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

CSIS spying on Canadians: needles and haystacks

The Liberal government promised to undo aspets of draconian anti-terror Bill C-51. We are still waiting.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Photo by Art Babych

In June 2015, the Conservative government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is also known as Bill C-51. It gave sweeping new powers to Canada’s spy and security agencies. For example, the legislation broadened the definition of “security” in a way which could criminalize peaceful protests. It also permitted agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to disrupt events preemptively rather than being limited to monitoring them. Continue reading CSIS spying on Canadians: needles and haystacks

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

‘Globalization of indifference’, ignoring the world’s refugee crisis

 

There are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world. What are we doing about it?
Photo by Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

The world still faces a massive crisis over forcibly displaced people. In 2015, there were more than 65 million — the most since the Second World War. And half were under the age of 18. About 24 million of these people have fled their countries and are counted by the United Nations as refugees. A much larger number, 41 million, are internally displaced, forced to flee their homes but remain within the borders of their countries. In Syria, for example, 6.6 million people are internally displaced, which represents 30 percent of the population. Continue reading ‘Globalization of indifference’, ignoring the world’s refugee crisis

Religion and America’s election, Trump doesn’t do Beatitudes

Religion and the US election. Expect no Beatitudes from Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaking to media in 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore

In her nomination speech to the Democratic National Convention in July, former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described her Methodist faith as the foundation of her activism. “[My mother] made sure I learned the words of our Methodist faith,” she said “‘Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.’” This is almost Sermon-on-the-Mount material, and one hopes that Clinton actually means it.

Trump and evangelicals

Meanwhile, her political rival Donald Trump says that he’s a Presbyterian. But in his nomination speech to the Republican National Convention, he only explicitly mentioned religion while praising evangelical Christians. “I would like to thank the evangelical community,” trump said, “because, I will tell you what, the support they have given me — and I’m not sure I totally deserve it — has been so amazing.” Continue reading Religion and America’s election, Trump doesn’t do Beatitudes

Taking the pledge: The TRC reading challenge

A B.C. writer is challenging Canadians to read the entire report of the Truth and Reconciliation Comission
TRC Commissioners Wilton Littlechild, Murray Sinclair, Marie Wilson, June 2015

It’s been a year since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its report into the history and legacy of Indian residential schools. Yet most of us have probably read little more than snippets of it or none at all. Now, Duncan, B.C.-based writer Jennifer Manuel has created an online campaign asking Canadians to pledge that we’ll read the entire 380-page document. Manuel calls it The TRC Reading Challenge. When she began in April, she hoped to have just 1,000 people sign on, but nearly 3,000 have already done so.

History of the schools

The June 2015 report documents what the TRC heard from 6,700 survivors and witnesses over six years of hearings and research. For more than 130 years, Indian residential schools were organized and largely financed by the government but operated by Canadian churches. An estimated 150,000 Indian, Inuit and Metis children were removed from their homes, often forcibly, to attend. They were punished for speaking their languages, lived in substandard conditions and endured physical, emotional and — in some cases — sexual abuse.

TRC commissioners Murray Sinclair, Wilton Littlechild and Marie Wilson have described what happened in the schools as “cultural genocide,” a term that has also been used by Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, former Prime Minister Paul Martin and others. As such, the report provides 94 recommendations that challenge Canadians to redeem the past by walking in solidarity with Indigenous peoples.

Reasons to read the report

Jennifer Manuel says that there are three underlying principles behind her TRC Challenge: that we care about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada; that we believe improving the relationship requires dialogue, which means listening to truths expressed by Indigenous peoples; and that we prefer to read the TRC report yourself rather than relying on others to interpret it for us.

Aboriginal Day and beyond

Manuel wants those who make the pledge to begin their reading by National Aboriginal Day on June 21. On that day, she’ll use the TRC Challenge website to publish the names of those who have made the promise. “Take as long as you need to read it,” she says. “It’s not a race. It’s a commitment.”

She also hopes that anyone taking up the challenge will invite at least one other person to do so: a friend, a local city councillor, MLA, MP, local news reporter or national journalist. She says that invitation can be made in person, on the phone or by doing so publicly using social media, such as Facebook or Twitter.

I’m among those who have read only portions of the TRC report. It’s a rich resource, both in its historical detail and in the recommendations it makes for reconciliation. No longer is it possible to say that we don’t know what has happened in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the past 150 years.

Download for free

You can find the TRC report online and download it for free. If you prefer to order and pay for the book, you can do so here.

This piece was published as a United Church Observer blog on June 3, 2016.  

Where is Stephen Harper and what will he do now?

Stephen Harper has dropped out of sight. We're waiting to see if he has a passion to contribute anything positive in retirement.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Art Babych photo

Stephen Harper has vanished from sight in the past six months but his Where’s Waldo status may be about to change. Harper will address the Conservative convention in Vancouver late in May.  Recently he also spoke to Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and other Republican super donors about how fractured political parties can unite.

In Canada, Harper last spoke publicly on October 19 when he conceded defeat in the 2015 federal election.  He resigned almost immediately as Conservative leader but remains an MP for the riding of Calgary Heritage. He receives a salary of $167,400 but could collect considerably more in pension each year if he resigned his seat. Continue reading Where is Stephen Harper and what will he do now?

Selling arms to the Saudis, jobs versus human rights

Project Ploughshares andf Cesar Jaramillo blow the whistle on Canada's arms deal with Saudi Arabia
Project Ploughshares executive director Cesar Jaramillo

In December 2014, the Harper government made a deal to sell $15 billion worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, whose regime likely beheads more people than does ISIS. The Trudeau government now says that a deal is a deal and they cannot overturn it, but a recent Angus Reid poll shows that fewer than one in five Canadians believe that abiding by the deal is a good idea. Continue reading Selling arms to the Saudis, jobs versus human rights