Charlie Angus is part of the problem, not the solution, to toxic politics


There was a sad irony to NDP MP Charlie Angus’s piece in the Sunday edition of the Toronto Star (“Death threats, Jordan Peterson and me: My journey into the world of Pitchfork Politics”) about the increasing toxicity and violent rhetoric in Canada’s political conversation.   

No one in Canadian politics has clean hands on this. Charlie Angus certainly doesn’t. Politics is now a toxic wasteland of lies and disinformation where politicians like Charlie Angus perform for social media mobs and election campaigns never end. Truth is often a casualty when nuance and proportion are separated from facts, and facts themselves are made up.

In 2014, I wrote a book called Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know. I talked about new threats of pseudo-media replacing responsible, fact-driven journalism. Disinformation doesn’t just distort politics, it undermines faith in all the support institutions of democracy. We are now seeing this happening at a sickening speed.

Charlie Angus is among the last people who should be the face of addressing this important issue. His brutal style of politics is part of the problem. He’s not part of the solution.

Charlie Angus has a long history of attacking rivals (even from within his own party), using profane language onlineattacking standing committee witnessesspreading disinformation, and misogyny

Nor can anyone argue Charlie Angus has had some kind of conversion.  In May 2022, he posted a Tweet in which he referred to Pierre Poilievre as a “total f–king political snake”. In March 2023, Charlie Angus Tweeted that Jordan Peterson is an “Incel guru” and “toxic sh-t bird”. Both Tweets remain posted on his account. He is hardly the poster child for civil discourse.

More recently, Charlie Angus posted attack ads trashing Poilievre for moving into Stornoway, the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition, after Pierre Poilievre won the Conservative Party leadership. The ads, with Charlie Angus wearing an old jean jacket over a shirt and tie, are hypocritical and cynical. NDP leaders Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair both lived at Stornoway when they were Leader of the Opposition. 

When Charlie Angus partnered with Pierre Poilievre and went for the throat of the Trudeau government over Canada Student Service Grant controversy, he was the prototypical attack dog. 

Lawyer and author Tawfiq Rangwala described the tone set by Angus and Poilievre in his book What WE Lost. Their attacks led to death threats against WE Charity founders Marc and Craig Kielburger, and violent threats against employees of Speakers Spotlight, Margaret and Alexandre Trudeau’s agents. 

“Angus’s crusade against WE Charity, like Poilievre’s, was marked by mischaracterizations and false statements that served to create an aura of wrongdoing on the part of the charity. His goal seemed to be to throw lots of mud and see what stuck, and it worked,” Rangwala wrote.

There is a dangerous rise in disinformation and ugly rhetoric. It’s going to get worse as the 2024 presidential campaign heats up in the U.S. and we get closer to our own federal election campaign. Moves like the European Union’s new disinformation law likely won’t be much help.

Canada does have a problem with toxic politics. And Charlie Angus is right when he says the extreme right is largely to blame. But in some ways, the left just seems to lack the money and skills to be good at spreading their own toxicity. Hyper-partisans like Charlie Angus are also contributing to this decline in our democracy. He would benefit from some self-awareness. He should look at his own contribution to the political conversation before claiming he’s nothing more than a victim.

Mark Bourrie is a lawyer, historian, and award-winning author whose book, Bushrunner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson, won the 2020 RBC Taylor Prize. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed author of Big Men Fear Me: The Fast Life and Quick Death of George McCullagh.

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