The House

Midweek podcast: The politics of anger

Politics has always been a blood sport, but is it getting nastier than ever? As the federal election year kicks off, The House looks at why anger and fear are becoming more powerful factors in politics here in Canada and abroad.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. What's behind the wave of anger washing over democratic politics? (Canadian Press)
Listen to the full episode17:02

Politics has always been a blood sport, but is it getting nastier than ever? As the federal election year kicks off, The House looks at why anger and fear are becoming more powerful factors in politics here in Canada and abroad.

Former political strategist and senator Hugh Segal said he sees this climate of corrosive partisanship as the result of governments failing to govern for everyone.

"If government doesn't perform on the core issues of giving everyone a chance, letting everybody participate, making sure there's a seat at the table for everyone who's prepared to work, that's when people start to say, 'This isn't working for me,'" said Segal in an interview on the midweek podcast airing Wednesday. 

"They say, 'It may be working for the one per cent, but it's not working for me here and therefore I'm looking some other way.' And that's when the purveyors of extremist notions have their proposition to advance."

Although Segal said he believes the surge in populism seen recently in the United States and parts of Europe hasn't been embraced by Canadians to the same degree, he added it would be "naive and wishful thinking" to think the risk of extreme polarization doesn't exist here as well.

"They're not issues from which we're immune," Segal said, pointing to the 'yellow jackets' movement in France —  a populist grassroots protest against the country's controversial fuel tax — which has since been mimicked, on a smaller scale, in Canada.

Within Canada, Segal said he's noticed a shift from the way politics was practised when he worked for Progressive Conservative leaders like Brian Mulroney and Bill Davis.

"The common cause approach has really been replaced with a much narrower, market segmentation approach which says you will not get noticed in the cacophony of multiple sources of data unless you say things that are extreme, simplistic, black and white," said Segal, now the principal of Massey College at the University of Toronto and a senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

"So the politics of building bridges ... has been replaced with the politics of blowing bridges up."

Segal said that when he looks ahead to the 2019 federal election, he worries that Canadian politicians may miss the forest for the trees — that they may be too caught up in partisan point-scoring to focus on the big issues.

"My biggest concern would be that we avoid discussing the fundamental questions at play. What is our relationship going to be with China, with the U.S.? Where are we in terms of our strategic and defence requirements as a G7 country?" he said, warning that leaders can't afford to "get sidetracked into the small stuff, which can be very divisive and very painful.

"And we'll never have the debate about the large issues, which I think most Canadians want to some some clarity and leadership on from all political opponents."

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