With the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership race in full swing, a fairly crowded Rogues Gallery of potato-faced Bay Street-ers and lightweight racists have come out of the woodwork to diagnose our country’s ills and declare themselves the solution. Candidates range from the generally uninspiring (like Maxime Bernier, who actually has Cabinet experience but also left sensitive documents at his former girlfriend’s place, leading to his resignation in 2008), to the downright scary (Kellie Leitch, one of the faces of Harper’s disastrous “Barbaric Cultural Practices Tipline” , who finds positivity in Donald Trump’s presidency and wants to subject newcomers to Canada [read: Muslims] to some kind of “Canadian values test”, as if the existing commitment by all immigrants and refugees to obey Canadian law isn’t enough; or Kevin O’Leary, the loud-mouthed, U.S.-dwelling reality star who hasn’t lived in Canada in years and, as demonstrated by his offer to give Alberta’s oil industry $1 million in exchange for Rachel Notley’s resignation, has a frighteningly insufficient grasp of both fundamental democratic principles and of the problems facing our nation). Generally speaking, both hard-line right-wing conservatives and the CPC leadership candidates watched Trump’s ascendency to the U.S. Presidency, realized that his no-apologies, “alternative-facts”, bigoted and bullying strategies actually WORKED, and are wondering if those same tactics should, or could, be successfully employed here in Canada.
The answer, unfortunately, is yes. While some may say that Stephen Harper’s hard xenophobic turn in his last campaign as Prime Minister lost him the 2015 federal election, it’s important to remember that he’d been the Prime Minister for a LONG TIME (almost ten years, which tends to tire out an electorate that sometimes chooses change just for the sake of it) and even some conservatives had begun to chafe under his dictatorial leadership style and his general disdain for most Canadians. It’s also important to note that even with Harper’s misguided focus on identity politics (see his hissy-fits over niqabs and “barbaric cultural practices”), the strategic voting strategies researched and promoted by groups such as Leadnow to oust him, and his general “dangers at our shores” lack of charisma contrasted with Trudeau’s youthful “sunny ways” charm, the CPC still retained 99 seats in the House of Commons (making them the Official Opposition) and just under 32% of the popular vote. Which means that the Conservative Party of Canada, ham-fisted as its most recent campaign was, still has a lot of support. Otherwise forgettable leadership candidates like Leitch and Brad Trost know that the harder they push their bigoted rhetoric, the more media coverage they’ll get, and the more likely it is that they will be able to ride that media attention and hard-right sentiment to the top of the party and maybe, just maybe, to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Since Justin Trudeau is stupid and a liar and has abandoned his promise to reform Canada’s electoral system, the likelihood of a Trump-like CPC candidate securing a majority government in the next election is actually not that unthinkable. Canada’s alt-right movement (and there is one) has been galvanized by Trump’s election, Ezra Levant’s Breitbart-esque media outlet, Rebel Media, and by general and strongly-felt disgust with the failings (real or perceived) of the country’s “progressive” governments (like Trudeau’s federally or Kathleen Wynne’s in Ontario or Notley’s in Alberta). These voices are loud, and they get a lot of attention, and attention (whether positive or negative) can put someone in office (as we’ve seen clearly demonstrated in the U.S.). Meanwhile, left-wing voters who held their noses and cast their ballots for the Liberals in the last federal election (many people specifically FOR Trudeau’s platform on electoral reform) have been completely turned off by Trudeau’s myriad broken promises (to have a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations communities, to secure social license before approving major resource projects like pipelines, to be more transparent, the aforementioned electoral reform, etc.). Many of these voters are not going to give Trudeau another chance. This could be a boon for the NDP and Green Party, who could potentially gain more seats in the House as opposition parties, but would ultimately split the “non-conservative” vote once again, possibly paving the way for another CPC government. Yay.
This is why all civic-minded Canadians, and not just conservative voters, need to be paying attention to the CPC leadership race. Whoever wins may very well become our next Prime Minister, shaping the nation and our lives within it. We need that person to be even-keeled, a respectable presence on the world stage. If we care at all about human rights or human dignity, we also need that person not to be a xenophobe.
One of the political voices I have appreciated the most in recent weeks has actually been that of Michael Chong, MP of Wellington-Halton Hills. As Canada (and the international community) reeled in the wake of the deadly Islamophobia-inspired terrorist shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, and Trump’s catastrophic “travel ban” saw thousands of innocent Muslim travelers detained or turned away from the U.S., CPC candidates like Leitch continued to peddle their Made-in-Canada brands of exclusion. Chong (himself a child of Dutch and Chinese immigrants), took the high road, issuing a statement reminding Canadians that our immigration screening system is already one of the most robust in the world, and condemning those of his opponents attempting to reap political benefits by “espousing hate”. He is also one of the few CPC leadership candidates to openly and unreservedly support motion M-103, which would commit the Canadian government to condemning Islamophobia. (Chong maintains that this motion would not single out Islam for special treatment, noting that the House has previously denounced hatred against other religious groups, including Jews and Egyptian Coptic Christians).
Admittedly, Chong’s environmental platform is a bit thin, but at least he has one. Promoting a revenue-neutral carbon tax at least assumes that Chong, unlike many conservatives, believes that climate change exists and that reducing emissions is something worth doing (baby steps). Unfortunately, his support for a carbon tax alongside his support for our current immigration system will likely hurt him in his leadership campaign. With many Canadian families hit hard by oil’s recent and ongoing downturn and Islamophobic fear-mongering splashing across the news on an almost daily basis in the past few years, few of the CPC’s increasingly hard-right voters are going to care about the nuances that differentiate Evil Rachel Notley’s Evil Carbon Tax from the revenue-neutral scheme Chong is proposing. Nor are they going to care about the difference between a law-abiding Canadian immigrant (or citizen) going about her business in a niqab and a fundamentalist jihadist bent on destruction (or about the fact that the recent jihad-based terror attacks/attempts in Canada were planned and perpetrated by home-grown Canadians, not immigrants or refugees).
Obviously, Michael Chong is not perfect and, as a life-long leftist, I could never support everything in his platform. Still, if I can’t have an NDP Prime Minister (and it seems I can’t, since there are still no viable NDP leadership candidates in sight), and if Trudeau is going to keep pissing people off on both sides of the political spectrum, and if the next Prime Minister of Canada is going to be a Conservative (which is highly possible), I’d rather it be Michael Chong than anybody else.