VIDEO: How to handle hot-potato election issues at Thanksgiving dinner

Climate change, corruption, the Trans Mountain pipeline? Dig in.

Some of the food from a Thanksgiving dinner from Martha & Marley Spoon in New York in 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Bree Fowler

Some of the food from a Thanksgiving dinner from Martha & Marley Spoon in New York in 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Bree Fowler

Politics will likely be on the table when Nick Difruscio joins his family for Thanksgiving dinner this weekend, and that has the Ryerson University student bracing for heated discussions alongside turkey and gravy.

Like many families, the 17-year-old business management major says his relatives are divided politically — some are business owners who lean towards the right, while others prioritize social health care and lean left.

Their conflicting views can turn dinner into a minefield with the federal election around the corner on Oct. 21.

“It is very divisive, and it always comes up. It always gets really awkward around the table,” says Difruscio, whose family is in Niagara Falls, Ont.

“It’s always (someone who) says something that goes a little bit too far, and it goes quiet. Everybody just kind of sits there.”

Depending on the company, hot potatoes such as climate change, corruption, and the Trans Mountain pipeline are generally best left off the table, say various etiquette experts, but forthose who look forward to expressing their positions on issues they care about there is a way to keep things respectful.

It’s unlikely your guests have much appetite for a screaming match, notes Leanne Pepper, general manager and protocol consultant for the Faculty Club, a private event space on the University of Toronto campus.

She advises declaring politics off-limits when the invitations are sent, and asking guests to come ready to share what they’re thankful for this year.

People get emotional when talking to close family, especially with the wine flowing, she says, reminding hosts to avoid seating combative guests near each other.

“You might want to hide the (lawn) signs over the Thanksgiving weekend. You don’t want to trigger that right off the bat,” she jokes.

The host should set the tone, says Pepper, and be ready with an anecdote or fresh conversation topics in case innocuous chit-chat starts to run off the rails.

Michael Morden, research director of the Samara Centre for Democracy, says political debate is good for democracy and he encourages families to discuss issues of the day — with civility.

His non-partisan charity surveyed Canadians earlier this year and found people were discussing politics more than they were in the lead-up to the 2015 federal election.

Researchers asked Canadians what topics they didn’t want to talk about, especially with people they disagree with, and found fewer than 15 per cent felt compelled to avoid contentious topics.

But the issues that made them the most skittish included abortion, immigration, multiculturalism, Indigenous issues, and sexual harassment and the Me Too movement.

Morden encourages participants to explain in detail what they believe and why.

“Most issues are actually pretty complicated and we don’t usually make space for that nuance in our arguments. When we actually have to think through the mechanics, we realize that we don’t know as much as we thought we did and that makes us more inclined to listen and to learn.”

If things do get contentious, etiquette coach Louise Fox says you may have to bite your tongue. Some people just want to bait others into an argument, and a family reunion is not the time.

READ MORE: Should voting be mandatory in federal elections?

“Sometimes you have to say those platitudes like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty interesting.’ ‘Oh, I never thought of that,’ rather than, ‘I don’t like this,’” says Fox.

“It’s all right to have opinions, but if they’re going to lead to arguments, avoid them and try to keep things light and celebratory. A sense of humour is your biggest asset when the going gets tough.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Judy and Ken Reid share a smile at Peace Arch Hospital in 2018. Judy raised concerns last month about how the COVID-19 vaccine would be rolled out. Now, she says no one is telling residents or families when they will start to see restrictions ease. (Contributed photo)
Timeline for reduced restrictions in long-term care a concern for spouse of South Surrey senior

‘We’re not yet at that point,’ says provincial health officer

Gurinder Mann. (Submitted photo)
Surrey man receives prestigious restorative justice award

East Newton resident Gurinder Mann one of five to receive a Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award

TEASE PHOTO: Teens at the Bumpers dance club in Whalley in the 1980s, in a photo posted to the "Bumpers / The Zone OFFICIAL Party Page" on Facebook.com.
SURREY NOW & THEN: Bumpers and other teen dance clubs were big in the 1980s

A weekly look back at Surrey-area landmark sites and events

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey Police Service looking to hire in-house lawyer

Solicitor to work within Office of the Chief Constable, serve on internal and external committees to ‘represent the SPS’s interests’

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Competitors make their way through the course at the 2019 Canadian Cross Country Championships, which was hosted by Abbotsford in 2019. (File photo)
Abbotsford to host 2023 Canadian Cross Country Championships

Clearbrook Park last hosted the event in 2019, Ottawa hosting 2021 and 2022 races

Most Read