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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco, Marit Stiles and Bernie Farber - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of deliberately provoking prejudice against Muslims with his opposition to women wearing the niqab while taking an oath of Canadian citizenship. Trudeau likened the rhetoric to that employed during the "none is too many" anti-Jewish immigration policies of 1930s Canada. Trudeau's comments follow those of Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, who last month accused the PM of making Islamophobic comments.



Marit Stiles:

This week we have the leader of the third party speaking up about how the Harper government is deliberately fostering prejudice against Muslims. I'm not going to disagree with what he's saying, but I question where this is coming from and why now. And, more importantly, where's the actual opposition to what Harper has put before Canadians?

In virtually the same breath that Mr. Trudeau refers to the prejudice underlying the Harper government's policies, he also defends his failure to stand up to Bill 51 and its curbing of civil liberties, stating: “… our social contract sometimes requires us to moderate our freedoms in order to ensure we maintain them in the long run".

Really? The Liberals want to talk the talk, but won't walk the walk when it comes to standing up against prejudice and attacks on our freedoms.


John Capobianco:

I am with Marit on this - at least on the timing of Mr. Trudeau's comments. We have consumed many inches of this space over the last few months talking about 2015 being an election year and what bearing that is having on political positioning. Well, we are seeing yet another example of that with Mr. Trudeau's comments where he accuses the PM of fostering prejudices against Muslims.

Nonsense. This government has demonstrated time and time again its position on promoting and defending freedom and unity in diversity.

This is a weak attempt by the Liberals to try and hold their base while they justify supporting Bill C-51.

To Marit's point, Mr. Trudeau speaks against the bill but will support it, and yet has a clear conscience in accusing this PM of being prejudiced towards Muslims - or any religious group.

If he truly believes that and truly believes that Bill C-51 in anyway fosters such prejudices than have the courage to vote against the Bill - at least Mr. Mulcair has the courage to do that.


Bernie Farber:

With the decision by the Harper government to appeal the Federal Court ruling on the niqab, it hardly looks as though Harper et al are showing any tolerance whatsoever. With the manner in which the Tories are NOT dealing effectively with refugee matters — most specifically Syrian Muslims and the Roma — once again tolerance is in short order.

In the end we are judged by what we say and do, not by what others say and do. It is quite clear that over a number of years Muslim citizens have been targeted and as a result anger and antipathy towards them has grown. It needs to end.


Marit Stiles:

I agree, Bernie, but what exactly is Trudeau willing to DO to end the targeting? Will he stand with Mulcair and oppose Bill 51 and the infringement on Canadian freedoms? Or will he continue to pander to the polls by offering up his Liberal votes to ensure the bill passes? Again, it's good to see the leader of the third party joining the NDP's call to speak out against prejudice and fear-mongering, but where's the backbone? Where's the substantive action he's proposing? Words are important, but not enough.

Being Prime Minister means being willing to do what's right for Canada and not just pandering to polls. Mr. Trudeau has lost credibility with media and progressives who see his support of Bill 51 as the worst kind of political opportunism. And the problem with pandering to the polls to such a great degree is that it can come back to bite you.

Trudeau's been dogged by opposition on recent campaign-style stops, including at UBC where students were unrelenting in their criticism of his stance on Bill 51, but where he refused to take questions from media.

We do need to stand up against prejudice and hate, but we also need to be willing to stand up and be counted when it the House of Commons, against this Bill.  


John Capobianco:

Bernie, you say, "we are judged by what we say and do not be what others say and do." How can you possibly explain what your Leader said in his speech the other night, while supporting a bill he claims is wrong and, in his mind, justifies his comments?

Bill C-51 — the anti-terrorism act that the Government is introducing and defending— is just that, a law that will deal with terrorism threats which our country is no longer immune from. After the cellphone recording we all witnessed last week, the chilling calmness of his message and the reports we are learning of more Canadians becoming "radicalized", this bill will seek to help our law enforcement officers deal with terrorist threats before they happen.

I think the bill is needed and so do many Canadians who are getting increasingly concerned with what they are watching on the news and from their neighbours. The NDP leader has been consistent — wrong, but consistent — with his opposition to the bill. Mr. Trudeau is playing politics.


Bernie Farber:

Gotta love all this deflection. Marit and John, I must say I find it almost comical that a discussion about Harper and company stoking fears on Muslims becomes a referendum here on Bill C-51 and Justin Trudeau. It only tells me that both my colleagues here believe that Justin is making huge headway with voters. Why otherwise attack him so relentlessly?

So the truth is that it was Mr. Trudeau who understood that some elements of Bill C-51 might be necessary. He has spoken of amendments were he to assume government.

And big surprise, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Mulcair, at first railed against Bill C-51 claiming he would reverse it. Now he has come to see Mr. Trudeau's vision and has backtracked to "amending" the bill, as opposed to reversing it.

But back to the real topic. 

Mr. Harper, at a recent speech last month, intimated that jihadism occurs in Canadian mosques yet offers no real proof of such. Does this not demonize then all Muslims?

We are at a critical and sensitive time. Leaders must be careful not to use their words to poison minds. I truly hope for the sake of our country better words will come out of the PM's mouth in the future.  

About The Salon

John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; Bernie Farber is a former Ontario Liberal candidate and one of Canada's leading human rights experts.
Posted date : February 18, 2015

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