The COVID-19 pandemic in Canada has sparked a curious boom: a flurry of podcasts created and hosted by politicians.
Members of Parliament, senators and others have gotten in on the action, with more than a dozen new audio offerings hitting the virtual airwaves since last spring.
The CBC’s Madeleine Cummings investigated the phenomenon for a segment that aired Saturday on The House.
New podcasts are hosted by politicians who run the political gamut. There’s Moments with Mumilaaq, hosted by NDP Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq; The Blueprint with Conservative MP Jamie Schmale; and Points of Order with Liberal MP Kody Blois. The list goes on.
CBC News: The House7:01The rise of politicians’ podcasts
Blois said the effects of the pandemic on politics were what inspired him to start the podcast as a way to reach out to his constituents.
“You’re not able to go to the pancake breakfasts or the bean suppers. So for me, this was a way to build relationships with not only people we brought on the podcast but of course provide engagement into my riding and my region and my part of the country.”
Politicians hosting politics isn’t completely new, but the trend has accelerated recently, especially south of the border.
U.S. President Joe Biden hosted a seven-episode series called Here’s the Deal during his run for the White House last year, while the current U.S. charts feature feeds from Republicans Ted Cruz and Dan Crenshaw. Then there’s former president Barack Obama’s deluxe podcast series with Bruce Springsteen.
Reaching out to constituents is one motivation, but another is going beyond the confines of the partisan political system or the legislative process, politician-hosts say.
“We are all hamstrung at this moment, and even in the best of times, the Senate focuses on legislation before it,” said Ratna Omidvar, an independent Canadian senator who hosts the podcast Moving the Needle on Wicked Problems.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis’s offering Resuming Debate looks to have discussions in a way that “models that kind of respectful disagreement among elected officials and others who are delving into an important issue.”
Controlling the message, readying for an election
Communications experts offer explanations for the podcasting boom that are a touch more cynical.
“Because [politicians] have always made the assertion that the media gets in the way or the media distorts the message or does all those sorts of things,” said Chris Waddell, professor emeritus at Carleton University’s journalism school.
A podcast is a way to get the message out without accusations of inconsistency or unwanted questions from media, he said.
“I wonder if they’d be doing this if there was a majority government and there wouldn’t be an election for four years,” Waddell said. “Being able to at least try to put yourself out in front of people during a pandemic is probably not a bad thing to do.”
But the scale of the podcasts remains fairly small — Blois says his episodes are downloaded a few hundred times — and most of those listening are probably highly engaged young people, according to University of Guelph political scientist Tamara Small.
“You’ve got to know who’s doing them. That means you’ve got to know who your MP is, you’ve got to be interested in what they’re doing, you’ve got to be on their website to find the thing,” she said.
But she noted that podcasts allow for more substantive discussion than other media associated with politics, such as Twitter or Instagram, which are “always about style.”
But Ratna Omidvar, the Canadian senator, said her audience is steadily growing, and Canadians are becoming more engaged.
With an election potentially coming this year and with it more attention on politics, the current politician podcasting boom may just be the starting gun on a new race to the top of the charts.