Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once denounced his rivals for seeking to instrumentalize acts of terror for political gain. He promised he would never stoop so low.
After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the then freshly elected Liberal Leader was widely criticized for suggesting that the appropriate response in the face of such terror was to look at the “root causes” that led its perpetrators (two Muslim-American brothers of Kyrgyz origin) to feel “completely at war with innocents.”
Then prime minister Stephen Harper ridiculed his Liberal rival, accusing him of “sitting around trying to rationalize” terrorism.
Mr. Trudeau shot back: “I really hope that Mr. Harper rethinks the extent he’s willing to personally attack people and politicize tragedies like that.”
On Monday, however, Mr. Trudeau chose to instrumentalize the killing of 50 Muslim worshippers at two New Zealand mosques and call out Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer for his failure to repudiate anti-Muslim sentiment among his own supporters.
“We have to chase out this hatred from our parties, fight it online, denounce it at town halls, push back when it reaches our front door,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Politicians often say that it’s not a time to talk politics, but that instead we should grieve and support the affected communities. … This is exactly the time to talk politics.”
Mr. Trudeau did not mention Mr. Scheer by name. He did not need to. His remarks in the House of Commons were greeted enthusiastically by Liberals and sought to put the Conservative Leader between a rock and Maxime Bernier, who has made his People’s Party a safe space for those who seek to vent their anti-immigration views.
Mr. Bernier has refused to “play the game” that invariably follows terrorist acts in foreign countries. On Saturday, after the New Zealand attack, he tweeted: “I won’t utter platitudes about situations over which I have zero influence, nor send my ‘thoughts and prayers’ to people abroad who have never heard of me, just to score political points.”
Such comments offer comfort to those who flirt with the same white-supremacist ideology that motivated the alleged New Zealand mosque shooter. In the 74-page manifesto Brenton Tarrant posted online before the attack, he said his goal was “to show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands.” He invoked the “replacement theory” enunciated by French anti-immigration essayist Renaud Camus, according to which the “white race” is under threat due to higher birth rates among visible minorities.
Mr. Tarrant wrote he had witnessed this for himself on a visit to France: “I found my emotions swinging between fuming rage and suffocating despair at the indignity of the invasion of France, the pessimism of the French people, the loss of culture and identity and the farce of political solutions offered."
Mr. Bernier appears to have no qualms about encouraging anti-immigration sentiment in Canada. But Mr. Scheer is making a fatal mistake if he seeks to avoid offending the very people Mr. Bernier is courting, just because it might cost the Conservatives votes. What’s at stake is not just the next election, but the very soul of the Conservative Party.
Mr. Scheer was forced to issue a second statement after his initial reaction to the New Zealand shootings was criticized for making no mention of the fact that the shooter directly targeted Muslim worshippers. The omission could hardly have been an oversight.
Mr. Scheer should be given the benefit of the doubt for insisting he had not heard a recent town-hall questioner’s reference to Pizzagate – a fictitious online conspiracy theory that, in 2016, linked then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to a child sex ring in Washington. But his speech last month before a pro-pipeline rally on Parliament Hill, at which anti-immigrant placards were brandished by some crowd members, raises questions about his judgment.
Mr. Scheer’s failure to repudiate growing anti-immigration sentiment is a huge political mistake that will deepen the stain on the Conservative brand Mr. Harper created by banning the niqab at citizenship ceremonies and promising to set up a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline during the 2015 election campaign.
Mr. Scheer’s unwillingness to offend those who spew anti-immigration rhetoric makes it easier for Mr. Trudeau to get away with attacks like the one he made on Monday. It will cost Mr. Scheer, his party and the country dearly if the Conservative Leader keeps up with it.