When polls are meaningless ... 

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Oh, Canada! The angst. The agony. The complete and utter dissatisfaction. The revulsion.

From coast to coast to coast, Canadians are frustrated, overwhelmed, and, well, simply pissed off at pretty much everything. They bemoan the cost of living, worry about putting enough food on the table, fuel in the family car, smartphones in their pockets, drugs in their anxiety-riddled bodies.

They see doom and gloom everywhere they look. Global instability, environmental catastrophe, rigged elections, conspiracies lurking around every corner and imminent bankruptcy dog them at every turn.

They hate, no, really hate politicians of all stripes and governments at all levels. The virulence they express regarding the current prime minister is only matched by the dissatisfaction they find in his opponents. Were Shakespeare writing Henry VI these days, Dick the Butcher's famous line might read, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the politicians." Except, of course, the reason Dick and his cabal wanted to kill the lawyers was so they could put their own leaders on the throne. But let's not be pedantic.

Politicians, on the other hand, would change the line to read, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the elites." That sentiment seems to resonate globally as politicians and politician wannabes strategize about pitting one identifiable group against another and pinning their hopes on the ensuing us-against-them donnybrook. Canadians have taken the epithet to heart and mirror—in a singularly Canadian way—the rise of populism that fuelled Brexit and culminated in the pussygrabber-in-chief being elected POTUS.

A recent CBC poll found 78 per cent of Canadians strongly or somewhat agree—and really, what could be more Canadian than somewhat agreeing?—the country is divided between ordinary people and elites.

There are, as the old joke goes, two kinds of people: those who dichotomize and those who don't. At the risk of sounding elite, there's another handy dichotomy that comes to mind when parsing the CBC's poll: those who understand the pitfalls of quantitative methodology and those who don't.

The specific question asked in the poll was, "My country is divided between ordinary people and elites." The 4,500 eligible voters who were polled were asked to respond to that statement along a continuum that ran from agree strongly to disagree strongly.

While not rising to the threshold of a "Have you stopped beating your wife?" question, the statement has severe limitations. It establishes an us-versus-them chessboard. It is as meaningful, or meaningless, as asking people to agree or disagree to the statement, "My country is divided between dog people and cat people." Or tofu eaters and tofu haters.

It invites a positive—agree—response for the simple reason it doesn't really give an adequate alternative and people seem to be hardwired to see the world in either/or groupings. That's not to mention the fact is uses self-defined categories that are, for the most part, impossible to define. What exactly are ordinary people? What are elites?

It brings to mind the quip of a friend of mine who categorizes drivers into two, and only two, groups: arseholes and idiots. At least he is thoughtful enough to define the groups. "Arseholes are the numbnuts who drive too slow according to the flow of traffic," by which he means the speed he wants to drive. "Idiots are the ones who pass me!"

I have no idea what ordinary people are. If asked to define the category I'd probably fall back on two disparate bits of literature that put the concept into some perspective for me many years ago. Edgar Lee Masters' poem, George Gray, neatly described what Thoreau called a life of quiet desperation. Two lines helped anchor ordinary for me: "Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances. Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life."

The other literary quip came into my life at about the same time. It was a song by the Smothers Brothers called, "Mediocre Fred," who was, it seemed, a very ordinary guy. "Fred went to work from 8 to 5, and he punched a clock to show he was alive. ... He paid his taxes most every year and on a hot summer day, why, he drank a little beer."

I like to think by quoting both Edgar Lee Masters and the Smothers Brothers I have a foot firmly planted in both the ordinary and elite camp. QED.

Of course, that assumes anyone knows what is meant by elite when used in the pejorative way people assume it's meant by politicians.

It seems elite is not always such a bad thing. Millions of Canadians tune in to the Olympics every other year to cheer on elite athletes. After all, they want to see what their Own the Podium tax dollars have helped create. Given a choice, most Canadians facing a life-threatening disease or injury would prefer to be treated by an elite surgeon, not an ordinary one. We prefer that those cars we can't afford gas for were designed by elite engineers, as opposed to the mediocre ones who designed Ladas.

So what the heck or, more accurately, who the heck are these elites Canadians seem so disparaging of?

The premier of Ontario and the new premier of Alberta both rail against elites, using the mysterious cabal to whip their supporters into a frenzy. Yet, by any meaningful definition—other than their own—both are demonstrably elite. You don't get to be premier of any Canadian province being Joe Six Pack.

When asked, Doug Ford—who was born with a silver spoon up his nose—defined elites as, "People that look down on the common folk, the people that think they're smarter than other people ... they just think they're better, they're smarter, and they can tell the common folk how to live their lives."

There are two ironies in that statement. The first is Doug Ford has been looking down on people and telling them how to live their lives ever since he first held elected office. The more profound irony is that this definition describes everyone. Everyone. We all look down on someone, some group. There was a local, New York City politician who once quipped, "Thank God the Koreans moved in (to the neighbourhood). It gave the blacks someone to look down on."

And telling people how to live their lives and what to think is practically the definition of being human.

Which neatly helps explain another startling finding of the CBC poll. More than half of the respondents agreed with the sentiment, "The government doesn't do anything for me."

So, no schools, no roads, no healthcare, no CPP, no OAS, no safety standards, no child tax credit, no nothing? How can people be so ignorant? What do they want?

Or are those elite questions to ask?


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