We need all of our parties, including the Loyal Opposition, to remain committed to the fundamental civic principles of equality, fairness, openness, inclusion and pluralism that should be universal and non-negotiable.
By Ryan McGreal
Published November 28, 2016
Yes, it's true: after a lifetime of being avowedly non-partisan, I have taken the plunge and formally joined a political party - the Conservative Party of Canada! I completed the membership form and paid my $15 and am now a card-carrying Conservative.
I joined for a very specific reason: to participate in the 2017 Conservative Party Leadership Election in order to help prevent the election of a Trumpian xenophobe to the leadership of one of Canada's major parties. Anyone who becomes a member before March 28, 2017 will be allowed to vote in the party leadership election.
It is no secret that an ugly, nativist, paranoid strand of right-wing populism has been gaining traction in countries across the developed world, with overtones that bluntly recall the fascist movements of the 1930s.
Canada is not immune to this social movement. In the 2015 Federal Election, the incumbent Conservatives launched a culture war against women wearing hijabs and proposing a "barbaric cultural practices" snitch line to stoke fear and resentment against visible minorities. Predictably, instances of hate crimes and attacks against visible minorities spiked during and after that nasty campaign.
The Conservatives ended up losing their control of the House of Commons in that election and were relegated to the Loyal Opposition. It's easy to interpret that as a rebuke against their race-baiting, but remember that Conservative candidates still received 31.89 percent of the popular vote.
The face of the proposed "barbaric cultural practices" snitch line, Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch, is now running for leadership of the Conservative Party and has doubled down on the same white nationalist politics in her leadership platform.
Her signature proposal is to start "screening immigrants, refugees, and visitors, for anti-Canadian values." The language of her proposal is filled with nationalist dog-whistles about "identity" and "historic Canadian values", yet she consistently refuses to define what "Canadian values" are or what questions she thinks immigrants and refugees should have to answer.
Leitch's campaign manager is Nick Kouvalis, who you may remember was the campaign manager for Rob Ford when he ran for mayor of Toronto in 2010, surprising the pundits by winning. Kouvalis also worked on the Conservative Party's 2011 election campaign, where the party finally won a majority in the House of Commons.
Canada's Conservative elders are already lining up to speak out against Leitch's campaign. Former Prime Minister Joe Clark is "disappointed" she is following the pollsters, while retired senators Hugh Segal and Graham Fox disavowed her campaign, prompting a Leitch spokesperson to dismiss them as "elites".
(Aside: take a moment to reflect on the cognitive dissonance of an orthopedic paediatric surgeon and former Government Minister running for leadership of a major party complaining about "elites" in politics.)
Stop me if you've heard this story before. The same cynical strategy of stoking resentment, fear and ethnic nationalism that drove the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump in the United States is trying to entrench itself in Canada, too.
I've never been a member of any political party before, and I have voted for candidates affiliated with at least five different political parties - including the Conservatives - in various elections since I was old enough to vote.
I decided to join the Conservatives in order to prevent the takeover of a major party at the hands of dangerous extremists whose politics threaten to undermine the fundamental values that all political parties in a liberal democracy should proudly hold in common.
I firmly and unequivocally believe that Canada as a whole needs a Conservative Party that is not batshit crazy, and my decision to join the Party was made with gravity and sincerity.
I finally decided that it is not enough for me to wash my hands and say the Conservatives are not my problem, and $15 seems like a reasonable price to pay to get a say in how one of the main political parties in Canada shapes itself over the next several years.
I feel duty-bound to speak out meaningfully against this dangerous strand of extremism wherever it manifests so that it does not get the chance to grow and metastasize throughout the body politic as it already has in other countries.
In order to join the Conservatives, I had to affirm that I meet all the eligibility requirements. One of those requirements is to support the founding principles of the Conservative Party. Toward that end, I reviewed the Policy Declaration [PDF] of the Party, last updated in June 2016.
I was pleased to see that there is nothing in the founding principles with which I fundamentally disagree. I strongly agree with the "belief in the equality of all Canadians", "the freedom of the individual, including freedom of speech, worship and assembly", "our constitutional monarchy, the institutions of Parliament and the democratic process", and so on.
I also strongly agree that "the quality of the environment is a vital part of our heritage to be protected by each generation for the next" and that "Canada should accept its obligations among the nations of the world" and of course that "all Canadians should have reasonable access to quality health care regardless of their ability to pay".
I even agree with "a balance between fiscal accountability, progressive social policy and individual rights and responsibilities" - though of course reasonable people can respectfully debate and negotiate over how best to strike that balance.
Likewise, I agree that "it is the responsibility of individuals to provide for themselves, their families and their dependents, while recognizing that government must respond to those who require assistance and compassion". Again, reasonable people can respectfully debate and negotiate over who requires assistance and compassion and how best to provide it.
The fact that I can agree with the Conservative Party's founding principles is precisely my point: the Conservative Party's fundamental beliefs are those very core values of a liberal democracy that all major parties share.
What worries me is the serious possibility that under the leadership of a xenophobic extremist, the Conservative Party could effectively abandon those fundamental principles.
I don't always agree with the Conservative Party's policy positions, but I recognize that at its root, the Conservative Party stands for the same fundamental values of a liberal democracy as all the major parties, and that they all share a lot more in common than their policy disagreements seem to indicate.
I am genuinely worried, however, that Canada's Conservative movement is at serious risk of following its American counterpart's lead and drifting away from those core values of human rights and civil society into dangerous extremism.
Parliamentary democracy is a robust system of traditions, practices and values, but its capacity to function as an effective system of government will be strained if a major party comes to abandon the shared values of civility, plurality and fair dealing that make liberal democratic government possible in the first place.
What the American election has taught me is that when we stand by and allow a major party to be taken over by extremists who maintain their own parallel reality of hyper-partisanship, fake news, rampant conspiracy theories and paranoia, it becomes impossible for well-meaning people to find common ground on shared basic values.
We need for all of our parties, including the Loyal Opposition, to remain committed to the fundamental civic principles of equality, fairness, openness, inclusion and pluralism that should be non-negotiable core values.
All we have to do is look across the border to see, in fascinating and horrifying detail, what can happen when one of the major parties abandons this basic commitment to universal human rights and begins constructing a parallel communications universe of paranoid identity politics, resentment, hatred and discrimination.
My Canada has room for everyone, and I will fight to protect Canadian plurality against Trumpian hatred and paranoia.
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