The kind of scene that terrifies Lawrence Martin. Photo: Shaun Best/Reuters
Of the various conspiratorial-driven hyperbole-prone Canadian political writers, people like Murray Dobbin or Heather Mallick spring to mind. Which is why I was surprised it wasn’t either writer who penned this ridiculous piece about “rightwing nationalism”, but long-time author and journalist Lawrence Martin.
It takes quite a bit to rile me up these days enough to get me to sit down and put my own thoughts foward, but Martin’s diatribe could not stand. I suppose what bothers me most about the piece is that it seems to ignore all of the evidence pointing to the contrary of his position, which is that far from becoming a more rightwing country, Canada has probably never been more staunchly socialist. I’ll address each of Martin’s points in kind:
Message Control. It’s not central to rightwing nationalism, so much as it is central to modern public relations. You don’t just see it at a federal level either. Increasingly these days you see provinces and municipalities vetting the comments of their public servants, hiring communications officers or spokespeople, in order to deliver a consistent message to the public.
And why is that of primary importance? Well, without disparaging every journalist, which is my occupation, the answer is that the media play a lot of “gotcha” politics with the stories of the day. It’s often safer and prudent to ensure that communications be filtered through a central command, less because anybody has anything to hide, but more because the appearance of deviation from one consistent message is often distorted by the media into something malign.
As a person in the media I find this frustrating. I didn’t like the fact I had to have my interview with a biologist in the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources approved by the bigwigs in the B.C. Liberal government. But, by stepping outside of my job as a journalist I can see the necessity.
Flag-Waving Populism. This one confused me. If anything, the most avid flag-wavers are the newly-minted South Asian and African citizens who want very badly to be Canadian. You see the same thing with the Punjabi and Mandarin penetration of the foreign language broadcasting for NHL games, as immigrants want to feel Canadian by joining in our traditions. Unless Lawrence Martin thinks that a largely multicultural country in which almost everybody is a dual-citizen will somehow start a multicultural fascist party that suddenly becomes xenophobically opposed to sponsoring their own relatives, I don’t quite understand his point.
Less Tolerance. Indeed? Admission targets for 2012 are 259,900 people, not including foreign temporary workers and students. This is consistent with previous years under Conservative rule, although if you include foreign temporary workers and students, the Conservatives set a record for allowing foreigners into Canada in 2007 with 429,649 people. Pretty intolerant, eh?
Having said that, Martin makes a point about the oddly selective decision to uphold who is a Canadian citizen and who isn’t, as evidenced by the Abousfian Abdelrazik fiasco. Either Canada upholds citizenship as a paramount right, or else enshrines in law naturalized and dual citizens as a secondary class.
Anti-Intellectualism. In some respects he’s right. The government’s battle against Vancouver’s legal heroin injection site is baffling, mainly because they’re not fighting it on moral grounds but on medical grounds. But by the same token, many of the Conservative decisions to buck the scientific consensus have been vindicated, particularly by opting out of the Kyoto Protocol, which would have devastated Canada’s economy even more than the financial meltdown has already. Although support for spending money to fight climate change is still strong, it’s clearly declining year over year.
The Smearing of Opponents. And this is a rightwing tactic? It’s true the attack ads on Michael Ignatieff and Stephane Dion were unethical, relying mainly on misquotes and half truths, but it isn’t as though the Conservatives are the only ones playing that dirty game. Having said that, the Conservatives do play the dirtiest, probably because they have a fundraising machine that outearns all other political parties combined.
Anti-Labour Bent. I think the anti-labour movement has been prevalent for more than a decade, long before the Conservatives took power. And the reason for that is obvious. A perfect example is in the recent job action by the B.C. Teacher’s Federation, which has caused teachers to refuse to do their jobs properly, opt out of any non-essential work duties, and pretty much make demands that are unaffordable and unreachable for any government in the current economic climate.
Another example is the greedy Canada Post union, which for whatever reason wanted to keep salaries at $23 an hour to start, which is probably about 120 per cent higher than the free market starting wage for unskilled labour. There is very little sympathy among those of us in the private sector, many of whom have more education and responsibilities, for public sector workers earning inflated salaries that simply don’t compare to the real world. In fact, union collective bargaining agreements are one of the largest source of local government inflation in Canada.
Cult of the Leader. Yes, the cult of leader issue with Harper has been strong, and borderline disturbing. But is it any more disturbing than the orange crush love affair on Jack Layton? What about federal Liberal-supporter and current B.C. premier Christy Clark putting her name in the logo of the B.C. Liberals? Talk about megalomaniacal.
Frankly, most of Martin’s argument don’t wash. What he fails to mention in his column is that social spending by the Conservatives is the highest level Canada has ever seen. He’s expanded social programs like Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan, created regional development agencies, bloated the public sector, and overseen a 22 per cent rise in spending since taking power in 2006. The Harper party governs by a Big Government style that eschews fiscal responsibility for political expediency.
And any of the socially conservative fears of the Harper government have failed to come to pass. No move to restrict abortion, no repealing of the rights and benefits for homosexual marriage, and no infringement of the secular state with religion. All of the fearmongering simply has not come to pass. Even the axing of the gun registry has had moderate support from rural NDP MPs.
Finally, the pro-military shift has been a collective change in Canada, not a rightwing one. After decades of relative pacifism, Kandahar finally thrust Canada into a war where we the public were confronted with casualties on a regular basis. The reaction to that was universal across partisan lines. The loss of life was mourned and the recognition of what our military represents and who they serve was finally brought to the forefront of public consciousness. Though people differed in opinion as to the political reasons for being in Afghanistan, Canadians uniformly supported our men and women in uniform.
I interviewed an Afghan veteran for Remembrance Day, and his thoughts were expressed at the end of this newspaper article:
“Before [the mission] there were times I was afraid to walk down the street in uniform. Now, I walk down the street in uniform, no matter what city in Canada, and someone stops me and thanks me or wants to shake the hand of a soldier.”
No matter what side of the debate you fall on in Afghanistan, says Midan, it has made Canadians realize we have an army and that it’s important.