House Call with Carol Hughes

The truth is often lost in order to make a point

We are hearing about the end of truth in politics, mostly as a by-product of the American presidential race, but the use of flimsy facts and general opinion to support a position is nothing new. What is newer is the way that these ‘facts’ can be perpetuated on the internet and seem to take on a life of their own. My offices occasionally receive messages that relate to legislation before parliament but actually refer to items that haven’t been active for years. We try to respond with facts as best we can and people are usually  appreciative of the effort. The difficulty is that the root cause of the confusion still floats around cyber-space waiting to lure in someone new.

The internet is a powerful tool, but that power is not always harnessed in a helpful way. People can take what they encounter online as the gospel truth instead of asking themselves if what they saw can be verified. Think of the wry social media posts that feature a picture of Abraham Lincoln with a quote attributed to him warning people that everything you read online is not always true. It is a perfect example of how things can seem to be factual, even when they aren’t or never could be.

If you have an email account you have likely received your fair share of dubious emails, but as an elected representative I often dig a little deeper to see if there is any truth to them. These messages are almost entirely negative in form and most support false claims. They amount to digital urban myths, but that doesn’t stop people from taking them as the unvarnished truth. They can take a quote from one political scenario and attribute it to another politician—often spanning decades and entire eras in the process. Others relate to legislation that is no longer active such as private members bills from previous parliaments that have a digital after-life despite being relegated to a legislative graveyard.

One website that anyone can use to search for the validity of a subject is That site claims to be “the definitive internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumours and misinformation.” Another way to find the source of a claim is to copy and paste a large section of text into a search engine. That way you might discover where the original claim came from.

Don’t be surprised if the source for some of the more Canadian sounding messages is from political fundraising appeals. This relates especially to a number of messages that are critical of how our government treats immigrants. In fact, immigration is one of the larger themes that are  a constant in misleading political messages. Unfortunately, what these politicians are already doing is playing on people’s fears for their own advantage.

That is what we must be on the watch for. If we are to be suspicious of people, perhaps it should be those that ask us to react out of fear that we should cast our gaze towards. Let’s ask them to substantiate their claims and make it less appealing for those who might consider inventing their own truth further down the line. Canada is not immune from the kind of politics that is playing out in the presidential election and only vigilance from our population will truly protect us from experiencing the same fate.