It’s a rough couple of days online for the Conservative Party of Canada. Last week, Senator Denise Batters insinuated on Twitter that Liberal MP Omar Alghabra was unsuited to appear on CBC to discuss Canada’s diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia because he was Saudi-born himself. Then Lakeland Tory MP Shannon Stubbs displayed an amazing ignorance about how criminal law works while getting mad online about the appointment of Omar Khadr’s lawyer to a federal court. Then former foreign minister John Baird appeared on Saudi TV to support the Kingdom’s grievances against Canada, which is an excellent look for an erstwhile human rights champion turned international mining consultant.
Finally, Maxime Bernier rolled up to the party. Incensed by a video of the prime minister saying “diversity is our strength,” Bernier wrote a six-tweet thread about how “Trudeau’s extreme multiculturalism and the cult of diversity” will “destroy what has made [Canada] such a great country.” Woof! He then circled back this morning to chirp CTV for misrepresenting him in a headline claiming he said “diversity would destroy Canada.” (Bernier actually said “more diversity” would destroy Canada, which is a crucial distinction because he loves a normal amount of diversity.)
We can never know the mind of Mad Max. While it’s tempting to write this off as another instance of Tories importing Trumpian politics to Canada, the actual content of Bernier’s Twitter rant is ancient. “Trudeau’s extreme multiculturalism and cult of diversity will destroy Canada” is verbatim something you’d see printed in a prairie paper op-ed in 1981. Beyond its medium, the only really “2018” thing about Bernier’s tweets is when he posted “something infinitely diverse has no core identity and ceases to exist,” a nonsense phrase whose pseudo-depth is a dead giveaway for Petersonian brain poisoning.
Otherwise, this is all classic conservative Canada. His bit about multiculturalism balkanizing Canada into “little tribes” united in nothing but “dependence on government” and leeching taxpayer money for “special privileges” was the bog-standard right-wing criticism of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms since it was but a glimmer in Pierre Trudeau’s eye.
There is a rich tradition of right-wing populism in Canada. Before eventually transforming into the Canadian Alliance and then merging with the Progressive Conservatives in 2003, the Reform Party of Canada was at the front line of the culture war in Canada. They had to do this under the leadership of Preston Manning, whose entire political career hinged on the belief that raw right-wing ideas are too freaky for mainstream society and so social conservatives need to stay quiet until long after securing government. Of course, subtlety in the 80s and 90s was different; Reform was transparently anti-gay, anti-feminist, and anti-French. Until 1991, Reform’s official immigration policy included opposition to any migration that “dramatically alters Canada’s ethnicity,” i.e. fear of a “white genocide.” (Public and media backlash made them walk it back—imagine!)
It’s an academic question how much the legacy of Reform continues to shape Canadian politics—certainly Stephen Harper, its most cherished disciple, betrayed or abandoned nearly all of the actual “reforms” demanded by the party once he became prime minister. It’s also doubtful that Maxime Bernier is consciously invoking the party’s spectre when he goes off about multiculturalism on Twitter, because you don’t need to study 30-year-old policy platforms in order to pick up malignant ideas about immigration on the internet today. I’m just observing that this tree has deep roots in Canada, and given the political climate of hateful hot air these days it’s not surprising to see it start shooting up suckers.
But Bernier was kind enough to show us how this old rhetorical shell-game about “diversity” works. His addendum to CTV insisted that he was not a critic of “diversity” in and of itself, just the pursuit of “more diversity” and “ever more diversity” in the name of multiculturalism.
The complaint of right-wing resentment in Canada is always the same: “political correctness has gone too far.” Opposition to “more diversity” is always opposition to diversity as such. The goalposts just have to keep moving every time a minority group wins a social victory.
If Twitter existed in 2000, there is an outsized chance that Young Stephen Harper or someone similar would have some cutting thread about how same-sex marriage would be the ruin of us all. If we had it in ‘93, it’d be some Reformer’s ten-tweet rant about the indignity of Sikh RCMP officers wearing turbans. If we had it during patriation in 1982, professor Garth Stevenson would probably be making the exact same racist posts about “snivelling aboriginals” as he is today. There is nothing new under the sun!
As it stands, whether or not Bernier’s bozo eruption has roots in Canada’s proud Reform tradition, Manning almost certainly would have canned him from his caucus for airing such controversial ideas in public. It’s less clear how Andrew Scheer will respond. He already removed Bernier from his shadow cabinet in June after the latter posted a book chapter online blasting the CPC leaders as having won his post illegitimately. There is clearly no love lost between them and it would be easy for Scheer to throw Bernier under the bus if necessary.
It’s just no longer clear whether or not any further discipline will be necessary. The hard right tack of the last several months has worked well for Conservative fundraising. Why fix what’s not broken?
Unlike the dark ages of the Manning years, freaking out the squares with your regressive opinions is a feature of right-wing politics these days—not a bug.
Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.
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