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Can a racist, Trump-like campaign work in Canada? In the last federal election, some accused Stephen Harper of running an anti-Muslim campaign. Was his defeat proof that Trump-like tactics cannot work here?  Is the analogy simply incorrect (i.e. Harper did not run such a campaign?)? Or did Canada dodge a bullet? Bernie Farber, John Capobianco and Marit Stiles weigh in.


Marit Stiles:

As Donald Trump rolls out his hate-filled vitriol down south, a lot of Canadians pat ourselves on the back, thanking the gods that "that would never happen here" - as if the federal election of 2015 wasn't less than four months ago. Yes, that election. The election of the "Barbaric Cultural Practices Tip Line" and the niqab debate.

Can an appeal to racism ever work here in Canada? You bet it can. And it has.

In one form or another, wedge politics has been used effectively and repeatedly in Canada. Think back to 1995 in Ontario when the Harris Conservatives exploited fears of beer-swilling, welfare-cheating, pregnant moms, and you'll recall that - especially in times of economic uncertainty - politicians can very effectively exploit our worst fears and biases.

Of course, those tactics can also backfire. The Conservatives' use of the niqab issue to (effectively) decimate the NDP's support in Quebec worked. Thomas Mulcair did the right thing when he stood up to the bullies and declared his unequivocal support for a woman's right to wear the niqab in a citizenship ceremony. He did it knowing that this would cost him seats in Quebec, but he did it anyway.

The irony is that while this had the desired effect in Quebec of causing a significant dip in the polls (17 points overnight) in the NDP's support, it also had the effect of coalescing support for the anti-Harper forces in Ontario and the GTA in particular, around the Liberals (and I would argue despite Trudeau's less-than-clear positioning on the issue).


Bernie Farber:

I partially agree with Marit: yes, an appeal to our hidden darkness can from time to time have resonance.

However I believe Canadians' more positive angels always surface in the end. For example, Canadians did not buy into the Conservative meme that targeted Muslims and in fact became a country willing and able to extend a hand and a heart to desperate Syrian refugees.

Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair both stood tall against attempts by Stephen Harper to demonize Muslims. The Liberals turned the refugee issue on its head by being willing to take in thousands of refugees, far more than other leaders.

Canadians may from time to time dip a small toe into intolerance but inevitably they move in the proper way, and good for us.


John Capobianco:

I take serious issue with any suggestion that Trump's political tactics in anyway are similar to that of Harper's in the recent election campaign. There is a significant difference between making a campaign pledge to have niqabs removed during a citizenship ceremony and Trump's suggestion to build a wall around the U.S. and ban all Muslims from coming into the country.

Look, not to rehash the 2015 election campaign, since we have done that on these pages a few times, but I do believe that election campaigns should be about policy issues and setting out a vision which appeals to a political party's base, but yet has the ability to reach as many Canadians as possible, since no one party will ever win with 80% of the vote. That said, being real and truthful should not be mistaken for fear mongering as my two friends have suggested.

Bernie, I to agree that Canadians do not tolerate and should not tolerate hate, but for you to say that Harper demonized Muslims is absolutely nonsense. And as for the refugee issue - it was Harper who, long before the campaign and the sad death of Alan Kurdi, announced he would bring in 10,000 refugees by year-end. Hmmm, despite the PM's grand announcement to bring in 25,000 by year-end, I think the actual number of refugees accepted was around 10,000.

Marit Stiles:

Ooookay, so I am not going to re-enter the endless debate about who has been the greater defender of refugees. Let's all just agree that we are all working together to do our best, and it's a great moment. Let's hope it continues.

But, sorry John, I don't think it's such a stretch to compare "Culturally Barbaric Practices Tip Lines" or the attack on the use of niqabs during citizenship ceremonies to Trump-style use of racism. It's all wedge politics, though certainly Trump has added a particularly shameless bluster to it all. The point is that that kind of divisive politics plays to the worst in folks. And I could not agree more that there should no place for hate and racism in politics.

Unfortunately though, there is and has been and sadly may continue to be a place, if Trump's racist diatribes continue and are, unfortunately, rewarded. He's shouting, "Look at me! Look at me!"  And sadly, everyone is looking.

This kind of "dog whistle" politics is a speciality of the likes of Lynton Crosby, the Australian campaign-fixer who notoriously helped the hateful Liberal government of John Howard win several elections.

Yeah, you remember him? The guy that the Conservative Party brought in to advise on their campaign. "Dog whistle politics" refers to the use of code words that seem benign to the general population but which are intended to send veiled messages - usually racist or otherwise hateful - to targeted groups.

I don't disagree with either John or Bernie that this kind of politics should have no place in Canada. I hope some people have learned their lessons. But I fear that it won't be the last we see of it.


Bernie Farber:

John, with deepest respect, I have to agree with Marit. What else can we call it but “demonization”? First Harper targets niqabs (only Muslim women wear niqabs), and then the Conservative party puts forward the “Barbaric Practices" snitch line that everyone knew targeted Muslims.

Whether you admit it or choose to remain oblivious, these issues were an attempt to bring Islam into the election in a way that simply stoked fear and yes, hatred.

On the refugee issue, it's heart I am talking about. Yes it’s true that the government was unable to meet its lofty target of 25,000. But it tried hard and that is what Canadian expected of their leadership. They saw in the Tories a party that wanted little or nothing to do with Syrian refugees until the electorate forced them into it.

In the end, the good news is that Trump got trumped Monday night in Iowa; the bad news is that another bigot and zealot won and he is Canadian by birth: Ted Cruz. Go figure.

The better news is that here in Canada we now have a government that is more reflective of our good angels. May our good angels be our guiding lights.


John Capobianco:

I think the very nature of politics and the process of having competing political parties with different visions campaigning to win as many votes as possible is a recipe for wedge politics.

We live in a vibrant democracy and when voters speak by way of elections, they are seldom wrong. I have given credit to Bernie and my Liberal friends for their win and as a Conservative it sucks to lose.  But I know that the Liberals (even the NDP if it had won) will govern to what they believe is in the best interest of Canadians. I respect that, and we all owe it to them to hope they succeed for the sake of our country and democracy.

However, whether you believe that hope is a strategy or in telling the hard cold truth facing us in a world where there are people who want to destroy the very democracy our brave men and women fought for in order for us to live in freedom, we have to ensure that Canadians always have the information they need to make informed choices.

That said, people will disagree on issues, especially issues dealing with one's emotions, but I remain a hopeful optimist that we, as Canadians, will always see the best in politicians and what they are trying to accomplish for our country.




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