Raj: Erin O’Toole denounces religious persecution abroad. Why can’t he do it in Canada?

Good question. And other political leaders need to step up as well:

“I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore,” Conservative MP Kyle Seeback tweeted Thursday morning. “This is an absolute disgrace. It’s time politicians stood up for what’s right. Bill 21 has to be opposed. In court, in the house of commons and in the streets.#bill21mustgo #cdnpoli

It was an unusual statement from a Conservative MP, and a risky one. This is not Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s position on Quebec’s controversial law, which bars individuals who wear religious symbols from holding certain jobs in public institutions. Since his election as leader, O’Toole has defended Quebec’s right to enact such discriminatory legislation. After his first meeting with Quebec Premier François Legault, back in September 2020, O’Toole pledged not to challenge Bill 21 in court. “We need a government that respects provincial autonomy and provincial legislatures,” he told reporters.

For the MP for Dufferin—Caledon to go out on such a limb publicly, amid a climate of fear and retribution (O’Toole’s team has threatened caucus expulsions to those who don’t toe the party line), is commendable. Behind closed doors, Tory MPs tell me Seeback has been pitching to caucus and to the party leadership that a strong position denouncing Bill 21 is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart political thing to do.

While his pleas resonate with some of his colleagues, they don’t appear to have nudged his leader.

But Seeback, who declined an interview request, is right. Opposing Bill 21 is a great wedge against the Liberals on an issue where the Tories desperately need to rebrand, and in an area of the country where they need to win.

The Conservatives have a GTA problem and a visible-minority problem. Out of the 56 ridings in the Greater Toronto Area, the Conservatives hold six (although all but two are located on the periphery), while the Liberals have 50. It wasn’t always this way. In 2011, Stephen Harper found his majority in the GTA, sweeping the ethnically diverse areas of Brampton and Mississauga.

But over the past decade, the Tories pursued policies that alienated many of these communities. From immigration minister (now Alberta Premier) Jason Kenney’s niqab ban during citizenship ceremonies, to the barbaric practices snitch-line, to leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch’s values test, to the Tories fervent opposition to M-103, a motion denouncing Islamophobia.

In 2015, Brampton and Mississauga showed Harper the door. Seeback lost his seat in Brampton West. The same happened in 2019, and again in 2021.

Source: Erin O’Toole denounces religious persecution abroad. Why can’t he do it in Canada?

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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