Erna Paris: Canada is not immune to the most dangerous tactic in politics

Like Michelle Gagnon, I think Erna Paris overstates the risk.

Let us also not forget that the Conservatives lost decisively in the 33 visible majority ridings (GTA and BC’s Lower Mainland mainly), only winning two ridings to the Liberals 30 (the NDP won one), the overall popular vote for all of these ridings 31 percent compared to 52 percent for the Liberals (see my analysis 2015 Election – Visible Minority MPs Analytical Note).

One cannot win an election in Canada without being successful in these and other ridings with large numbers of visible minorities.

So yes, while the risks are always present, and one can never take things for granted, the political realities temper these as the Conservatives found out to their cost:

There’s a new narrative at play in post-election Canada. The past was dim, but the future is bright. We were worn down after a decade of authoritarian one-man rule and we voted for sunny change.

We also defied the worst of identity politics, we tell ourselves. We collectively rejected Stephen Harper’s opportunistic attacks on vulnerable Muslim women whose religion requires them to cover their face in the public square. “We’re back!” as Justin Trudeau told us.

I hope so. We’ll know soon enough.

But let’s not gloss over how close we came to the sort of majority-minority hostilities that have disrupted other diverse societies, with dangerous results. When the prime minister himself targeted a minority, creating “us” and “them” distinctions over who was, or was not, “Canadian”; when he reinforced these divisions by calling for a snitch line to report “barbaric cultural practices,” we were immediately catapulted into a new social space. In spite of longstanding legal protections for religious practices and laws that penalize defined criminal acts, more than 80 per cent of Canadians sided with Harper. Within days, a woman wearing a niqab was physically assaulted in Toronto. In Montreal, a pregnant woman was pushed to the ground. Social media exploded with anti-Muslim hatred.

None of this should have come as a surprise. I’ve studied the breakdown of multicultural societies, both past and present, and asked myself whether it is possible to pinpoint the steps along the way. And I’ve concluded that, allowing for small differences, the process is always the same. It starts with propaganda – with language purposely designed to marginalize a minority – and it is usually initiated by a respected leader who’s seeking to enhance his power. The shift from peaceful cohabitation into violence can happen quickly. Fortunately, in our case, the election results nipped the movement in the bud.

Source: Erna Paris: Canada is not immune to the most dangerous tactic in politics | Ottawa Citizen

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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