Who is the Prime Minister of Canada? Where is the capital? If you’re reading this, we’re confident you know. But a video that’s quickly gone viral suggests others may not be nearly as informed.
Stand-up comedian Guy Nantel travelled to Toronto to find out what its citizens know about politics. The results were not pretty. Those who appear in his video could not name the NDP leader when shown a photo of Tom Mulcair (data show he’s the leader even the most engaged know least about), or the Fleurdelisé when shown Quebec’s flag; they couldn’t name Justin Trudeau’s father, or the title of our national anthem. Never mind that these were cherry-picked streeters along Toronto’s Front Street—a mixture of business-suited busybodies and confused out-of-towners—and at Dundas Square, another tourist haunt. This is galling ignorance deserving of our mocking. It’s that Winston Churchill quote writ large: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Right?
Well, not totally. Laughing at those who do not know is exactly where divisive lines of “cultural elitism” are formed. Yes, you know the answers. Yes, some are gimmes. But at least they are embarrassed not to know.
And the video highlights the enduring need for work around the election. This video is funny only because there is ignorance out there still, the kind of ignorance actively being combatted by the many bipartisan organizations trying to get out the vote. It’s the ignorance that fuels our declining voter turnout, which dipped below 70 per cent more than two decades ago and has continued to decline ever since. It’s born of the apathy that afflicts so many young people, whose issues become less and less visible in the national conversation. Meanwhile, the politically engaged and the Canadian media put a full-court press to fight this ignorance by putting out the best information we can. So if there are people who don’t know who Stephen Harper is, maybe laughter isn’t the right response; maybe it just means there’s more work to do.
Politics isn’t everyone’s everything. Indeed, for the vast majority of Canadians, it’s not. We can forget that, especially in the thick of a tight three-way race that’s the longest this country has seen since 1872. And while politics should matter to everyone, every day, it’s not unreasonable that it’s not. “No, I don’t pay attention,” the first woman says in the video, before her lack of knowledge is milked for all it’s worth. And, well, fair enough.
Here’s that video, in all its depressing realities. Let us laugh at them for not knowing these basic answers. But then, also know it’s easy to laugh at the disease of our ignorance; it’s harder to do what we should do, which is worry about the symptoms.