Phillips: Storm over Elghawaby appointment proof of need for someone like her in the job

Representative of the favourable commentary to her appointment. I agree, if she hadn’t been public on her opposition to Bill 21 and the public attitudes behind it and previous Quebec debates, she would have no credibility. It is more with respect with her other positions that questions can be asked:

It took 18 months for the Trudeau government to carry through on its promise to name a “special representative” to combat Islamophobia. It took just 24 hours for that appointment to blow up in its face.

Last Thursday the government announced it had named Amira Elghawaby to the position. Elghawaby is well known to us at the Star; she’s been contributing thoughtful, insightful articles to our opinion pages for several years on all sorts of subjects, with a focus on social justice issues.

It was an excellent and well-deserved appointment. The government patted itself on the back for making it a few days before the anniversary of the Quebec City mosque massacre. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it an “important step” in the fight against “hatred in all its forms.”

But no good deed, as they say, goes unpunished. Elghawaby has been outspoken, as you’d expect, against Quebec’s Bill 21, the frankly discriminatory law that bars people wearing religious symbols (notably Muslim women) from holding certain government jobs. So Montreal’s La Presse reported that Trudeau had just appointed someone who portrays Quebecers as “anti-Muslim.”

Cue the outrage in Quebec. A federal Liberal minister (Pablo Rodriguez) professed to be “profoundly insulted” as a Quebecer by Elghawaby’s comments. Trudeau called on her to “explain” them. By Monday, the Quebec government was demanding her resignation. And Pierre Poilievre found the time to craft a video attacking Trudeau for appointing someone he smeared as “anti-Quebec, anti-Jewish and anti-police.”

Poilievre’s attack is particularly sleazy. His real target isn’t Elghawaby. She’s just road kill in his assault on the Trudeau government and all its works.

It’s also BS. The idea that Elghawaby thinks Quebecers are Muslim haters is based on an article she co-wrote in 2019 for the Ottawa Citizen with Bernie Farber, who is a human-rights activist as well as being Jewish. They cited a poll showing 88 per cent of Quebecers who hold anti-Muslim views supported Bill 21, and wrote that “unfortunately” most Quebecers seemed at that moment to be swayed “by anti-Muslim sentiment.”

Frankly, viewed in the context of the time, when Quebec had just passed the most discriminatory law in modern Canadian history, the article is remarkably moderate. It decries the “tyranny of the majority” and ends with an appeal to uphold “basic human rights and dignity” for all. 

Elghawaby’s other supposedly offensive comments have also been twisted out of shape. As for being “anti-Jewish,” her appointment was welcomed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the country’s leading Jewish organization, as well as by Irwin Cotler, Canada’s special representative on antisemitism. If she’d taken anti-Jewish positions, you’d think they’d have noticed.

I don’t agree with quite a bit of what Elghawaby has written, such as her view that Canada should abolish the monarchy. But so what? I haven’t seen a thing she’s written that goes beyond the bounds of reasonable debate (and no, I don’t include the occasional badly worded tweet). 

As a human-rights activist she challenges Canadian complacency, but that hardly disqualifies her from serving (in the words of the government’s announcement) as a “champion, adviser, expert and representative” on fighting anti-Muslim hatred. On the contrary.

Some will argue that, regardless of all this, her appointment is “divisive” — the evidence being the reaction to it in Quebec. But the truth is that while hatred of all sorts knows no political boundaries, there is a particular problem with the way Quebec handles issues of religious tolerance and minorities.

The evidence for that is plain for all to see in Bill 21 itself, which is blatantly discriminatory and racist in effect if not in intent. Sure, there’s a complicated history behind all this. But if Islamophobia can’t be frankly confronted in Quebec, of all places, there’s no point in having a national representative on the issue.

On Monday, the prime minister said he’s satisfied with Elghawaby’s explanation of her past remarks and she will remain in place. That’s absolutely the right decision. In fact, the uproar around her appointment is the best possible demonstration of the need for putting someone like her in the job.

Source: Phillips: Storm over Elghawaby appointment proof of need for someone like her in the job

Phillips: Justin Trudeau has not learned from Hillary Clinton’s infamous ‘deplorables’ gaffe

Good advice:

Remember Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables?”

She came up with that peculiar turn of phrase in September, 2016, when she was campaigning for the U.S. presidency against Donald Trump. Half of Trump’s supporters, she declared, were among those deplorables — people who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic.”

There were plenty of reasons why Clinton lost to Trump, but pretty much everyone agrees that dismissing maybe a quarter of American voters as racist, sexist, etc., was one of them. Even Clinton conceded the point in the end. In her memoir of the campaign, “What Happened,” she said she regretted handing Trump “a political gift” by insulting millions of well-intentioned (but wrong) voters.

The lesson — a pretty basic one, you’d think — is that while it’s fine to attack your opponent it’s hardly ever fine to attack their supporters. In the end, you’re after their votes. Not all of them, certainly. Some will never be won over, and some no doubt will be “deplorable” in one way or the other.

But you want to persuade the persuadables, and tarring them with labels like racist and sexist is bound to push people away, not bring them over to your side. At least, that’s how it turned out for Clinton, with tragic results for the United States and the rest of us as well.

In light of that, what to make of Justin Trudeau’s most recent diagnosis of what’s fuelling support for his Conservative rival, Pierre Poilievre?

