David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

“Everything Feels Broken” with Pierre Poilievre

Brandon Sun, December 19, 2022 – David McConkey

Everything Feels Broken, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s video about homeless drug addicts, has been widely denounced. “Toxic lies” sums up the reaction in the mainstream media. But I think this response is misplaced. Poilievre is not to blame; we, the citizens, are.

Let’s start with the video itself. (And I encourage everyone to watch it.) Poilievre is sitting on a log on a Vancouver beach near a homeless encampment. The video is a compelling mix of concern, cruelty and craziness. The visuals of the addicted and homeless are disturbing. Poilievre is charismatic and a great communicator.

“Do you ever feel like everything’s broken in Canada?” Poilievre asks us viewers. I would like here to reference my fellow Sun columnist Deveryn Ross who had an excellent column two weeks ago. Deveryn details how, far from being “broken,” Canada is among the best countries in the world.

But Poilievre wants us to ignore the findings of international agencies, think tanks and the like. Forget facts. Go with your gut. And when you look at those tents in Poilievre’s video, it does “feel like everything’s broken.”

By going with “feeling” rather than thinking and evidence-based analysis, Poilievre is carrying on the anti-intellectual tradition of the Stephen Harper era. But Poilievre is like Harper with charisma and digital savvy – perfect for our superficial social media age.

In his video, Poilievre blames the drug and addiction problem on Justin Trudeau and “woke” Liberal and NDP governments. But instead, Poilievre offers only simplistic solutions. Get addicts to stop using drugs, Poilievre says, and ramp up the War on Drugs by bolstering the border and imposing harsher criminal penalties. If only it were that easy!

The reaction to Poilievre’s video from the country’s mainstream media – like the National Post and the Globe and Mail – has been condemnation. One critic is Benjamin Perrin, a former Harper public safety and justice adviser.

"I was really disgusted by it," Perrin told the Globe and Mail in response to the video. “It was a five-minute long diatribe that’s not informed by any research evidence or expertise. It’s just Mr. Poilievre rehashing Conservative, war-on-drugs tropes that have been long since discredited and have been found to be not only ineffective but costly and deadly.”

Good to hear Perrin speak out now. But it would have been better if he told us these truths when he was still in the Conservative government!

By the way, that goes for officials across the political spectrum, who wait until they leave government to admit their drug policies failed. Look at the Manitoba NDP: they endorsed safe injection sites only after they were safely out of office. Or look at former Liberal health minister Jane Philpott. She now advocates Switzerland-style safe supply of drugs and Portugal-style drug decriminalization. Too bad she did not tell us this when she was in Trudeau’s cabinet.

But back to the media, which I’m afraid are playing into Poilievre’s hand. I suspect Poilievre is trolling for a heated reaction. For as much as Poilievre is campaigning against Trudeau, he is also campaigning against experts, institutions and the mainstream media.   

So, let’s not become distracted by Poilievre’s snarky tone and lose sight of the larger picture. Sure, Poilievre’s slick smugness is a cruel retort to the lives of real people struggling with addiction. But aren’t Poilievre’s policy proposals just like, for example, the current Manitoba Conservative government or the Manitoba NDP when they were in power?

But my main criticism is not with Poilievre or other politicians. My criticism is with us, the citizens. We do not challenge our leaders enough. We are too complacent and accepting of our leaders’ delusional assertions when they proclaim they know what they are doing about drugs and addiction.

I trust the wisdom of the people. We regular folks know a thing or two about addiction from our experience with our own families, friends and folks in the community. We know that there is no telling who will become addicted. Once addicted, it is difficult to kick the habit. We also know that the War on Drugs has failed miserably: more drugs are more available and more dangerous than ever.

Discovering real solutions needs humility: admitting that we don't know that much about why people become addicted or how to help those who have become addicted. And finding solutions needs a political openness to look to the right and to the left; as well as to ideas and programs across Canada and around the world.

But until we demand better, we will get what Poilievre and other politicians offer: not humility, but arrogance; not fact-based thinking, but emotional “feeling”; not reasoned approaches, but simplistic notions.

But we won't get anything better until we citizens demand better.

* * * *
See also: 

Don't Forget About Christine Mitchell

Our Leaders Must Tell Us the Truth About the Pandemic

Telling the Truth Today

Reflections on the War on Drugs

War on Drugs No Easy Battle

Pierre Poilievre, Populist Politician?



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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