As the Liberal Party continues to sink deeper into the muck around the SNC-Lavalin controversy, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer seems delighted. He’s seizing the moment and the spotlight – on Tuesday, an Ipsos poll showed Conservative Party support at 36 per cent – a slim lead over the Liberals.
The same day, he energetically gave the ruling party “one last chance” to come clean. Mr. Scheer also ensured reporters that he’s been much more transparent about his own interactions with the Montreal-based company.
Here’s another issue the CPC and its Leader are going to have to clarify between now and Oct. 21: How exactly they feel about the far-right. Intolerant, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ sentiments have been pushed into mainstream politics in the United States and all over Europe and are most certainly bubbling here. They aren’t issues to be ignored, or evaded.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier is leaning right in. As soon as he formed the People’s Party of Canada last fall, he began railing against “extreme multiculturalism” and declaring that, while diversity is great, we definitely don’t need any more of it. In the current by-election in Burnaby South, B.C. the PPC candidate is best known for opposing inclusive sex education.
Sure, Mr. Bernier declares “racists are not welcome in this party” but deterring them is another thing – consider that U.S. President Donald Trump is also still denying that he’s a racist. Let’s learn from our neighbour’s mistakes and not let semantics exaggerate the divide between xenophobes and the xenophobic-adjacent.
Mr. Scheer has yet to draw his own clear line. And as the United We Roll convoy drove into Ottawa on Tuesday, he once again avoided pushing anyone out of his tent.
United We Roll and its members are overwhelmingly focused on protecting the livelihoods of those who work in fossil-fuel extraction. It’s also been reluctant, though, to completely separate itself from Yellow Vests Canada. That group took its name from France’s anti-fuel tax gilets jaunes, but from the get-go, its social media and demonstrations have been defined by anti-immigrant and far-right sloganeering.
Lead United We Roll organizer Glenn Carritt said before the rubber hit the road that the two groups had split, then contradicted himself by donning a yellow vest to make a speech on Wednesday. During the convoy’s eastward journey, both journalists and participants reported seeing yellow vests and hearing intolerant sentiments. One trucker, Saskatchewan’s Nigel Pryke, told The Star Edmonton that he was dismayed that the Yellow Vest guys were “running the show.”
“When I see hats that say ‘Make Canada Great Again’ ... well, that’s Donald Trump. Donald Trump is not Canadian,” Mr. Pryke said. The sentiment wasn’t neutral in the United States, it isn’t neutral here and good on Mr. Pryke for saying so. The Leader of Canada’s opposition certainly didn’t.
Instead, Mr. Scheer tweeted support for the convoy as it drove, then spoke to its members in front of Parliament on Tuesday, as did Mr. Bernier and Faith Goldy, a far-right personality who has openly expressed white-nationalist views. Mr. Scheer never once bothered with even a weak, Bernier-esque admonishment not to be mean. And if failing to denounce something isn’t quite equal to supporting it, he didn’t just decline to refute convoy members’ anti-immigrant talking points. He wrote one of them himself.
In December, when the Liberals chose to sign a UN compact on migration, Mr. Scheer declared it gave "influence over Canada’s immigration system to foreign entities.” That’s not true. Even former Conservative immigration minister Chris Alexander called the sentiment “factually incorrect.”
Misinformation spreads fast, though, and Mr. Scheer’s idea was already out there. It’s still masquerading as truth. Multiple United We Roll drivers have expressed anger about Canadian immigration policy being directed by the UN.
There’s more: The CPC Leader insists he won’t make his opposition to same-sex marriage a policy issue should he win, but he’s also not shy to confirm that yes, he did vote against Bill C-16, which extended human rights to transgender people. Last July, the CPC pulled an ad from its Twitter feed about border policy widely condemned as anti-immigrant. A month later, it passed a motion at the Conservative national convention to end birthright citizenship, should it ever take power.
As the election unfolds, remember that Mr. Scheer’s campaign manager, Hamish Marshall, was once a corporate director at the far-right site The Rebel.
The election slate at this point is dismal. Mr. Trudeau’s reputation is besmirched, Mr. Bernier is unacceptable and Jagmeet Singh still doesn’t even have a seat. That doesn’t automatically make Mr. Scheer a good choice, particularly for Canadians who want a leader guaranteed not to steer them off a rightward cliff.