Harper, Trudeau try to quiet the rhetoric

Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper de­fended his gov­ern­ment’s stand by quot­ing mod­er­ate Mus­lim or­ga­ni­za­tions that sup­portthe gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion on the niqab. He used in­flam­ma­tory lan­guage to il­lus­trate his point, John Ivi­son writes.

Adam Smith once said the real and ef­fec­tive dis­ci­pline ex­er­cised over a work­man is that of his cus­tomers — it’s fear of los­ing their cus­tom that “re­strains his frauds and cor­rects his neg­li­gence.”

Adam Smith once said the real and ef­fec­tive dis­ci­pline ex­er­cised over a work­man is that of his cus­tomers — it’s fear of los­ing their cus­tom that “re­strains his frauds and cor­rects his neg­li­gence.”

The same ap­plies in pol­i­tics — say too many stupid things and peo­ple will vote for some­one else. Both lead­ers seem to have re­al­ized their state­ments ear­lier this week went too far.
In the House Tues­day, Mr. Harper was asked about his party’s po­si­tion on the use of the niqab dur­ing cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies. It is an ar­gu­ment on which he feels he has the sup­port of Cana­di­ans and he is happy to de­bate the is­sue. But his in­stinct is to drive any wedge so far down his op­po­nents’ throats, they choke on it.

In the House Tues­day, Mr. Harper was asked about his party’s po­si­tion on the use of the niqab dur­ing cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies. It is an ar­gu­ment on which he feels he has the sup­port of Cana­di­ans and he is happy to de­bate the is­sue. But his in­stinct is to drive any wedge so far down his op­po­nents’ throats, they choke on it.

His com­bat­ive in­stincts kick in, when he goes off script — the first clue gen­er­ally be­ing use of the word “frankly.”

“Why would Cana­di­ans, con­trary to our own val­ues, em­brace a prac­tice that … frankly is rooted in a cul­ture that is anti-women?” he said Tues­day.

“Why would Cana­di­ans, con­trary to our own val­ues, em­brace a prac­tice that … frankly is rooted in a cul­ture that is anti-women?” he said Tues­day.

This is the kind of state­ment that val­i­dates Mr. Trudeau’s claims that Mr. Harper is in­dulging in the “pol­i­tics of di­vi­sion and fear against a par­tic­u­lar mi­nor­ity.”

This is the kind of state­ment that val­i­dates Mr. Trudeau’s claims that Mr. Harper is in­dulging in the “pol­i­tics of di­vi­sion and fear against a par­tic­u­lar mi­nor­ity.”

The Lib­eral leader said Wed­nes­day Mr. Harper is guilty of “con­duct un­be­com­ing” a prime min­is­ter. In the House, he asked the prime min­is­ter to ex­plain to Canada’s half a mil­lion Mus­lim women why he said their cho­sen faith is anti-women.

Mr. Harper dis­missed the ques­tion, say­ing: “I said no such thing” — which is not strictly, or even loosely, true, based on the of­fi­cial record.

The Lib­eral leader tried to paint Mr. Harper as a sec­tar­ian chau­vin­ist, in­tent on en­sur­ing the ma­jor­ity dic­tates the re­li­gious rights of mi­nori­ties, as he did as the Re­form party’s pol­icy chief 25 years ago when he voted to pre­vent Sikh RCMP of­fi­cers from wear­ing tur­bans.

Mr. Harper de­fended his gov­ern­ment by quot­ing mod­er­ate Mus­lim or­ga­ni­za­tions that sup­port the gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion on the niqab. “It is up to the leader of the Lib­eral party to ex­plain why he is so far out­side that main frame,” he said.

It was a strong show­ing from Mr. Trudeau, who at last seems to have found a cause in which he be­lieves.
It was a strong show­ing from Mr. Trudeau, who at last seems to have found a cause in which he be­lieves.

Yet, he too used lan­guage that threat­ens to in­flame the sit­u­a­tion. He of­fered proof of the par­lia­men­tary equiv­a­lent of God­win’s Law — the In­ter­net rule that as­serts the longer an on­line dis­cus­sion goes on, the more likely some­one will in­voke the Nazis in a glib com­par­i­son. Mr. Trudeau com­pared the Con­ser­va­tive rhetoric on Mus­lims to that which led to Canada’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy for Holo­caust-era Jews.

Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions like B’nai Brith called the Nazi com­par­isons “in­ac­cu­rate his­tor­i­cal par­al­lels” and “highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate.” (Public Safety Min­is­ter Steven Blaney couldn’t re­sist get­ting in on the act by mak­ing his own block­headed Nazi ref­er­ence to jus­tify the new anti-ter­ror bill — say­ing the Is­lamic State’s on­line threat was com­pa­ra­ble to pro­pa­ganda that led to the Holo­caust.)

Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions like B’nai Brith called the Nazi com­par­isons “in­ac­cu­rate his­tor­i­cal par­al­lels” and “highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate.” (Public Safety Min­is­ter Steven Blaney couldn’t re­sist get­ting in on the act by mak­ing his own block­headed Nazi ref­er­ence to jus­tify the new anti-ter­ror bill — say­ing the Is­lamic State’s on­line threat was com­pa­ra­ble to pro­pa­ganda that led to the Holo­caust.)

There’s a thin line be­tween mo­ti­vat­ing sup­port­ers and ag­i­tat­ing them.

Both par­ties know they need to trig­ger emo­tions to raise money and mo­bi­lize vot­ers — and the most ef­fec­tive emo­tions are anger and fear. In both cases, the lead­ers crossed that line.

Both par­ties know they need to trig­ger emo­tions to raise money and mo­bi­lize vot­ers — and the most ef­fec­tive emo­tions are anger and fear. In both cases, the lead­ers crossed that line.

Cooler heads in the Con­ser­va­tive party have cau­tioned that there is risk of a back­lash by mov­ing from the niqab is­sue to ma­lign­ing all Mus­lims, which may ex­plain the more level-headed tone.

It was left to Tom Mul­cair, the NDP leader, to sound like the voice of rea­son af­ter his cau­cus meet­ing Wed­nes­day. “We are in the un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion where the prime min­is­ter of Canada is us­ing very di­vi­sive lan­guage and sin­gling out a com­mu­nity. That leads to Is­lam­o­pho­bia and it’s ir­re­spon­si­ble,” he said.

It was left to Tom Mul­cair, the NDP leader, to sound like the voice of rea­son af­ter his cau­cus meet­ing Wed­nes­day. “We are in the un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion where the prime min­is­ter of Canada is us­ing very di­vi­sive lan­guage and sin­gling out a com­mu­nity. That leads to Is­lam­o­pho­bia and it’s ir­re­spon­si­ble,” he said.

He was no less con­demn­ing of Mr. Trudeau’s com­ments. “Us­ing any ref­er­ence to the Holo­caust, in re­la­tion to the sit­u­a­tion in Canada, is sin­gu­larly in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said.

The prob­lem for the NDP is that the other two par­ties are draw­ing the bat­tle lines in the rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion de­bate, leav­ing the New Democrats as frus­trated ob­servers.

The Harper Con­ser­va­tives are ar­gu­ing that the rights and free­doms of other Cana­di­ans are di­min­ished by mak­ing too many al­lowances for im­mi­grants; the Trudeau Lib­er­als are ar­gu­ing that all Cana­di­ans are en­riched by mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and di­min­ished by a re­ac­tionary re­sponse.

The Harper Con­ser­va­tives are ar­gu­ing that the rights and free­doms of other Cana­di­ans are di­min­ished by mak­ing too many al­lowances for im­mi­grants; the Trudeau Lib­er­als are ar­gu­ing that all Cana­di­ans are en­riched by mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and di­min­ished by a re­ac­tionary re­sponse.

There is po­lit­i­cal risk to both the Con­ser­va­tives and the Lib­er­als, par­tic­u­larly when the rhetoric gets over­heated.

But both par­ties are com­fort­able skir­mish­ing on this ter­rain, leav­ing the NDP in no man’s land lament­ing that if the fight­ing doesn’t stop, some­one’s go­ing to get hurt.

Person of interest: 
subject: