Liberal Party sweeps U of T ridings in re-election as minority government

Results demonstrate electoral disparities, need for parties to cooperate

Liberal Party sweeps U of T ridings in re-election as  minority government

The 2019 Canadian federal election saw the Liberal Party remain in power, although it lost 27 seats compared to the 2015 elections and was reduced from a majority to a minority government.

Liberal incumbents won all three of U of T’s ridings: Chrystia Freeland for University–Rosedale, where UTSG is located; Iqra Khalid for Mississauga–Erin Mills, where UTM is located; and Gary Anadasangaree for Scarborough–Rouge Park, where UTSC is located.

For students, the Liberal Party platform promised a two-year grace period on paying off student loans, increasing the loan repayment threshold to $35,000 a year, and increasing grants by 40 per cent.

Electoral disparities

Even though the Conservative Party won fewer seats than the Liberals, it comfortably topped the popular vote at 34.4 per cent compared to the Liberals’ 33 per cent. The other big shifts occurred with the Bloc Québécois (BQ), which gained 22 seats to reach a total of 32, and the New Democratic Party, which lost 15 seats to fall to a total of 24.

The election displayed the disparity between votes and seats under the first-past-the-post voting system. While the Green Party won 6.5 per cent of the total vote, it only won three seats. Meanwhile, the BQ’s 7.7 per cent of the vote translated into 32 seats in Québec.

In 2015, the Liberals promised electoral reform to even out these disparities. The Liberals abandoned this commitment in 2017 and appear to have benefitted from that decision, as they won the election despite more Canadians voting for another party.

Leading a minority government

“I do think that the shine has come off of the Liberal brand a little bit in the last four years,” said U of T political science professor Andrew McDougall on the election outcome. “When Trudeau came in, he had sky-high expectations of doing politics differently, and he projected this sort of young, energetic leader who was going to really sort of change everything for a better progressive future. And of course, perhaps inevitably, he couldn’t live up to any of that, or even live up to a lot of that.”

Looking into the future, McDougall predicts that this government is “not going to last the full four or five years… The opposition parties are going to give the Liberals some time to govern… but they’re going to be waiting for their opportunity to bring down the government about 18 months to two years, and [hold] an election at a time that they feel is best for them.”

Unlike with their previous majority government, the Liberals will now have to gain support from the opposition parties in order to govern and pass legislation. Having rejected a coalition government with other parties, the Liberals will “have to work on an issue by issue basis with these parties on their platform. But the parties are going to have a say now in what those policies look like,” said McDougall.

Liberal incumbents sweep U of T ridings

CBC News calls Freeland, Anandasangaree, Khalid re-elected

Liberal incumbents sweep U of T ridings

Liberal incumbents have kept their seats as MPs for University–Rosedale, Mississauga–Erin Mills, and Scarborough–Rouge Park.

According to CBC News, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, won UTSG’s riding by 3,045 votes, with 55 of 207 polls reporting, over her New Democratic Party challenger Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda.

Iqra Khalid won again in UTM’s riding by 4,032 votes over Conservative Hani Tawfilis, with 120 of 216 polls reporting.

In UTSC’s riding, Gary Anandasangaree was re-elected by 12,501 votes, with 125 of 196 polls reporting, over his Conservative opponent Bobby Singh.

Candidate Profiles for Scarborough–Rouge Park

Meet your candidates for UTSC’s MP

Candidate Profiles for Scarborough–Rouge Park

On the final day of voting, here are the federal candidates for UTSC’s riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park.

Gary Anandasangaree, Liberal Party MP candidate

Gary Anandasangaree is the Liberal candidate running for re-election as MP for  the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Outside of federal politics, Anandasangaree is a human rights lawyer and community activist.

In an interview with The Varsity, Anandasangaree discussed the importance of students in this election. “I feel that that U of T and [postsecondary education] is probably our most important stakeholder in the riding,” he said. He went on to point to rising postsecondary education costs as the top issue for students, emphasizing the party’s commitment to affordable education.

In particular, Anandasangaree pointed out the Ford government’s cuts to universities and colleges as “two steps forward, two steps back.” He referred to the burden that a reduction in provincial funding had on federal scholarships.

On pictures showing Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau in blackface and brownface, and the message it may send to racialized students, Anandasangaree said: “Justin Trudeau is a friend of mine. He is someone I deeply respect. He… made several mistakes on this front and I think he’s taken full ownership of it.”

Bobby Singh, Conservative MP candidate

Bobby Singh is the Conservative MP candidate for the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Singh is an entrepreneur with degrees from York University and U of T. At a federal candidates debate hosted by UTSC, Singh said his top policy priority if elected would be “reducing taxes and expenditures.”

Singh noted that certain areas of his riding are living at or below the poverty line and stated tax cuts would help address this challenge. With regard to the climate crisis, Singh acknowledged that “immediate… action is required.” However, he disagrees with carbon tax measures on the basis that they “unfairly penalize [local] companies.” Singh would rather see carbon absorption policy to address the climate crisis.

The Conservative candidate also called for greater inter-party cooperation. Singh has been involved in a number of organizations working to address issues such as accessibility and inclusivity in relation to education.

According to Toronto.com, at an event in Malvern, Singh criticized Trudeau’s wearing of brownface and blackface and said that he would “support a (national) anti-racism strategy, but not the one tabled by the Liberals.” The official Conservative Party platform does not feature the words “race” or “racism.”

The Varsity has reached out to Singh for comment.

Kingsley Kwok, New Democratic Party MP candidate

Kingsley Kwok is the New Democratic Party (NDP) MP candidate for the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Kwok is a registered respiratory therapist at Scarborough General Hospital and president of his union for health workers in his region.

At a candidate debate organized by UTSC, Kwok stated that his top policy priority upon election would be to “fight the climate crisis like we want to win.” Kwok criticized the Liberal government at a past debate for responding too slowly to the climate crisis. Kwok stated that his party’s approach to the climate crisis would include a carbon tax, while simultaneously creating new jobs.

Kwok also recognized the contributions students make to protesting political issues, citing specifically an 18-year-old student who was in critical condition after being shot by police at a protest in Hong Kong.

Kwok supports raising taxes for higher-income individuals and corporations so that government programs can remain intact. In order to advocate against funding cuts, Kwok was one of the creators of the Scarborough Health Coalition. Kwok claimed that “nothing is more important than health care,” and endorsed the NDP plan to implement a universal pharma care program.

The Varsity has reached out to Kwok for comment.

Jessica Hamilton, Green Party MP candidate

Jessica Hamilton is the Green Party MP candidate for the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Hamilton works as a therapist for children diagnosed with autism.

In an interview with The Varsity, Hamilton said she decided to run for parliament after a disheartening experience with her local MP, which made her realize that “there was nobody actually looking out for us, there was nobody who could actually speak on behalf of us, and the status quo wasn’t working anymore.”

On student debt among postsecondary students, Hamilton referenced the Green Party’s plan to forgive federal debt for individuals who currently have student debt, and to move toward free tuition for postsecondary education.

On the issue of mental health, specifically within the UTSC campus, Hamilton expressed her intention of interacting with the Scarborough–Rouge Park community on a more personal level.

Hamilton also mentioned the Green Party’s plan to establish a mental health minister who would oversee how mental health solutions and preventative measures could be put into place at the provincial and municipal levels.

On the climate crisis, Hamilton mentioned the Green Party’s goal of moving into a clean economy through the elimination of fossil fuels and the investment in a clean energy grid.

With files from Kate Reeve and Kathryn Mannie.

Candidate Profiles for Mississauga–Erin Mills

Meet your candidates for UTM’s MP

Candidate Profiles for Mississauga–Erin Mills

On the final day of voting, here are the federal candidates for UTM’s riding of Mississauga–Erin Mills.

Iqra Khalid, Liberal Party MP candidate

Iqra Khalid is the Liberal candidate running for re-election as MP for the Mississauga–Erin Mills riding, where the UTM campus is located.

After her election in 2015, Khalid came to national attention in December 2016 for tabling Motion 103, which called for a condemnation of  “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” The motion was opposed by some Conservative MPs, who called it an attack on free speech and freedom of expression. Although the motion passed, it stirred debate online and caused protests and demonstrations throughout the country.

In August 2018, Khalid made national news again after giving a community service award to Amin El-Maoued, the public relations chief of Palestine House, who was accused of anti-Semitism. Though Khalid later apologized and rescinded the award, she was criticized again this September for meeting with El-Maoued at his home in Mississauga, prompting the Conservative Party to call on Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau to “fire” Khalid.

Most recently, Khalid spoke out in support of Trudeau after several photos and a video emerged of him wearing blackface and brownface. Khalid emphasized that the prime minister’s actions do not detract from his term in office. “I’ve seen him put his money where his mouth is. I’ve seen him really go above and beyond to make sure that he’s standing with vulnerable communities to really speak out against racism,” she said.

Hani Tawfilis, Conservative Party MP candidate

Hani Tawfilis is the Conservative candidate for Mississauga–Erin Mills, where the UTM campus is located. Tawfilis declined to attend a candidate debate at UTM, instead opting for a meet-and-greet with the UTM Campus Conservatives, according to Mississauga.com.

Tawfilis is a pharmacy store owner, licensed pharmacist, and according to the Conservative Party website, a spokesperson for the Coptic Orthodox Community.

The Varsity has reached out to Tawfilis for comment.

Salman Tariq, New Democratic Party MP candidate

Salman Tariq is the New Democratic Party (NDP) MP candidate for the Mississauga–Erin Mills riding, where the UTM campus is located. Outside of politics, Tariq connects international students to academic opportunities through his work as a consultant.

Tariq’s top priorities include lowering student debt, implementing universal pharma care, and creating more affordable housing and internet services.

At a federal candidates debate held at UTM on October 2, Tariq elaborated on his promises related to student debt. According to Mississauga.com, Tariq pledged that the NDP would get rid of interest on student loans and criticized the Liberals for not having done this already. In addition, Tariq promised that the NDP would create more grants for postsecondary students.

The Conservative candidate for the same riding, Hani Tawfilis, was absent from the debate, opting instead to attend a meet-and-greet organized by the UTM Campus Conservatives. Tariq responded to Tawfilis’ absence at the debate, writing to Mississauga.com, “all people who put their name on the ballot should be available to speak to the constituents.”

The Varsity has reached out to Tariq for comment.

Remo Boscarino-Gaetano, Green Party MP candidate

Remo Boscarino-Gaetano is the Green Party MP candidate for the Mississauga–Erin Mills, riding, where the UTM campus is located. Currently an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph, Boscarino-Gaetano identified the two most important issues facing students as being the climate crisis and the rising cost of living.

“I chose to run for the Green Party not only for its clear commitments on climate change, but also for its socially progressive values,” wrote Boscarino-Gaetano in an email to The Varsity.

The Green Party plans to make all postsecondary education free and forgive all student debt owed to the federal government. It also plans to remove the two per cent cap on increases in funding for Indigenous students. On the topic of student mental health, Boscarino-Gaetano wrote that he agrees that the federal government needs to do more.

Regarding the environment, Boscarino-Gaetano firmly believes that “universities should absolutely divest from fossil fuels,” and “[invest] in clean technology, as that is the clear path that the rest of the world is travelling and we cannot afford to get left behind.”

“I’m disgusted by the Ford government’s attacks on students,” wrote Boscarino-Gaetano, calling the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) “an affront to our rights as students.” He hopes that the SCI will be overturned in the ongoing court case.

 

Candidate profiles for University–Rosedale

Meet your candidates for UTSG’s MP

Candidate profiles for University–Rosedale

On the final day of voting, here are the federal candidates for UTSG’s riding of University–Rosedale.

Chrystia Freeland, Liberal MP candidate 

Chrystia Freeland is the Liberal candidate running for re-election as MP for the University–Rosedale riding, where the UTSG campus is located. She is the current minister of foreign affairs and is the former minister of international trade. Following a career in journalism, Freeland began pursuing politics in 2013.

“We are seeing in too many countries — where you have a group of people in the country who are left behind — that that creates an opportunity for irresponsible politicians to whip up a sort of angry nativist sentiment,” Freeland said in a recent interview with the CBC.

In recent years, students and young people have emerged as a significant force in advocating for the environment. U of T students have been critical of the government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline.

In response to such criticism, Freeland said, “We need to be a combination of ambitious about our goals, [and] pragmatic about how we’re going to get there.” She further noted that “unless a person is prepared to say we can stop using fossil fuel tomorrow, there is absolutely no reason to say we should not be using fossil fuels that come from Canada.”

The Varsity has reached out to Freeland for comment.

Helen-Claire Tingling, Conservative Party MP candidate

Helen-Claire Tingling is the Conservative MP candidate for the University–Rosedale riding, where the UTSG campus is located. She has experience in both the private and public sectors, including as a consultant for the Ontario government. Tingling was slated to attend an all-candidates debate for the riding, but cancelled due to an illness.

In a self-published article, Tingling wrote, “I chose the [Conservative Party] because it recognizes that if we work hard, we should be able to buy a home, save for retirement, and care for our children and parents as they age.”

The Varsity has reached out to Tingling for comment.

Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda, New Democratic Party MP candidate

Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda is the New Democratic Party (NDP) MP candidate for the University–Rosedale riding, where  the UTSG campus is located. Her background is in law, and she currently works at a legal clinic focusing on housing and worker’s rights.

At a debate earlier this month, Vajda said that her motivation for running in the election derives, in part, from her work at a legal clinic dealing with housing issues.

“The housing crisis is really affecting our community. Young people are having a hard time starting out and it’s not getting any better. We’re spending less and less on a national housing strategy.” To combat the housing crisis, the NDP’s plan involves building 500,000 rental units across Canada.

Vajda wrote to The Varsity, speaking on mental health at U of T: “I support students organizing for mental health support in recognition of the university-wide mental health crisis, and especially in light of the recent tragic death at the U of T campus. I support the call for accessible 24-hour counseling and a commitment to include students in all potential reforms around these issues.”

Repeating her party’s stance on cuts to postsecondary education, Vajda wrote, “[The NDP is] committed to working with our partners at the provincial level to expand access to grants and stabilize funding for internal college and university clubs and media.”

Tim Grant, Green Party MP candidate

Tim Grant is the Green Party MP candidate for the University–Rosedale riding, where the UTSG campus is located. Grant also ran as an MPP candidate in the 2018 provincial election for the same riding. The former chair of the Harbord Village Residents Association (HVRA) runs his campaign out of his office tucked away in the Korean Senior Citizens Society on Grace Street.

Grant’s priority for students is addressing housing affordability. “The students face the same problem that everyone faces, which is the lack of affordable housing anywhere in the city,” he said. He cited his time on the HVRA, where he regularly interacted with students.

In an interview with The Varsity, Grant also expressed concern about landlords taking advantage of student renters.

He also talked at length about his party’s universal basic income plan, as well its intention to make postsecondary education free.

“Providing universities with the support that compensates them for the loss of tuition income [from free tuition] also helps them become more independent institutions and not dependant on corporate dollars,” said Grant, who also condemned the Ford government’s postsecondary education reforms.

On the Green Party’s postsecondary education platform, Grant described the plan to incentivize universities and colleges to increase professor-student ratios, and reduce contract positions in favour of tenure positions.

 

U of T students, city advocates call on federal parties to invest in Toronto’s mental health

Advocates call for $300 million yearly investment in Toronto’s mental health services

U of T students, city advocates call on federal parties to invest in Toronto’s mental health

Content warning: Discussions of suicide.

Advocates from across Toronto, including executives of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), called on the federal parties to commit to expanding the city’s funding for mental health and addiction services.

At an October 10 press conference at City Hall, they specifically asked for $300 million per year in mental health service investments in Toronto. The community members included city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, as well as representatives of Gerstein’s Crisis Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Association Toronto.

“We know that 20 per cent of Canadians experience mental health and addiction issues,” said Wong-Tam at the conference. She remarked that the city needs the federal government’s support to expand its mental health services in order to better care for its growing population.

Joshua Bowman, UTSU President, further underscored the impact of the mental health crisis at U of T. He noted that 46 per cent of postsecondary students have reported feeling too depressed to function, and 65 per cent reporting persisting overwhelming anxiety.

“These aren’t just statistics — these are friends, these are family members. These are our classmates,” he said. “This is a reality that students at the University of Toronto have grown all too accustomed to.”

In an interview with The Varsity, Bowman recalled that Wong-Tam invited UTSU representatives to speak at the conference, as part of her call was for expanded mental health funding specifically at postsecondary institutions.

Mayor John Tory endorsed the advocacy efforts later that day, writing that he joins them in “calling on the federal parties to commit to meaningful investments… to address [the] growing mental health and addictions crises.”

Responses from federal parties

A Green Party spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that the Greens would commit $1 billion annually to community treatment programs for mental health, addiction, and autism in Canada.

The Greens would also mark $100 million for suicide prevention, and $100 million to address the opioid crisis, according to the spokesperson. It is further committed to providing pharma care.

A Liberal Party spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that it will “begin negotiations with the provinces and territories to establish clear national standards for access to mental health services.”

The New Democratic Party and the Conservatives did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Examining disinformation ahead of Canada’s federal election

U of T researchers observe potential election interference efforts on Twitter

Examining disinformation ahead  of Canada’s federal election

Earlier this summer, reports surfaced that possible automated pro-Trump Twitter accounts from the United States were using hashtags to interfere in Canada’s upcoming federal election.

These alleged bots — broadly defined as non-human actors created to mimic human behaviour online — can contribute to an already-existing problem of disinformation and ‘fake news.’

While Twitter has denied any large-scale disinformation campaigns, others have suggested that manipulation attempts are simply a reality of today’s social media landscape.

Amid the proliferation of false information online, how could one spot bots in their feed?

#TrudeauMustGo

Perhaps the most infamous case of social media election interference is the Russian online disinformation campaign. According to the Mueller report, it is alleged to have contributed to the election of Donald Trump. However, as campaigning heats up for Canada’s federal election on October 21, U of T researchers have been looking into how automated social media accounts could be generating and spreading digital disinformation at home.

Dr. Alexei Abrahams, a research fellow at The Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, has assisted researcher Dr. Marc Owen Jones in exploring the contentious issue. By examining 34,000 tweets posted between September 3 and 5 of this year, Jones found that 15 per cent of the approximately 4,896 accounts using #TrudeauMustGo were linked to American far-right-wing politics. According to Jones, the behaviour of these accounts was consistent with that of political bots or orchestrated ‘trolls.’

In July, the National Observer reported on similar bot interference after #TrudeauMustGo became a trending topic on Canadian Twitter. In this instance, 31,600 tweets posted between July 16–17 were analyzed, with some accounts displaying “indicators of inauthentic activity.”

In an email to The Varsity, Abrahams confirmed that he and Jones were collecting data, but maintained that the “Canadian elections are not a major target for inauthentic, coordinated behavior.”

Abrahams discussed the potential consequences of disinformation online in a recent interview with CTV News. “You reach a place, when you’re exposed to so much misinformation, that you’re agnostic toward any sort of information,” he said.

