In the permanent campaign that is modern politics, rhetorical overkill is a temptation more often entertained than resisted. A good example of this is the current skirmish between the Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney over immigration to this country.
“Skirmish” is perhaps the wrong word, since it implies an exchange of blows on a common field of combat. Here it’s more a case of someone first saying something somewhere – in this instance, Dr. Suzuki in an interview published in the July 1 issue of the Paris weekly L’Express – and the other party taking issue with those statements a few days after the fact in another forum: Mr. Kenney on Twitter.
Replying near the end of the interview to a question as to what he thinks of the opposition of some Australian environmentalists to further immigration because the country’s natural resources can’t support it, Dr. Suzuki says, in French: “Oh, I believe Canada is full (plein) also. Even though it’s the second largest country in the world, our useful area is reduced. Our immigration policy is disgusting (écoeurante): we plunder southern countries to deprive them of their future leaders, and we wish to increase our population to support economic growth. It’s crazy (dingue)!”
Dr. Suzuki is hardly alone in holding these eminently contestable yet quite legitimate views. And, indeed, they have been held by many illustrious thinkers (Thomas Malthus, anyone?) over the centuries. But then he goes and spoils it all by using the words “disgusting” and “crazy.” Unsurprisingly, such unnecessarily harsh, red-flag language, coming at the end of a rather long interview in which Dr. Suzuki is critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s record on science and the environment, has drawn the attention of Mr. Kenney. Long one of the government’s most energetic polemicists, Mr. Kenney has got his own rhetoric working in high dudgeon in recent days, tweeting in both official languages that Dr. Suzuki is “xenophobic” and his comments “toxic and irresponsible.”
Clearly, calmer talk and cooler minds are what’s required here. But are we going to get it in a “gotcha” era where, to mix metaphors, no axe is too small to grind, even the smallest morsel is grist for the political mill and language is too quickly heated by unreasonable degrees?