In a revealing interview with the Star’s Susan Delacourt, the prime minister was eager to take on Poilievre. Trudeau, Delacourt wrote over the weekend, accuses the Conservative leader of “whipping up the anger to appeal to those Canadians who are nostalgic for a country that worked well for them, maybe not so much for others.”

In Trudeau’s words: “He’s playing and preying on the kinds of anger and anxieties about some Canada that used to be — where men were men and white men ruled.”

This is red meat for Poilievre and his core supporters, so it was no surprise to see him jump right on those words. The Conservative leader posted a three-minute video, one of those, “Hey Justin” jobs he’s become so expert at, accusing Trudeau of saying “the reason you claim you’re so unpopular with Canadians is that Canadians are racist.”

So, basic fact check: is that what Trudeau said? Certainly not. Is Poilievre distorting his words for crass political advantage? Of course. 

But is there something to what Poilievre says? Well, kind of. Trudeau didn’t say Canadians are racist; he didn’t even say Poilievre’s supporters are racist. But he did link Canadians’ anger and anxieties to something that could reasonably be interpreted as racist — a fond memory, or nostalgia as Delacourt put it, for a once-upon-a-time Canada where “white men ruled.”

At this point there are people who will be thinking something along the lines of: Right on, Justin. That’s what Poilievre’s really all about. Good for you for “calling out” him and his sleazy supporters. 

To those people, all I would say is — fine, go ahead and think that. But to Trudeau and those around him I would say — don’t go there. If you didn’t actually cross the line into accusing Conservative supporters of being racist, you did edge up to it and took a good look.

Trudeau is actually very thoughtful on these issues. After living through the pandemic and the convoy protests he’s had plenty of opportunity to reflect on what animates the anger across the country — including the fury directed at him personally.

He’s quite right that many people are upset at the way society has changed, and not always for good reasons. But his job isn’t to be a political analyst; it’s to manage that change in a way that unites people and brings as many as possible over to his side. 

To succeed at that, he needs to take on board the lesson Hillary Clinton learned the hard way. Don’t insult people on the other side. It’ll only come back and hit you in the face.

Source: Justin Trudeau has not learned from Hillary Clinton’s infamous ‘deplorables’ gaffe

Phillips: Don’t brush off attempts to undermine our democracy. We should know which politicians got China’s money


Can we take a break from lecturing Americans about the state of their democracy and focus for a bit on problems with our own?

Canadians love to watch from a safe distance when all the horrors and glories of the American political system are on display, as they are this week as we comb through the results of their midterm elections.

We especially love to pat ourselves on the back for the fact that our system is, for the most part, mercifully free of the most extreme elements of U.S. politics. That’s mostly just good for our national self-regard, but it would be a shame if it distracts us from the disturbing possibility that a foreign power has been actively interfering in our own recent national elections, even changing the outcome in at least one case.

Put like that, it sounds far-fetched. But Global News reported this week that Canada’s intelligence service, CSIS, warned federal ministers in January that China has targeted this country with a “vast campaign of foreign interference.”

According to the report, CSIS told the government that Beijing funded a “clandestine network” of at least 11 federal candidates, including both Liberals and Conservatives, in the 2019 federal election. It also placed “agents” in the offices of MPs to influence policy and mounted “aggressive campaigns” to punish Canadian politicians it saw as threats to its interests.

Asked about this, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t deny it. Instead, he essentially confirmed the report by saying some “state actors,” including China, continue to “play aggressive games with our institutions, with our democracies.”

The government then went on, through a speech by Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, to sketch out its long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy. This is the famous “eyes wide open” approach, whereby Canada will take a more cautious stance toward China and try to deepen links with other Asian nations, in particular India.

But hang on a moment — let’s not change the channel quite so fast. Those CSIS briefings were pretty specific, according to Global’s Sam Cooper. They alleged that the Chinese government funnelled money through proxies to almost a dozen candidates in a federal election and worked to undermine others.

So many questions. Which candidates got the money? How many of them won, and how many lost? For those who did get money, did they know who was ultimately behind it or were they ignorant of what was going on? And which candidates did China work against? What happened to them?

Finally, was this activity limited to just the 2019 election, or was it happening before or after? A former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, says he believes “several Conservative MPs” lost their seats in the 2019 and 2021 elections because China targeted them through social media networks in the Chinese community.

We know the name of at least one who was probably singled out. Conservative MP Kenny Chiu lost his Vancouver-area seat in 2021 after he introduced a bill to set up a registry of agents for foreign governments (something Canada should certainly have). He immediately found himself labelled as anti-Chinese in Chinese-language social media, and is convinced Beijing’s operatives were behind the campaign to defeat him.

Now it seems he wasn’t the only one, if the CSIS briefing to the government is to be believed. It’s in line with many warnings over the years from Canada’s top intelligence officials that China has been actively meddling in our domestic politics, partly by working through sympathetic politicians and partly by manipulating votes in Chinese communities.

Isn’t this something we should know more about? The government received that CSIS briefing in January, but as far as we know it did nothing. 

It’s important to look at the big picture by elaborating a new Indo-Pacific strategy. And judging by Joly’s speech this week, the government seems to be broadly on the right track. 

But in the meantime, we shouldn’t brush off a real attempt to undermine our democracy. Let’s start by asking where that Chinese money went, and to whom.

Source: Don’t brush off attempts to undermine our democracy. We should know which politicians got China’s money