When Erin O’Toole was asked if he regretted making a video with false assertions about the government’s environmental policy, his response was remarkable yet familiar.
He said no, he didn’t regret it, because after the video appeared Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault “clarified his approach.”
The response was remarkable because Mr. O’Toole expressed no remorse about using deliberate falsehood as a political tactic. It was familiar because we have seen it before.
Remember that video circulated by Liberal Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland during the 2021 election campaign – the one edited by Liberals to make Mr. O’Toole look like an unequivocal supporter of private health care, when in fact he had underlined the importance of universal access? The one labelled as “manipulated” by Facebook?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted he had no regrets about that.
He should have regrets. So should Mr. O’Toole. And so should their supporters.
It’s probably no surprise that, when a party leader employs dishonest tactics, their opponents, and their opponents’ supporters, cry out. But that’s often water off a duck’s back, it seems. Usually their own supporters won’t criticize them.
Political parties deflect such criticism with whataboutism, as do their ardent supporters and Twitter cheerleaders. What about the other guy’s lies? The Conservatives will say the Liberals do it. The Liberals will say the Conservatives do it. They are essentially claiming they are entitled to peddle falsehoods.
Perhaps politicians won’t stop doing this until their own supporters, their own partisans, call them to account.
So let’s call on partisans to do us all a public service: Spend less effort on pointing out the dishonesty in the other party, and more on calling it out on your own side. Help our political leaders do what they seem incapable of doing: feel shame for dishonesty.
This may be a pipe dream, given that politics is a rough business and it’s human nature to see more fault in an opponent than in your own team. But a little of this kind of thing could go a long way.
You don’t have to look any further than the Jan. 6, 2021, occupation of the United States Capitol by supporters of former U.S. president Donald Trump to see what happens when partisans won’t object to their own side’s lies.
Dishonesty is not a new thing in politics, but there seems to be less fear that getting caught peddling falsehood is shameful. All’s fair in war. No regrets.
But politics isn’t really war. It is supposed to be representation. One has to hope someone around these politicians feels a little remorse. Did any of the people cutting together Ms. Freeland’s video, or Mr. O’Toole’s, express qualms, or start to wonder if their political commitment has gone off the rails?
Mr. O’Toole’s video was sparked by an interview Mr. Guilbeault gave to The Narwhal.
The article that was drawn from the interview referred extensively to the Liberal government’s promise to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies in two years, which Mr. Guilbeault mentioned himself. Later in the article, he was quoted omitting the word “subsidies” in a list of things he plans to accomplish in the next two years. He said he hopes to have in place “more stringent methane regulations, zero emission vehicle standards, net-zero grid by 2035, cap on oil and gas, and obviously phasing out fossil fuel.”
Now, that sentence itself, in talking about a cap on oil and gas emissions, indicates fossil fuels won’t be eliminated. It was clear – at least, to anyone who tried to understand – that Mr. Guilbeault didn’t intend to say fossil fuels will be phased out. It was apparently also clear to Mr. O’Toole. When he spoke about it to three chambers of commerce in Nova Scotia, he said: “I’m sure he made a mistake by saying that.”
But that didn’t stop him from making his video, which he posted later. It warned people that Mr. Guilbeault planned to phase out Canadian energy in two years.
It didn’t matter that Mr. O’Toole knew that wasn’t true. Mr. Guilbeault said the words, so Mr. O’Toole felt entitled to mislead. That should be shocking, to Conservatives.
And the bigger problem is that Mr. O’Toole, like Mr. Trudeau, didn’t even feel he had to express regret.
For Conservatives, the answer to that cannot possibly be pointing to dishonest things the Liberals have done – just as Liberals shouldn’t let their leaders slide by without answering for deliberately false tactics. We’d all be better off if politicians feared disapproval from their own.
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