Canada’s political compass is veering far right

The Canadian political elite is walking down a Trumpian path hoping to secure electoral gains.

Jason Kenney
The United Conservative Party led by Jason Kenney won the provincial elections in the province of Alberta, Canada on April 17 [Reuters/Candace Elliott]

Recently, Canadian politicians have taken a rebar-hard, right-wing turn in pursuit of victory. 

This fact may come as unsettling news to scores of progressives at home and abroad who remain wedded to the fantasy that Canada is an ideological, as well as geographical, antidote to the metastasising plague of Donald Trump.

This foolish myth – promoted by centrist US writers who have thanked God for Canada’s “moral” leadership and are blinded to the truth by the florid rhetoric of a telegenic prime minister – was recently laid bare.

Only days ago, the United Conservative Party (UCP) won a majority government in Alberta’s provincial election. The party’s leader, Jason Kenney – a steadfast disciple of ex-Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper – told his giddy supporters that the oil-rich western province was “open for business”. Not done recycling that pitiable trope, Kenney added another: “Friends, tonight the silent majority has spoken.”

Predictably, what Kenney failed to raise with his triumphant crowd and, by extension, Canadians outside Alberta, was the sorry, instructive reality that his party has also fielded candidates who: are “saddened by the demographic replacement of white peoples in their homelands”; share “Muslim migrant rape crisis” conspiracy theories online; question whether there are any “redeeming values” in LGBTQ Pride parades; warn against their children being “brainwashed into accepting perversions as alternative lifestyles”; hold that “the possibility of a grown man sharing a washroom with a little girl… is a perversion”; offer this sartorial advice for women: “[It would be] very prudent to have the females dress modestly”.   

Now, it’s important to note that Caylan Ford and Eva Kiryakos – two of the dozens of vitriolic UCP candidates who shared their Trumpian defence of the uncertain destiny of white nationalists, misogyny, homophobic, transphobic, hate-fuelled anti-Muslim conspiracies online – could well be sitting in Kenney’s cabinet today if not for the internet sleuthing of pesky reporters.

“Disturbed” to discover that his party attracted Islamophobic, white supremacist homophobes, Kenney was grudgingly and belatedly obliged to boot out the two “star” female candidates and insist, unconvincingly, that the defunct candidates and their ugly, retrograde views weren’t welcome in his party’s supposed “big tent”.

But he also kept many others. For example, Mark Smith, a victorious UCP candidate who once gave a sermon to a Baptist church equating homosexuality with paedophilia, was allowed to stay in Kenney’s “tent” even after his homophobic remarks were unearthed by a local radio station.

“You don’t have to watch any TV for any length of time today where you don’t see on the TV programmes them trying to tell you that homosexuality and homosexual love is good love,” Smith said in 2013 to his agreeable congregation. “Heck, there are even people out there, I could take you to places on the website I’m sure, where you could find out that there’s – where paedophilia is love.”

Wary of calling an intolerant spade an intolerant spade, circumspect political pundits agreed that Kenney’s victory was largely the consequence of a struggling economy and a thirst for “change”, rather than any manifestation or validation of the hate spewing from the sewer-like minds and mouths of UCP nominees. 

The flaw in this exculpatory reasoning is that Canada’s far-right impulses extend far beyond Alberta. Indeed, the new Alberta premier’s former federal cabinet colleague and runner-up to succeed Harper as federal Conservative leader, Maxime Bernier, has been busy defending the white race lately, too.

Earlier this month, the leader of the so-called People’s Party took to Twitter and Facebook to scold Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for warning about the dangers of white supremacy.

“[Trudeau] has been warning us for weeks about the dangers of ‘white supremacy’, equating an entire ethnicity with terrorism,” Bernier wrote, with Trump-like bombast. “Hypocrite! It’s all about pandering for votes.”

Bernier is the definition of a pandering hypocrite. He created a party explicitly opposed to “extreme multiculturalism and cult of diversity”, that has reportedly become a refuge to a far-right, anti-immigrant constituency. 

It would be easy, of course, to dismiss the People’s Party and its inflammatory leader as outliers or the “fringe”, but the party’s insular, xenophobic message appears to be resonating with Canadians of a variety of political persuasions.

According to a recent poll, 40 percent of Canadians believe that too many outsiders are settling in Canada and an equal percentage are reluctant to accept any more “visible minorities” as immigrants.   

“It’s a pretty clear measure of racial discrimination,” the pollster told the Huffington Post. “A sizeable portion of Canadians are using race as something that would alter their view of whether or not there’s too few or too many immigrants coming to the country.”

A breakdown of the numbers is as revealing as it is chilling. Almost 70 percent of Conservative voters, as well as 15 percent of Greens and Social Democrats, are convinced that Canada can’t absorb more immigrants who don’t look white.

Those figures alone should disabuse gushing progressives of the fanciful notion that the stench of racism oozing from Trump’s regime hasn’t infected the Great White North. Apparently, Canada, like America, is “full”.   

As for the New York Times scribe who famously thanked God for Trudeau’s “moral” leadership, he would finally do well to remove his rose-coloured glasses and take a closer, much less evangelical look at his jejune hero.

In early April, Trudeau buried dramatic changes to asylum laws into a 400-page omnibus budget bill that, in effect, turns refugee claimants into “asylum shoppers” who, henceforth, will be barred from infiltrating the country. The legal amendment effectively prevents refugees from making claims in Canada if they have filed for asylum in certain other countries, namely the US. 

Trudeau’s blatant, cynical sop to the 40 percent of Canadians who disapprove of “non-whites” entering Canada was condemned by a bevvy of refugee advocates and civil rights groups who blasted the sudden changes as “undemocratic” and “harsh”. Sound familiar?

On the eve of a tight election that he appears poised to lose, it’s apparent that Trudeau has looked to Trump for inspiration and possible salvation by doing away with the rights of desperate children, women and men who are searching for safe haven in distant lands.  

Trudeau isn’t leading, he’s following – whether he’s prepared to admit it or not. And like Kenney and Bernier, Trudeau and too many Canadians prefer to emulate these days the rancid reactionary, Donald Trump.              

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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