Last week, Conservative leadership candidates stood on a debate stage answering yes-or-no questions in a lightning round, before fielding a series of getting-to-know-you questions: What are you reading? What was the last TV show you binged? Which historical figure would you invite for dinner?
But there’s a more critical getting-to-know you question anyone aspiring to lead a national party should answer right now: Which conspiracy theories do you reject?
In 2022, Canadians need to know – and not just to know whether potential political leaders have gone down rabbit holes.
It’s important to see whether they have the courage to stand up against the spread of some of the more ubiquitous and dangerous ones.
Conservative leadership aspirants have just done that by condemning the racist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory espoused by the 18-year-old killer who targeted Black people in a grocery-store mass shooting in Buffalo on Saturday, killing 10 and injuring three.
The leadership candidates did it as part of a political squabble in the immediate aftermath of a fatal tragedy, but still, it is important that they separated fact from hateful fiction. Now they need to do it for other conspiracy theories, too.
The suspect arrested in the mass murder, Payton Gendron, had posted a document centred on the Great Replacement theory – an alleged plot to replace white people with immigrants and racialized minorities.
On Sunday, Conservative leadership candidate Patrick Brown tweeted a video of trucker-convoy organizer Pat King speaking about replacement theory – and Mr. Brown noted that his leadership rival, Ottawa MP Pierre Poilievre, had supported the convoy.
“I condemn this hate and call on Pierre to do the same,” the Brampton mayor tweeted.
Mr. Brown’s campaign co-chair, Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner, added in her own tweet: “Silence is complicity.”
But Mr. Poilievre did not stay silent. On Monday he issued a statement that called Mr. Brown “sleazy” for using the tragedy but that denounced the racist conspiracy theory.
“I condemn the attack in Buffalo and the ugly racist hatred that motivated it. Any and all racism is evil and must be stopped. I also denounce the so-called ‘white replacement theory’ as ugly and disgusting hate mongering,” Mr. Poilievre said in the statement. “I also condemn Pat King and his ugly remarks.”
That’s good. Leaving aside the sniping, we should recognize the importance of political leaders rejecting twisted fantasies of cabals. Let’s see more.
There are a lot of conspiracy theories going around in Canadian politics, and although none rival the racist hate-mongering of the Great Replacement bunk, they still cause damage. They spread baseless, shadowy fears that make people see political disagreements as evil plots.
Leadership candidate and Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis has embraced some, insisting that a-yet-to-written World Health Organization agreement on responding to future pandemics will allow the agency to take over Canada’s health system and decide if the country’s borders will be closed. That is false.
But it’s just as disturbing when leadership candidates won’t publicly reject conspiracist notions that are growing in their political circles. The biggest is the claim that the World Economic Forum and its 84-year-old founder, Klaus Schwab, are trying to take over the world in league with billionaires such as Bill Gates – and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and half the Liberal cabinet are following WEF orders.
In 2020, the WEF promoted what they called a “Great Reset,” arguing the post-pandemic economy should be rebuilt in some greener, fairer way. Conspiracists claim the WEF either created the COVID-19 pandemic or is exploiting it – perhaps with microchips in vaccines or socialist stealth initiatives – for global domination.
Conservative politicians get asked about it all the time. Some have winked. In 2020, Mr. Poilievre got 61,000 names on his petition to “stop the socialist reset.” He recently insisted he won’t let ministers go to WEF conferences in Davos, Switzerland. But he hasn’t said that the WEF is not plotting to take over the world.
Of course, leadership candidates can oppose Great Reset ideas, such as they are. They are already spending time promising they are against proposals that are seen as part of the conspiracy, such as digital IDs – which might be a bad idea anyway.
But they should have the courage to stand up and say there is no massive plot to take over the world led by an 84-year-old German economist. Even if they think it might cause them political trouble. That’s the least we should expect from a potential leader.
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