Chow)

When your opinions are denounced by politicians in a provincial legislature on a vote of 112 to 0, it can rattle you.

After the shooting at a Quebec mosque on January 29, J.J. McCullough wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post titled, "Why does 'progressive' Quebec have so many massacres?".

It quickly got the attention of Quebec's provincial politicians — and not in a good way.   

"It is a bizarre experience to be on the receiving end of parliamentary censures from politicians halfway across the country, " J.J. told Piya.

"I just wanted to write a piece that noted that in this self-proclaimed most progressive part of Canada, which is Quebec, that they actually do have a problem with acts of quite spectacular public violence," he said.

J.J. is used to his opinions getting this kind of pushback. As a conservative political commentator, he enjoys running up against what he calls the "conventional wisdom" that Canadians believe.

"A lot of why people react as harshly to a lot of the things that I write ... is because that they know that some of the opinions that I articulate are threatening to the kind of little world that they've set up ... the world of these mythologies about progressive Canada and how nobody disagrees and how our society is this wonderful peaceful utopia, blah blah blah," said J.J.

He said he thinks many Canadians share his opinions and express them in their day-to-day lives, but they lack the media forum he has.

"People who make the hiring decisions of who gets to be a columnist, who gets to be a pundit … perhaps those people do adhere to this kind of Canadian mythology that people that are contrarian on a certain set of issues are sort of not Canadian," he said.

"I think it's quite revealing that the column that we're talking about, the one that caused so much controversy was in an American publication and I was sought out by the Washington Post … It's a generosity that I haven't been extended by a lot of mainstream Canadian editors and producers."

Despite what he does for a living, J.J. says he is sensitive, and sometimes the backlash takes a toll.

"I don't like the anxiety that I get when I feel people hate me for irrational reasons or when people have assumptions about the kind of person that I am that are just completely untrue."

J.J. also wishes that we could all leave our politics at the door sometimes.

"I would like to have a society where we can be disruptive and we can make disruptive arguments but we can ultimately get over ourselves at some point," he said.

"I'm a contrary guy … I've got controversial beliefs on a whole host of issues. But at the end of the day I'm also just a guy. I'm also just a person."