The Trudeau government is investigating whether the extreme right-wing group the Proud Boys should be declared a terrorist organization. That is a legal decision. But there’s politics in it as well. The Liberals are trying to discomfit Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives by linking the party to extremists.
On the Proud Boys, “officials will be analyzing useful intelligence and evidence as that comes forward,” Mary-Liz Power, press secretary to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said in a statement on Sunday.
“When this work is completed, it will form the basis of the decision whether or not the Proud Boys or any other ideologically motivated violent extremist organization reaches the legal threshold for listing.”
Jagmeet Singh isn’t prepared to wait.
“The Proud Boys helped execute” Wednesday’s attack on Capitol Hill, the NDP Leader tweeted Thursday. “Their founder is Canadian. They operate in Canada, right now. And I am calling for them to be designated as a terrorist organization, immediately.”
It will surprise no one if investigations into the attack on the Capitol Building last Wednesday conclude the Proud Boys were among the main culprits.
But prominent Liberals aren’t waiting for official reports or arrest warrants. They know that most Canadians despised U.S. President Donald Trump even before he incited the mob that attacked Congress.
“I’ve been shocked at the admiring words about Trump and Trumpism that I have personally witnessed – usually off the record – from members of Canada’s conservative establishment,” Peter Donolo wrote in an op-ed that appeared Saturday in the Toronto Star. Mr. Donolo was a senior aide to former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien and former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.
Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen claimed Mr. O’Toole and other senior Conservatives had accounts on Parler, where extreme right-wing figures migrated after Twitter banned Mr. Trump and others who incite violence.
“Maybe it’s time to delete your Parler accounts,” Mr. Gerretsen tweeted.
“The O’Toole account is fake,” Melanie Paradis, Mr. O’Toole’s director of communications, messaged me. Other accounts were either created as placeholders (to prevent fake accounts), or were created before Parler became associated with extremist speech. Ms. Paradis said. Google and Apple have now banned the app.
Anyone who knows Mr. O’Toole knows he has no truck with the radical right.
“Conservatives support the listing of various white supremacist groups as terrorist organizations,” the Conservative Leader declared in a statement released Sunday.
But the Tories have a political problem that the Grits are happy to exploit. Although it’s ludicrous to conflate support for the Conservative Party with support for white nationalism or any other form of racism – let’s not forget that more people voted Conservative in the previous election than for any other political party – there are Canadians who support Mr. Trump, and some of them also support the Conservatives.
Elections are won or lost in Canada in the swath of suburban ridings surrounding Toronto. Those ridings contain large numbers of immigrant voters. The Liberals know that if they can plant the notion in people’s minds that the Conservatives are racially intolerant, those voters will reject the party.
Mr. O’Toole condemns right-wing extremism, supports a robust immigration policy, defends the rights of LGBTQ Canadians and other minorities. But he also, at times, makes poor choices. Slogans such as “Take back Canada” are a gift to those who seek to portray Conservatives as intolerant. Who would he take it from?
There is a photo that shows deputy leader Candice Bergen wearing a Trump MAGA hat floating around on social media. Ms. Paradis said that someone handed Ms. Bergen the hat and asked for a photo at an event a few years ago. “It’s not her hat.” But the photo doesn’t do the Tories any favours.
The trauma of the attack on the Capitol will dominate American politics for months to come, and influence Canadian politics as well, at a cost to the Conservatives. Mr. O’Toole will do everything in his power to focus the voters’ attention elsewhere: on problems with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, on deficits and lost jobs. But there is a lot of politically damaging noise coming from south of the border.
And the Liberals will do everything they can to amplify that noise at the Conservatives’ expense. Politics is a tough game.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.