Play­ing to the crowd

The Western Star - - EDITORIAL - Eastern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in Salt Wire pub­li­ca­tions across At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­[email protected]­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

Out­rage is a funny thing. Some­times, it’s just out­ra­geous.

And some­times, it’s a nec­es­sary per­for­mance piece for the peo­ple you rep­re­sent.

Many years ago, when I was work­ing in tele­vi­sion, I re­mem­ber head­ing to a union leader’s of­fice late on a sum­mer’s Fri­day af­ter­noon. The following Mon­day was a hol­i­day, and the union leader was mak­ing friendly small talk while my cam­era­man set up the lights — about the weather, about week­end plans, about how the in­ter­view was the last thing on the union leader’s agenda be­fore leav­ing for the day.

Then, with ev­ery­thing set up, the union rep­re­sen­ta­tive said, “You guys ready?” and when

I said yes, he launched into it without me even hav­ing to ask a ques­tion.

Why the gov­ern­ment was wrong, why his mem­bers wouldn’t stand for what the gov­ern­ment was propos­ing, why they’d take to the streets if they had to.

Eyes bog­gling with rage, flecks of spit at the cor­ners of his mouth, face as scar­let as a to­mato.

When he was done, he took off the mi­cro­phone, and de­flated like a shrink­ing bal­loon, ask­ing me whether my piece would make the evening news.

It was per­for­mance pol­i­tics, done for the mem­ber­ship of his par­tic­u­lar con­stituency.

(Ask your­self this: why does the picket line vi­o­lence al­ways seem to oc­cur when the tele­vi­sion cam­eras hap­pen to be there? I can tell you that, when the TV van pulls up, picket signs get picked up and the route into the plant sud­denly gets blocked. And the me­dia’s com­plicit in that, be­cause peo­ple sit­ting around drink­ing cof­fee is lousy tele­vi­sion.)

When you rep­re­sent peo­ple, some­times you per­form for their be­half or their ben­e­fit; at the same time, you’re also per­form­ing for your own po­si­tion.

It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that politi­cians are part of that form of per­for­mance art; they don’t al­ways mean what they say. Some­times, just the say­ing is what’s im­por­tant.

Some­times, it’s coun­ter­in­tu­itively a way to defuse public feel­ing, by giv­ing it the oxy­gen to burn off pub­licly.

Some­times, the po­si­tions they take are a prag­matic recog­ni­tion of the feel­ings of their own provin­cial con­stituents. (And a way to cash in po­lit­i­cally on those feel­ings.)

And that seems to be a part of the near-in­stan­ta­neous re­ac­tion of the re-elec­tion of the Lib­er­als; sens­ing ei­ther weak­ness from Justin Trudeau or the op­por­tu­nity to gain po­lit­i­cal points in their own patch, Saskatchew­an Premier Scott Moe and Al­berta Premier Ja­son Ken­ney are look­ing for a new deal with Ot­tawa for their prov­inces. Moe went as far as to sug­gest the Prairie prov­inces were es­sen­tially on fire with rage: “Last night’s elec­tion re­sults showed the sense of frus­tra­tion and alien­ation in Western Canada is now greater than it has been at any point in my life­time,” he wrote in a state­ment.

Now, I don’t like Man­i­toba Premier Brian Pal­lis­ter’s poli­cies, as a whole. But I like the fact he’s go­ing to stay away from the low-hang­ing fruit of whip­ping up anger for his own po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fit.

“I don’t think you ever get any­where in build­ing a stronger re­la­tion­ship by threat­en­ing to leave it, so I don’t have any time for that,” he said. “I lis­tened to this from Que­bec for years, and I don’t like lis­ten­ing to it from Western Cana­dian friends of mine. So, no, I have no time for that kind of thing.”

The prob­lem is that mod­ern lead­ers seem to like the cheap theatre side more.

We’re just com­ing out of an elec­tion where politi­cians spent plenty of time on the pol­i­tics of di­vi­sive­ness. And that got us just ex­actly where?

Ag­grieved pre­miers whip­ping up more fer­vour?

Re­mem­ber that they’re not above a lit­tle per­for­mance art for the home­town crowd.

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