Conservative MP Derek Sloan caters to people who hold foolish beliefs. Should he be exiled from the party?
The short answer is probably no. What good would it do?
The more urgent question is, why are so many people screaming absurdities? Polarization undermines public policy and coarsens political discourse.
But the answer must lie not in forcing people to the margins, but in understanding the anger and addressing its cause.
Mr. Sloan sponsored a petition to the House of Commons that questions the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and demands the creation of an oversight committee “including citizen vaccine safety advocates.”
Mr. Sloan has said that mask wearing “isn’t about science or law, it’s about control and compliance.” He has expressed concerns about vaccines in the past. As for the petition, “the specifics and wording are the petitioner’s own, but I support her right to raise her concerns,” he tweeted.
Creating a committee that includes anti-vaxxers and that could hold up the release of COVID-19 vaccines is just an awful idea. And it contradicts Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s position, which is that the Liberal government has not moved quickly enough to acquire and distribute vaccines.
Because of comments Mr. Sloan has made on LGBTQ and abortion rights, and because he appeared to question the loyalty of Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, critics have periodically called for his expulsion from the Conservative caucus.
But sending the Member for Hastings–Lennox and Addington into the political wilderness does nothing to help us understand why so many people object to wearing masks, to physical distancing, to vaccines and other measures to combat this pandemic.
Ken Boessenkool, a veteran conservative strategist and consultant, penned a column this week in which he talked about the populist base that conservative politicians have traditionally tapped. The late Ralph Klein, when he was premier of Alberta, called them Martha and Henry, the “severely normal Albertans” who, as Mr. Boesenkool put it, “favoured individual responsibility, strong families, a helping community and a responsive government that largely stayed out of the way, mostly in that order.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Boessenkool wrote, “Martha and Henry have gone a bit nuts.”
Deepening social divisions created by an economy that does not value or reward their skills have left millions of people in developed countries economically and culturally insecure. On social media, they find allies and abettors, who turn them into @martha79453 and @henry83795, as Mr. Boessenkool dubbed them: angry at the world, at the elites, at anyone who tries to tell them what’s good for them.
Mr. Boessenkool, in turn, points to a paper by Sean Speer and Brian Dijkema, who warn that Canada, in pursuit of a green economy and reduced carbon emissions, is about to do to the natural-resources sector what globalization did to the manufacturing sector: eliminate the jobs of hundreds of thousands of middle-skilled workers, most of them men.
They warn against “those involved in climate-policy debate who would treat the affected workers and communities as abstractions that can be ignored or shunted aside in singular pursuit of our environmental policy goals.”
A polarized economy, with lots of high-skilled jobs and lots of low-skilled jobs but fewer medium-skilled jobs with decent pay, creates a polarized society. It can produce the sort of populist, nativist backlash that brought Donald Trump to power as U.S. president.
Mr. Trump is about to be replaced by Democratic president-elect Joe Biden. Mr. Biden stresses his roots as the son of a used-car salesman from Scranton, Pa., just as Mr. O’Toole talks about growing up in a time and place where most people depended, one way or another, on the local auto plant. Both stress the need for policies that support the middle-skilled class.
Conservatives must never pander to anger or resentment. If Mr. Sloan continues down the path he seems to be setting for himself, there may come a time when he must leave the Conservative Party.
But politicians who only consider the needs of those who are well-educated and financially secure, while ignoring those who fear the future and are right to fear it, must share the blame for the anger that comes with that fear.
If we let many more Marthas and Henrys turn into @martha79453 and @henry83795, we’ll wish we hadn’t.
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