“It ultimately leads to a sort of withdrawal from political life and from the activity of inquiring, because you just become frustrated and skeptical, then ultimately disenchanted.”

Automated disinformation

While much of the conversation around automated social media accounts and their contribution to new concerns surrounding ‘fake news’ involves the United States and the United Kingdom, there have been multiple documented cases of attempted election interference in Canada.

In 2017, university professors Fenwick McKelvey and Elizabeth Dubois released a study on the role of bots in the Canadian media landscape. The study found that Canada has not critically engaged with the role of bots in its democratic processes.

Citing the 2015 federal election campaign, McKelvey and Dubois illustrated how frequent automated tweets using the #cdnpoli hashtag amplified anti-Stephen Harper sentiment.

However, the researchers also highlighted the potential of bots for positive political engagement, including automated accounts created to increase government transparency.

More recently, Global Affairs Canada shared a report by Rapid Response Mechanism — a G7 response coordination group — outlining how “coordinated inauthentic [online] behaviour” was present during Alberta’s 2019 provincial election. While the report notes that the ‘inauthentic behaviour’ did not seriously interfere in the election, the existence of the coordinated disinformation has some questioning the power of bots in democratic processes.

Other reports have suggested that bot activity had amplified the tweets of now-Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, during his provincial election campaign last year.

How to spot and prevent disinformation

Dr. Brett Caraway, an assistant professor at U of T’s Institute of Communication, Culture, Information & Technology, discussed the pressing concerns of false reporting in democratic institutions in an interview with The Varsity.

“When you have bots or fake news outlets, any sort of party that is interested in influencing a political outcome in an election, it creates some very real level of confusion over facts,” he said. “And that’s the part that I think is so dangerous to a healthy thriving democracy.”

When asked how users could protect themselves from being exposed to or perpetuating disinformation, Caraway outlined several measures. Users should question anonymous sources, examine URLs for proper sourcing, identify the dates on articles, read beyond headlines, check multiple sources, and put in effort when reading and sharing content.

Broadly, however, he believes that the government should take more measures to promote media literacy because it is “just as important as learning to read and write at this stage.”

According to Caraway, media literacy education should focus on three components: how to find authoritative information, how to value different kinds of information, and how to meaningfully participate in political discourse online.

“All of us are in the position of being broadcasters today,” he said. “And being in that position of a broadcaster comes with responsibility and obligation to engage in ethical political discourse.”

Disclosure: Kaitlyn Simpson previously served as Volume 139 Managing Online Editor of The Varsity, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Varsity Publications Inc. 

No country for fake news

Canadian political news found “relatively clean” of misinformation, according to the Digital Democracy Project

No country for fake news

With ‘fake news’ and hyper-partisanship now seemingly the norm south of the border, experts closer to home studying the ebbs and flows of Canadian political streams are watching for signs of similar developments. As it turns out, the results are encouraging.

In the months running up to Canada’s October 21 federal election, researchers at the Digital Democracy Project have been observing how Canadians consume media and how such consumption interacts with their politics.

The project is managed by the Public Policy Forum — an independent think tank — and includes academics from universities across Canada.

U of T affiliated participants include the project’s Head of the Survey Analysis Team Dr. Peter Loewen, a professor at U of T’s Department of Political Science; Lead Survey Analyst Dr. Eric Merkley, a postdoctoral fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy; and Digital Democracy Fellow Stephanie MacLellan, who graduated with a Master of Global Affairs from the Munk School in 2016.

The findings of the project have been released as research memos, which are available for reading on its website. The Varsity highlighted its major findings below.

“Media, Knowledge and Misinformation”

In the project’s first memo, released on August 8, researchers surveyed Canadians and determined that the public is most likely to receive news from traditional, mainstream sources.

CBC News was the leading outlet, with 42 per cent of participants reportedly consuming CBC reporting in the past week, followed closely by televised CTV News in second place, at 41 per cent of participants.

