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     The CPC's Racism-Based Campaign Has No Place In Canada

          

      Wouldn't It Be Ironic If It Helps Launch The Liberals - Harper's Most Hated Enemies - Into Power?

 


By Susanna Kelley

It's clear as the niqab on some women's faces: the Conservative Party of Canada has decided that the only way it can win this election is to stir up, and promote - let's just call it what we know it is - racist sentiments in our country.

Long a "third rail" of Canadian politics, the CPC, desperate to win yet stalled in the polls, appear to have turned to the despicable tactic big time after calling in Australian anti-immigrant campaign specialist Lynton Crosby. Mr. Crosby is - ironically, and in what could be his own dog-whistle politics parlance - a "foreigner" to Canadian politics.

The new campaign "tactics" employed by Stephen Harper to save his lagging campaign are being called "dangerous" and "disgusting" by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

He's right.

Most leaders in this country have not only eschewed this kind of toxic politics, but stand four square against it.

Instead, Prime Ministers and party leaders throughout modern Canadian history have worked to do exactly the opposite: unite this country, not divide it.

That's what Canada's policy of multiculturalism - the country's official policy - is supposed to be all about.

From Wilfrid Laurier to Tommy Douglas to John Diefenbaker, and on through Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark, Stanley Knowles, Brian Mulroney, Ed Broadbent, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and Jack Layton, the goal has always been to unify Canadians so they can live peacefully together despite, and in fact in celebration of, their differences. 

But with Stephen Harper, there's a new sheriff in town, and a new brand of "politics."  

Well, not entirely new. Some of those running his campaign cut their teeth on the Mike Harris government, using divide and conquer, beat-up-on-the-vulnerable campaigns to get him into power in Ontario in 1995. They were schooled by right wing Republicans from the US and were the first to import the tactics here.

But they, and Mr. Harper, are defying the traditions of their own party.

This campaign we've seen blatant anti-Muslim racism promoted by the Conservative Party at every opportunity.

First it was the opposition to letting in a serious number of Syrian refugees into Canada. Mr. Harper had to be dragged kicking and screaming to allow only an additional 10,000 when the crisis has reached what former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour calls "biblical proportions."  A far cry from the tens of thousands of refugees Canada let in during crises in Hungary, Vietnam and Kosovo, Harper's numbers just look stingy.

Then there was the purposeful reference to "old stock Canadians" - and despite Mr. Harper's belated definition that that refers to anyone who is a second generation Canadian - many suspected he was telegraphing "white Anglo Saxons", or as Jason Kenney called them, not "people like" Mr. Nenshi, who is unmistakeably a brown-skinned Muslim.

And please, don't tell us it was a slip of the tongue for Mr. Harper to talk about "old stock Canadians" - after nine years as Prime Minister, he's a political pro who knows his every word is parsed for meaning, especially during an election campaign.  Is it a coincidence that Mr. Harper used the terms just after he called in Mr. Crosby?

Just as suddenly, Mr. Harper began pumping up the idea of banning women from wearing the niqab during the public taking of an oath of citizenship.

The fact that this affects just a handful of Canadian women made its choice as a major Conservative campaign issue immediately suspect.

No matter what you think of the niqab - that it is a legitimate choice for a woman to wear any clothing she wants whatever way she wants to whenever she wants to, or that it is a symbol of oppression of women - the fact that wearing a niqab during a citizenship ceremony has been a dilemma faced by almost no one in Canada except for two Muslim women, is suddenly being pushed to the forefront at this late stage of this very long campaign - and oh-so-coincidentally when Mr. Harper's party was stalled in a three-way tie in the polls - speaks volumes.

Then there were revelations that Conservative Party candidate and sitting MP Joyce Bateman read out a list of enemies of Israel - by name - at one of the few all-candidates debates CPC candidates have been allowed to participate in. Reports say retired Canadian Forces lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, who is running for the Liberals in another riding, was one of the names.

And most recently, an announcement by cabinet ministers Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander that the Tories will bring in a "barbaric cultural practices" snitch line so people can report on their neighbours and acquaintances when they ... well, when they what?  Fill in the blank here with whatever you want, supposedly.

Of course, people have always been able to call the police if they witness a true "barbaric practice" - "cultural" or not - any time they want.  

Mr. Harper is entitled to take campaign advice from anyone he wants to. And ok, so Mr. Crosby doesn't like immigrants. That's his right I suppose.

But it's a mistake. There isn't anything more "un-Canadian" and "anti-multiculturalism" than being anti-immigrant in this country.

Politics is a blood sport, and it is certainly not for the faint of heart. Campaigns are tough fights, when leaders give everything they've got and then some. The need to win brings out a competitive blood lust that sometimes prompts usually reasonable people to do things they wouldn't do otherwise.

But leadership is about drawing a line, setting a floor beneath which you won't go, and you let your followers know they just aren't allowed to go there.   

It seems shocking to have to even point out that we in Canada have always held that promoting racism is way below that floor. It's something we're taught in Canadian grade schools, for heaven's sake.

Mr. Harper has not just allowed his campaign to dip below there, he has led the way purposely.

But there's already been quite a backlash against the Conservatives' appeal to anti-Muslim racism and Islamaphobia. Polling data in Quebec shows the party has dropped there since the September 24th French language debate when Mr. Harper first brought up the idea of outlawing the wearing of the niqab during public citizenship ceremonies.

Wouldn't it be ironic if the backlash to these CPC tactics helped propel the Liberals - the party whose existence Mr. Harper most detests - into a position of power whereby they, alone or along with the New Democrats, ultimately defeated the Conservatives?  That is looking like a distinct possibility.

The day after the October 19th election, Canadians will need to take a long, hot shower to get the dirt of this campaign off of all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : October 05, 2015

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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