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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Playing to the crowd

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, right, shaking hands with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, will be a speaker at a huge energy rally in Calgary Tuesday.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (left) and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. — SaltWire Network file photo

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.

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?

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.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire publications across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky


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