Ashley Csanady: Beware the angry mothers, Mr. Trudeau
No fever meds. No childcare. No eyedrops. Now no school. The moms are angry, and they didn't take it out on Ford. Who's next?
By: Ashley Csanady
If there’s anything Pierre Poilievre excels at, it’s finding and speaking to anger.
And he’s finally tapped into a rage that has quietly simmered among parents for months — the chronic shortage of liquid fever-reducing medicine for young kids.
The anger has reached a fever pitch, if you can pardon the pun, amid cold and flu season, another wave of COVID, and a particularly nasty respiratory virus whipping through daycares and schools.
But this isn’t another column about the infuriating nature of the shortage; fellow Line contributor Melanie Paradis has already covered that in depth here. Instead, it’s to say, welcome, Mr. Poilievre. We’re glad you’ve noticed the moms are angry.
I could be snarky, and note that it’s nice to see the Conservatives saying something useful on public health. And I would question what the federal government could do beyond what it has already done — offering Health Canada authorization for the import of boxes of medicine that don’t meet our bilingual language requirements, and relabelling them once they are here.
But here’s the thing: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a pretty basic problem here. He’s the guy in the chair while this is happening. The leader of the opposition gets to capitalize on an anger that hits the Liberal base — and hits hard.
Poll after poll has told us the Liberals lost white male voters a long time ago, and their electoral fortunes, especially in Quebec and suburban Ontario, rely on women, especially women in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area. This isn’t to say dads and other caregivers aren’t angry. Families take many shapes and anyone with small people at home has faced the same indignities over the past nearly three years. However, politically and demographically, it’s the Ontario moms who are going to make or break the next election. And when folks are angry, it doesn’t matter who the incumbent is, they are wont to vote them out.
Nor is it not just about the children’s pain meds.
It’s about the fact we can’t find antibiotic eye drops over-the-counter either (a shortage one pharmacist told me is even worse than the one for pain and fever meds for the wee ones). Another shortage that means we must then turn to an already over-burdened health-care system to get a prescription for a medicine that may or may not be in stock.
Oh, and if that respiratory virus going around turns nasty, we aren’t even certain there will be a hospital bed for our babies when they need it most.
Then there is the infuriatingly slow roll-out of affordable childcare in this province. Parents once again caught between the feds and the province in a battle that may drag out the process so long that many expecting relief will see their kids off to junior kindergarten before it arrives.
Grocery bills are skyrocketing, and while I admit I’m privileged enough to absorb the eye-popping increases, so many families simply cannot. Imagine telling a picky toddler they can’t have their favourite snack because you can’t afford the crackers.
Now, Ontario moms had to deal with yet another disruption to their kids’ schooling, which threw their work lives into chaos once again. More disruptions are possible should bargaining fail again. This just after many women who left the workforce or took a step back from their careers during the pandemic were just getting back into the swing of things.
I made this point — that Ontario moms are angry and much of that anger is directed at political leaders, but I don’t expect it to fall on Ontario Doug Ford — on Twitter a couple weeks back. For this, I was “reminded” — more like chided — that many of these challenges are Mr. Ford’s fault. Or global challenges no logical person could blame the prime minister for. The partisans in my mentions were right on both counts. But here’s what they got wrong:
It doesn’t matter if I’m being “unfair” to Mr. Trudeau, because politics is unfair.
And as for Mr. Ford’s share of the blame, voters punish who’s up next at the ballot box, especially in a crisis. They had a chance to take out their rage on the PCs in June. They didn’t. So who does that leave up next?
I’m enough of a nerd that division of powers and jurisdictional responsibility, and the lack of understanding thereof, are the kinda things I’ll get on about after a few glasses of wine at a dinner party. (I’m fun, I swear). But when you can’t pay the bills, when you can’t find medicine your kid needs, when you’re scared a hospital won’t be there when you need it, when you’re juggling yor job and your kids being back at virtual school yet again, you don’t have the bandwidth for a civics lesson, and you won’t react well to being offered one.
Because you’re angry.
The truth is, as much as we like to think we vote with our heads, our emotions drive our political decision making much more than we seemingly rational beings like to believe. As Drew Westen succinctly put it in his book The Political Brain: “The political brain is an emotional brain. It is not a dispassionate calculating machine, objectively searching for the right facts, figures, and policies to make a reasoned decision.” The book goes on to find that partisan brains are even more emotional, and their neural pathways are essentially rewarded by information and views that affirm their own, providing a “fix” of sorts.
(In the American political context he studies, this has more greatly benefitted Republicans, who are more effective at tapping into emotion. I’d be curious if in Canada, where Liberals have effectively campaigned on emotion over abortion rights, gun control and other topics, a similar study would prove the inverse true, but I digress.)
Our simmering national anger has recently been quantified. Pollara Strategic Insights has created a rage index to track exactly just how angry Canadians are at a given time. September showed a move towards positivity, though I suspect October’s woes will reverse that trend. The key bit of data in that monthly report: women are angrier than men, largely because of financial pressures. And the direction of that rage? Evenly split between the feds and the provinces.
So, Mr. Trudeau. Please notice us. You assured us, on the daily during the height of the pandemic, you had our backs. We need that version of you again. We need you to feel not our pain, but our anger.
Because there are things that make us angry and scare us that you are in the best position to address, now as prime minister, but I also believe over the longer term. As scared as we are about immediate fears like a health-care system too broken to help our kids when they are truly sick, or the inability to treat mild ailments at home for want of supplies, many of us are equally scared of what the future of the planet looks like.
We’re angry on our kids’ behalf; the environmental challenges we grew up fretting about in some far-off future are here. A semblance of peace and stability in the West the post-Cold War era provided has shattered. The new world order is terrifying, and the thing about moms is anxiety on our children’s behalf quickly turns to righteous anger.
A nation of mama bears is ready to turn on you, Prime Minister. Mr. Poilievre is speaking to them. I suggest you feel their rage before he tames them first.
Ashley Csanady is a senior consultant at McMillan Vantage Policy Group. She is also a former journalist, whose work has appeared in the National Post, the CBC and Vice Media, and served as a senior writer to former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne.
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: email@example.com