Steve Hamilton, Digital Media Director
Over here north of the border we just finished our big federal election, where Canada elected Justin Trudeau, son of legendary Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau as the new Prime Minister of Canada. He ousted 10-year incumbent Conservative party leader Stephen Harper and beat NDP leader Tom Mulcair to claim a majority government. There was a lot of anti-Harper animosity flying around Canada prior to the election, with a huge grassroots campaign titled “Anyone But Harper” which aimed to help voters pick between Liberal and NDP candidates on who was more likely to beat the Conservative candidate rather than on the merits of the Candidates themselves! This sentiment reached a fever pitch with the unlikely inclusion of Jon Oliver’s This Week Tonight’s piece on The Canadian Election. As of the time of this writing, this video has well over 5 million views. The day it was released it was viewed almost 2 million times. The video (you should definitely watch it for the humour factor alone, but it does have incredible intellectual value too in terms of learning about the Canadian electoral system) highlighted the Canadian election, poked fun at all of the candidates, and culminated with a huge anti-Harper ending encouraged Canadians to not vote for Stephen Harper due to his treatment of Islamic people, Indigenous people, and refugees. The video was shared like crazy all over social media and was even featured in Facebook’s trending feature. The timing of the video too couldn’t have been more influential if they tried, as it was released the very day before voting day. I know personally both people who were swayed from voting conservative, or spurned into voting at all as a direct result of watching this video. Oliver mentions that Canada has an elections law that states that “No person who does not reside in Canada shall…induce electors to…vote for or restrain from voting for a particular Candidate”, with penalty of $5000 or a six month jail term, or both. Oliver took umbrage to that and did it anyway of course, to great comedic effect.
Because of the timing of the video, the Harper administration was forced to just sit back and watch. There was no time to formulate a response or to implement any kind of damage control. This was true for all of the parties, but as the Conservatives were on the receiving end, it almost seems like a low blow. Without allowing them the chance to provide any sort of rebuttal, the Harper government was declared guilty until proven innocent. It raises interesting questions though with regard to politicians of all walks of life being targeted on TV by these personalities. In America, Republicans and Democrats are used to being bashed by the likes of the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, or Last Week Tonight. It’s become a part of the American way of life. Canada has two political humour shows, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and The Royal Canadian Air Farce, however neither reach anywhere near an audience level as their American counterparts. The influence American media can have on outside elections is considerable, and not to be taken lightly. How should a party handle something like this? Should they roll with the punches, and participate? Should they even try to get on some of these shows for an interview or a skit segment? Should they ignore it completely? Should they dismiss the claims? While these TV shows are immensely popular and entertaining, more and more they are becoming the singular way for many Millennials to get their news and opinions. What people see on the Daily Show will influence their vote and sometimes like, as on Oliver’s show, they come right out and tell voters not to vote for a particular candidate.
What I know for sure is, even though the Liberal party most likely had no idea that this video was going to air, I’m sure Trudeau should be thanking Jon Oliver and his team for helping his campaign.