This consumption of CBC and CTV reporting was uniform regardless of declared party affiliation, although Progressive Conservative (PC) Party supporters held a slight preference for CTV over the CBC.

In comparison, the explicitly right-wing news site Rebel Media was reportedly read by 22 per cent of PC supporters in the last week, while explicitly left-wing news site Rabble.ca was read by 10 per cent of New Democratic Party (NDP) supporters in the past week.

“The Climate Change Conundrum”

The second research memo was published on August 29, and examined which issues matter most to Canadians.

A survey found that supporters of the Liberal Party were most likely to hold health care as the most important issue of the federal election. The economy and the environment were not far behind, taking the second and third place of importance, respectively.

In contrast, PC supporters were overwhelmingly likely to prioritize the economy, with immigration and refugee issues and taxes following. Finally, NDP supporters were most likely to prioritize the environment, with health care and the economy coming after.

“Polarization and its Discontents”

In the third research memo, published on September 12, the project tackled the issue of political polarization. The memo differentiates between two different types of polarization.

The first type, affective polarization, is defined as the dislike of an individual or party due to their membership in a group in opposition to one’s own. By contrast, ideological polarization is the dislike of an individual or party due to the policies they support, rather than their membership.

Researchers found evidence of affective polarization among the Canadian populace. However, the memo concluded that this polarization did not seem to arise from ‘echo chambers’ — environments where people encounter only views similar to their own — due to the fairly uniform media that Canadians consume as reported in the first memo.

“Talking Past Each Other on Immigration”

The fourth research memo from September 26 addressed the rise of populist nativist politics in the Western world and its effects on immigration issues.

While the memo noted the rise of the nativist People’s Party of Canada, it also reported that Canadians were unlikely to be zealous in their views on immigration, and that they are open to changing their opinions when addressed with facts.

In particular, the memo described two trials in which respondents were asked to report on their attitudes towards immigration. In one trial, a 2018 Conference Board of Canada report detailing the positive impact of immigration on the economy was given to respondents to read beforehand. Of the respondents who read the report, 63 per cent responded with positive attitudes toward immigration, compared to the 57 per cent of respondents who had not read the report.

“Fact-Checking, Blackface and the Media”

In the fifth research memo, published on October 3, researchers reported the public’s attitude toward fact-checking in journalism. It was found that 73 per cent of Canadians responded with a desire to see more fact-checking, with equal support among left-leaning and right-leaning voters.

The memo also covered the topic of Trudeau’s brownface and blackface scandal. Observations of social media trends found that despite widespread discourse on the day the scandal was reported, interest in the incident rapidly declined on both social and traditional media by the third day.

“Political Advertising on Facebook”

The most recent research memo, published on October 10, covered partisan expenditure on Facebook ads during the campaign period. Researchers found that the Liberal Party had spent slightly over $1 million on ads between September 11 and October 4, with the Conservative Party spending $640,000 and the NDP spending $230,000 during the same period.

Out of non-party actors, the right wing organisation Canada Proud spent the most during the same period, buying $123,000 worth of Facebook ads. For comparison, the second largest non-party spender was the anti-Conservative Party organisation North99, which spent $29,000 on Facebook ads during the period.

What comes next?

Following the conclusion of the federal election, the project is preparing to release a final, comprehensive report next March.

“A big part of the project has been gathering all kinds of data that we haven’t had a chance to report on week-to-week during the campaign — including YouTube and Reddit content as well as more comprehensive Facebook data,” wrote MacLellan to The Varsity. “The next few months will be spent analyzing those findings.”

In the meantime, the released research memos indicate that despite some concerns, ‘fake news’ is not a particularly Canadian problem. Project researchers still emphasize that it’s important to pay attention to what you pay attention to.

“One thing that I think is an important takeaway from our project is that some of what we think we know about the relationship between the media and citizens is the result of a lazy interpolation of trends in the United States to the Canadian context,” wrote Merkley to The Varsity.

“Orchestrated misinformation isn’t necessary for citizens to be misinformed about politics.”