The Politics of Division vs. The Politics of Unity
by Susanna Kelley
"Dalton McGuinty will spend $10,000 to ensure a potential employer hires a foreign worker instead of you."
- Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak, Sept 9, 2011
"Wow! We haven't had real racist politics in Can since the Klan in Sask in the '20's. Well done Ont Grits and PCs! We're big time now. idiots.
- Robin Sears on Twitter, Sept 10, 2011
"Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair."
- The late Jack Layton, August 20, 2011
It seems inconceivable that it was only 16 days ago that Ontarians came out by the tens of thousands for the funeral of federal NDP leader Jack Layton.
It has been said in this space and elsewhere that the outpouring of grief for Mr. Layton by those of many different political stripes reflected a yearning for the kind of leader that brings out the best in the citizenry. One that appeals to "the better angels of our nature," as Abraham Lincoln put it.
Contrast that with the first week of Ontario election campaign, when PC leader Tim Hudak told unemployed Ontarians that "foreign workers" were taking their jobs.
The Liberal platform contains a plank to give a $10,000 tax credit to companies that hire well-educated immigrants and give them the year's training they need to upgrade their professional qualifications to practice here.
We know whom the Liberals are talking about - the taxi drivers we've all talked to who were doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects in their home country but are now driving cabs here in Ontario. They can't practice their profession, but the province needs more professionals, especially doctors. What a waste, we tell them. For them, and for us.
Well-educated immigrants need the training before they can be licensed to practice here. Many find it very difficult to get hired for that training. So the Liberals are offering companies a $10,000 incentive to do just that.
A win for them, a win for Ontario, the Liberals say.
And of course, a clear attempt at a political win for Dalton McGuinty, who is obviously appealing to the highly ethnic, riding-rich voters in the so-called "905" area north of Toronto.
But the policy is far from a winning one according to Tim Hudak, who in every speech is calling immigrants "foreign workers," even though he knows the policy, as defined - belatedly - by the Liberals, is for immigrants who live in Ontario.
He's telling people that "foreign workers" are taking their jobs:
Mr. Hudak and his campaign team know exactly what they are doing in stoking anger against "foreigners."
And stoking it they are. Take a look at this ad the party posted on YouTube:
Of course, immigrants who reside here are Ontarians.
Mr. Hudak, however, seems to imply they are not "pure laine" - the Quebecois flashpoint phrase for Quebec residents not descended purely from French ancestry.
That they are not real Ontarians.
Unfortunately, at this point the strategy appears to make sense only to Mr. Hudak.
From a campaign strategy point of view, surely the use of such a derogatory term for immigrants who reside in Ontario could lose Mr. Hudak the all-important mother lode of 905 seats all parties are courting.
Publicly Mr. Hudak says immigrants in the highly ethnic 905 are insulted by such a tax credit, as it insinuates they are incapable of getting a job themselves.
Hard to believe.
Put yourself in an immigrant's shoes (or cast your mind back to when your own ancestors came to Canada.) Say you sponsored your physician brother to come here but he was working as a taxi driver because he couldn't get anyone to hire him for a year to get the training he needed to fulfill the requirement to get his license to practice in Canada. He was stuck, living on subsistence wages.
Would you approve of the Liberal tax credit to help him get the training?
Or would you find it insulting?
Most immigrants know someone in this position. Everyone who takes taxis certainly does.
It's hard to see how such a hand up would insult fellow immigrants.
From a societal point of view, Mr. Hudak's deliberate use of the term "foreign workers" is, frankly, disturbing.
History has shown it is in times of economic uncertainty and high unemployment, such as now, that citizen can turn against citizen. That's what happened in pre-WWII Germany. And that's why there has been a rise in anti-immigrant parties in Europe in the last while.
Here in Ontario in 2007, PC leader John Tory opened up a Pandora's box by proposing public funding for religious schools. Latent anti-Muslim, anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic sentiments, long kept under wraps by governments and public conventions that deemed them socially unacceptable, were unleashed in that campaign. In 2007 it was Mr. McGuinty who took advantage of that.
In this campaign, Mr. Hudak threatens to unleash the same underlying fears with his "foreign workers" and "Ontarians need not apply" rhetoric - some might call outright demagoguery.
The strange thing is, the PC platform has much that Ontario voters should see as positive, according to polling.
The protection of health care and education, for instance, parallels nicely the priorities of the public in most opinion polls.
The PC's are seen, at this point, as having the most credibility on economic matters. Important political coin in these shaky economic times.
In the end, there are two ways to conduct oneself in politics: a politician can either exploit the politics of division, or the politics of unity.
At this point the Liberals and Conservatives need to sit back from the heat of the campaign and consider not just what will win them office, but what they could be doing to our peaceful co-existence in the long term.
It was not that long ago that Ontario voters threw out the Mike Harris government, tired of its divisive fighting.
They need to remember it was less than a month ago that people of all political ideologies - not just New Democrats - poured into Parliament Hill and Toronto City Hall to pay honour to Jack Layton.
It was a clear signal as to what people are looking for.
The party that fails to heed that message may well lose its opportunity to govern.