The Great Divider

No matter your musical tastes or personal politics most of us would agree that The Tragically Hip is one of, if not the most, quintessentially Canadian bands of all time. Their songs shout-out many of the people, places, and things which make us—be it Bobcaygeon or Wheat Kings (about David Milgaard) or Fifty Mission Cap (which references hockey legend Bill Barilko). But recently “Canada’s house band” found itself caught up in political turmoil…all thanks to Pierre Pollievre and his divisive brand of so-called ‘leadership’. The man’s not even in power and already he’s splitting this country asunder. 

So, what happened? Mr. Pollievre held a rally in Stony Creek, ON and played one of The Hip’s songs. Someone reported this to the band’s Twitter account asking if they knew and their guitarist, Paul Langlois, responded with “We certainly did not know this – highly offensive if true (we’ll wait to make sure and potentially confirm this) and if so, this will be stopped”. And the right-wing blogosphere exploded with partisan outrage.

A bit of context. Normal politicians ask permission to use a group’s music. It’s considered simply courtesy. Oh, mistakes have been made but, once appraised of their error, the campaign stops using the song in question. Then came Donald Trump. Who broke all norms on his way to ruining America. He plays whatever music he likes, regardless of the copyright holder’s preference, and has been threatened with repeated lawsuits. Mr. Trump ignored those, just as he does all the rules he doesn’t like, and ushered in an era where conservatives consider themselves above the law.

The Tragically Hip did not give Pierre Pollievre their permission and so assumed he was stealing their music. As Langlois clarified, “We have always been highly offended by anybody who doesn’t ask for our permission to use our music for a brand, a political party, or a public figure of any sort. It’s just common courtesy to ask, and it applies to anyone and everyone”. Unfortunately for all concerned, that assumption turned out not to be technically true. The venue, an arena, had a licensing agreement through SOCAN (The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) that included The Hip’s music—theirs are some of the more common tunes played during hockey games—and so everything was nice and legal. But the extremists on the right didn’t appreciate having their dear leader questioned and so triggered a campaign of vitriol and hatred upon the band in a slavishly disgusting display of badly misplaced loyalty.

Make no mistake, Pollievre is no “man of the people”. But he can enjoy any music he pleases…in private. Public use of a band’s song though, that implies a connection. And PP is un-hip in the extreme. Which isn’t to say he’s a bad politician. No, his policies do that. As does what passes as his personality. The first are poorly planned political pandering, appealing to the lowest nature of a willfully ignorant base (usually by insulting his opponents in childish fashion). The less said about the second the better. A potted plant has more charisma.

It’s possible to ride a wave of populism into power. Trump, Johnson, and Bolsanario all did just that. But the politics of division only work in a country that is split equally in two—and Canada has long been more divided than that. Regionalism abounds. Language issues continue to plague us. Income inequality, generational divides, not to mention the urban/rural dichotomy, all that and more keep Canadians looking askance at each other. That said, our federation—for all its faults—has numerous strengths. We avoided a two-party political system. Sure, no third party has ever governed but that doesn’t mean they’ve never wielded power. Many political pundits argue that our country’s most effective governments have all been minorities. And Mr. Pollievre has proven himself unwilling (or unable) to play well with others.

Let me admit, I’m no fan of Pollievre or the dogmatic drivel he spouts. I’ve got all of The Tragically Hip’s albums and even attended one of their concerts two decades back. So maybe I’m prejudiced when I close: If you’re siding with PP—a career politician who’s accomplished next to nothing during his time in office—over The Tragically Hip—a band that’s brought millions of Canadians together with some of the catchiest songs in our country’s history—then not only are you an idiot but you’re also a traitor.

Posted on: March 17, 2023, by :