I once interviewed a musician who said the Calgary Stampede is more than a rodeo – it is, essentially, a giant music festival. While I don’t disagree, I’ve also noticed the event is often used as a tool for politicians from all levels of government. As a self-proclaimed political buff, I’ve always been interested in analyzing the means politicians use to connect with voters – such as increasing likability by posing for photos while serving pancakes at the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.”
I believe it’s important people think critically when it comes to politicians' motivations – even with something as simple as taking a selfie with you.
I remember seeing pictures of Stephen Harper flipping pancakes, donned in plaid and a cowboy hat. And a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to photograph Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a Stampede breakfast. But I was shocked when, after spending nearly an hour at the breakfast, he’d only served two or three pancakes before being whisked away by his security team – it wasn’t about connecting with people, but about getting the photograph and taking off.
So, why do politicians attend the Stampede to make announcements and pose for photos? It’s a great chance to meet with a large number of people in a short amount of time, without actually having to engage in long conversations with the public, who are busy stuffing their mouths with flapjacks. And it’s an easy way for politicians to get photos of themselves “connecting” with Albertans – the whole “shake hands and kiss babies” routine.
This year, politicians from provincial and federal levels attended Stampede for the infamous pancake photo-op – and some “like-minded” leaders took advantage of an additional opportunity. Five conservative (and one independent) premiers gathered to flip pancakes ahead of the national premiers meeting later in the week to share what they intend to discuss with their counterparts – particularly, their plan to deal with Ottawa.
Two federal leaders – Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer and Green Party leader Elizabeth May – also attended this year, each participating in pancake breakfasts. For federal party leaders, particularly ahead of the election, Stampede provides an excuse to head out west and vie for Alberta votes.These tactics aren’t new, but I believe media literacy and critical thinking are more important than ever in today’s political landscape. Politicians’ actions and words – no matter how trivial they may seem – are part of an agenda to keep their jobs. Just some food (probably pancakes) for thought.