Conservative leadership race, dog whistles and wannabe demagogues

The Conservative leadership race features dog whistle politics and wannabe demagogues
Conservative leader candidate, MP Kellie Leitch. Photo by Art Babych

The Conservative leadership race involves an unwieldy group of 14 candidates — only four of whom might be seen as fit for the office. They are former cabinet ministers, including the impressive Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt and Erin O’Toole, as well as Andrew Scheer, a former speaker of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, among them, only Chong is fully fluent in French. But each would encourage a bigger tent Conservative Party than was possible under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who came to politics through the hard-bitten Reform Party.

Still, it’s quite possible that none among these candidates will ever win. This competition is occurring at a time when right-wing populist parties in Europe and the U.S. are being led by people with little or no experience in public life. Rather than acknowledging their lack of knowledge, they simply flaunt it.

Here in Canada, there are at least two Conservative leadership contenders attempting to emulate politicians, such as U.S. President Donald Trump, who never held public office prior to becoming the commander in chief. One candidate is Kevin O’Leary, who actually lives in Boston and spends most of his time in the U.S., even while participating in a Canadian leadership race. Of course, he makes no apologies for just visiting. O’Leary is a fund manager and television personality, who happens to be short on knowledge of policy. He claims, for example, that he’d do away with unions even though the right to free association is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A second candidate attempting to channel Trump’s victory to her advantage is Kellie Leitch, an MP and former cabinet minister in a Harper government. Leitch, who had decidedly limited visibility, has — in the words of one political scientist — decided to “light [herself] on fire to get attention.” For instance, she invited profile by promising to pre-screen immigrants for their potential “anti-Canadian values.” Other candidates, in response, have accused her of playing “dog-whistle politics” and of being a “wannabe demagogue.”

Also running against the liberal “elites,” Leitch sent out a fundraising email immediately following the recent U.S. election. “Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president,” Leitch said. “It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada, as well.” But Leitch is hardly an outsider. She is an orthopedic surgeon who has involved herself in Conservative backrooms and election campaigns for years. As for the common touch, back in January, Leitch responded to a question that she didn’t appreciate by snapping, “Please understand that I do have 22 letters at the end of my name, I’m not an idiot.”

A succession of Conservative leaders, including Robert Stanfield and Joe Clark, once attempted to create a more moderate and inclusive party. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney parlayed that effort into a decade in power. But under Harper, a right-wing cabal moved to the centre of power although governing did impose some discipline. Today, in opposition and disarray, the Conservatives just may turn to a self-described outsider — a “wannabe demagogue” — to lead them.

This piece ran with the United Church Observer on March 9,2017

Slayings in Quebec mosque, words are weapons too

Ottawa demo against Islamophobia on Feb. 4. Photo by Dennis Gruending
Ottawa demo against Islamophobia on Feb. 4. Photo by Dennis Gruending

We are heartsick about the killing of six men and the injury of several others in a Quebec City mosque on Jan 29. Those who were shot and killed as they prayed were Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane and Azzedine Soufiane Aboubaker Thabti. A  27-year-old Laval University student, Andre Bissonnette, has been charged with six counts of murder and others of attempted murder. Continue reading Slayings in Quebec mosque, words are weapons too

Freeland, Trudeau are true believers, but free trade mantra blows up

Chrystia Freeland says free trade raises all boats, but does it really?
Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister. Creative Commons photo.

Canada’s new minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland, was recruited into politics by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and is influential in his inner circle. They share a belief common amongst international bankers, industrialists and many politicians that free trade and globalization are automatically good for us and that it would be dangerous to tamper with them. Continue reading Freeland, Trudeau are true believers, but free trade mantra blows up

Rev. George Tomita, a wonderful man leaves us

Rev. George Tomita, a wonderful man dies
Rev. George and Amy Tomita

I attended a funeral in Ottawa on January 20 for Rev. George Tomita, a 95-year-old retired United Church minister. I met George and his gracious wife Amy more than 20 years ago when he officiated at the marriage of our next door neighbours. We kept in touch, if only occasionally. I posted a brief story about George in 2014. I am repeating it here.    Continue reading Rev. George Tomita, a wonderful man leaves us

Year-ender in which a humble scribe admits mistakes

Scientist and evangelical Katharine Hayhoe talks effecrively to fellow Christians about climate change
Katharine Hayhoe, scientist and evangelical. Photo courtesy of Katharine Hayhoe.com

Jeffrey Simpson, the excellent but now retired columnist for The Globe and Mail would write at year’s end about what he got right — and where he had been wrong. I intend to try something similar with this blog posting. Continue reading Year-ender in which a humble scribe admits mistakes

Justin Trudeau “disengaged” on nuclear weapons file

Critics say Justin Trudeau is “disengaged” on the nuclear weapons file.
Justin Trudeau “disengaged” on nuclear weapons file. Art Babych photo.

At the United Nations in late October 123 countries voted in favour of a recommendation endorsing the launch of negotiations aimed at prohibiting nuclear weapons. Canada voted no. Douglas Roche, this country’s former Ambassador for Disarmament at the UN is clearly piqued. “The government turned its back on an important nuclear disarmament initiative,” he says, “and sided with the nuclear weapons states that want to keep and modernize their nuclear arsenals for the rest of the 21st century.”

Roche adds, “The blame for the Canadian diplomatic debacle belongs squarely on the desk of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose office won’t even answer letters or phone calls from high-ranking persons trying to alert him to the need for Canadian action.” Roche says that Trudeau seems “disengaged” on nuclear arms control and that his government has undermined the nuclear disarmament work championed by his father Pierre Trudeau.  Continue reading Justin Trudeau “disengaged” on nuclear weapons file

At Machzikei Hadas synagogue, a rally against hate

More than 600 gathered for a multi-faith solidarity event in Ottawa to combat racism and xenophobia
Line up at Machzikei Hadas synagogue for multi-faith solidarity event. Photo by Dennis Gruending

On Nov. 19, I was among 600 people crowded into Ottawa’s Machzikei Hadas synagogue for a multi-faith solidarity event. Earlier in the week, someone painted racist and Nazi graffiti on two Ottawa synagogues and a mosque, as well as a United Church whose minister is a person of colour and the residence of a Jewish woman, who teaches in her home. Even in blustery weather, there was a long line outside of the synagogue. But once inside, I felt nothing but warmth. Continue reading At Machzikei Hadas synagogue, a rally against hate

Dr. Doug Gruner, warm welcome is key to refugee integration

Dr. Doug Gruner says warm welcome is key to refugee integration
Dr. Doug Gruner, warm welcome is key to refugee integration

Dr. Doug Gruner says that a welcoming approach toward refugees is a key to their successful integration into Canadian life, and access to healthcare is vital to the process.

Gruner practices at the Bruyère Family Medicine Centre in Ottawa. He spoke recently to a class at the Ottawa School of Theology and Spirituality (OSTS). “Once we make a decision to accept refugees,” he said, “it is our responsibility to provide them with health care.” Continue reading Dr. Doug Gruner, warm welcome is key to refugee integration