As news consumers, our obsession with entertainment precedes the need to know
President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was indicted on Oct. 30 for 12 charges, including tax fraud, money laundering and conspiracy against the United States, according to Global News. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Even in Canada, it is difficult to find anyone who isn’t talking about this or who isn’t up to date on the drama surrounding the Trump administration. But how many people are talking about the current scandal involving Canadian finance minister Bill Morneau?
The member of Parliament (MP) from Toronto was just fined under the Conflict of Interest Act
for failing to disclose economic ties to his businesses, according to the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner’s website. While it has dominated national news for the last two weeks, all anyone seems to talk about is the dumpster fire of a government currently in place south of the border.
That shouldn’t come as any surprise. According to Abacus Data, a Canadian polling and market research firm, 26 per cent of Canadians get their news directly from social media, while another 14 per cent get theirs online. Given the president’s near constant presence on social media—seemingly more than any other head of state in office—those stories receive more coverage and have more traction online than local stories.
In fact, local media has been hurting in general. According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), half of all local Canadian TV news stations could close by 2020. This shows a trend toward using national and international news as our source of information, especially regarding politics.
In my opinion, that is because of one simple reason: Canadian politics is boring. In theory, that’s exactly what citizens should want—a boring, stable, scandal-free government. The only problem is that regular, boring local politics now has to compete with daily Washington drama.
I believe the main reason for Canada’s relatively mundane politics is the way we elect our officials. Now this is in no way a piece about election reform, but our first-past-the-post system favours moderate candidates who appeal to the “centre” of their constituencies. That’s also why Canada has so few significantly right- or left-wing MPs. It also makes for (occasionally) bipartisan legislation and, often, a relatively boring, controversy-free House of Commons.
In the United States, however, many states often elect their representatives based solely on party rather than on a candidate’s merit or ideas. In fact, 24 states and the District of Columbia have voted for the same party since 1992, according to the fact-checking website Politifact. This means candidates can be as far-right or as far-left as they want and will likely still get elected by their loyal constituencies.
Since the distance on the political spectrum between Republicans and Democrats is much wider than the Conservative-Liberal divide, arguments and differences in opinion are much more explosive and scandal-prone.
Not to mention President Trump and his staff now give international viewers a daily dose of mishaps, blunders and general incompetence that people just cannot look away from.
We can’t blame the Canadian government for not capturing the public’s attention—our politicians are just doing their job. It does, however, say a lot about our country when our “scandalous” political news stories are about Justin Trudeau pulling someone by the arm or MP Michelle Rempel saying the word “fart” in the House of Commons.
With this contrast in mind, why wouldn’t Canadians prefer to read about the craziness happening in Washington and the Trump administration’s absurdities rather than hear about their own boring local government? It’s like C-SPAN trying to compete with MTV—at the end of the day, people just cannot get enough drama and scandal.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin