A version of this piece originally appeared on [Nora’s Blog] in December 2012
Sometimes I forget that Canada is a massive country where people are separated into silos.
Idle No More has reminded me that there exists massive gulfs between people, experiences and awareness.
I don’t actually fault the folks who aren’t aware of their ignorance. After an aggressive social media campaign, flash mobs, rallies, blockades, coordinated actions, letters of support from national unions and a hunger strike, the media coverage was significantly lacking until recently.
How can someone know what’s going on if none of their friends are talking about it? How can they talk about it if there’s an effective media blackout? Idle No More started as a series of educational sessions that were held across Saskatoon in the Fall. The sessions were aimed to educate people on the effects of the federal budget bill, C-45, that changes the nature of property ownership on reserve without consultation or approval from First Nations communities. It also delists hundreds of bodies of water from environmental protection and allows for oil or other harmful materials transportation through previously protected waters
How can Stephen Harper feel the necessary heat if he’s only hearing from people who he decided long ago he disrespects?
All news isn’t created equal and how we see the world is linked to whose version of events we read. And sometimes, we must look at the mouthpieces who exist in a world that many of us would consider to be foreign. Their insights, while oftentimes entirely laughable, are sometimes helpful.
To be able to understand why Harper thought he could get away with refusing to meet with Theresa Spence for so long, we need to look into the abyss of his cheerleading crew. Many of these privileged few have a platform like a national new program or newspaper from which to rant. So, let’s use Rex Murphy.
Three days before Idle No More took root across Canada on Dec. 10, Murphy wrote a love-letter to Stephen Harper and disguised it as a column. In Rex’s famous lilt, a combination of an angry great-uncle and Stuart McLean, he insists that the criticisms that are heaped upon Harper (mostly online) are unfair. Harper has been elected for seven years, says Murphy, and Canadians should have noticed that his “secret agenda” has not revealed itself. Harper, he says, has “not, contra naturum, transformed Canada into a gulag or prison house for the poor, artists, liberals, greens or whomever he sees as his opponents.”
Murphy’s flowery use of an encyclopedia (and an old Latin textbook) throughout does more than just obscure the debate about Harper. Like a magic trick, Murphy forces the audience to focus on his supreme intellect while his other hand is hiding the secret to his magic: that he’s practiced over and over on how to use an encyclopedia.
In the wake of the Idle No More protests, Murphy’s obtuse verbal diarrhea exposes just how far apart the two solitudes of this issue are: those Canadians who are aware that there exists a problem (or who live and experience it) and those Canadians who not only refuse to acknowledge it but who actively try to hide it.
Murphy’s column finishes with these lines:
So why is it that people are not content just to disagree with him, to label him simply wrong or misguided but must revile him? Why is there such fervour of suspicion about “the agenda” and so much invective and worse directed at him? I don’t know.
They make Mr. Harper, in their own white-hot minds, bigger and more scary than he is or could be.
I doubt Theresa Spence, who’s life hinges on Harper meeting with her, would agree with his flip analysis. I also doubt that the millions of Indigenous people in Canada who rely on Harper to uphold the Treaties but who have no clear recourse to punish him when he doesn’t would agree either.
Murphy’s analysis demonstrates the dangerous level of ignorance that has managed to infest the brains of many Canadians.
Sorry Rex, Harper is pretty big and scary. Not sure what a white-hot mind is (must have been a saying from some decade I didn’t get to experience) but in my mind, the power and danger that Harper yields should scare us. It should scare everyone who believes in Indigenous rights, the rights of refugees, the rights of unionized workers, women, pensioners, young people, etc. etc.
It’s obvious: Murphy is so far removed from reality that he lacks the necessary shame to avoid making such a claim about Harper. But as the voice that dominates CBC Radio across Canada every Sunday afternoon, we should also fear his influence to contort or obscure our issues.
He’s part of the problem that our society is so siloed and fractured.
There are great debates that we all need to have, together, but we need to have these debates on a level playing field. With men like Murphy and Harper in substantive positions of power, leveling this playing field is an enormous task. And, while I think that Murphy’s online rantings at the National Post are mostly background noise, it’s important to pause and remind ourselves the damage that such a narrative can do when it remains unchecked.
Indeed, Murphy’s audience, the comment section trolls that many of us have trained ourselves to avoid, need to be brought into the discussion. We need to cut through the rhetoric and challenge this encyclopaedic Trojan horse if we’re going to have any impact in shifting the national debate on our Prime Minister.
Put simply, we have a great deal of work to do. If our movements are ignored, obscured or made the object of fun by folks like Rex Murphy, then we have to tell our own stories and amplify them ourselves.