The term ‘alt-right’ has become a cudgel against conservatives: MacDougall

Two good op-eds by Andrew MacDougall, calling on both parties to tone down the virtue signalling and name calling:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Gerald Butts, the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Ahmed Hussen, the federal immigration minister, and Lisa MacLeod, Hussen’s provincial counterpart, walk into a bar and…

Fine. I’ll spare you the joke, which (believe me) requires a mountain of set-up, and instead leave you with the punchline: Lisa MacLeod is a white supremacist!

What? That’s not funny? Well, I suspect that’s in the ear of the beholder. In any case, please direct all complaints to the Prime Minister’s Office, ℅ Mr. Butts, the author of the joke.

To be fair, the Butts quip wasn’t that blunt or direct. He wouldn’t dare call MacLeod a white supremacist outright. His dig was of the dog-whistle variety, one the federal Liberals have been blowing with increasing frequency as we approach the next election. And so let’s just say it wasn’t a surprise to see it deployed following the acrimonious federal-provincial meeting on immigration starring Hussen and MacLeod.

“Enough is enough,” Butts tweeted after the meeting. “It’s time to stand up to this divisive fear-mongering about asylum seekers. Let’s not allow the alt-right to do here what they’re doing elsewhere.”

And what were the particulars of the Hussen-MacLeod dispute, that it devolved to “fear-mongering”? It hardly matters. It’s the use of “alt-right” that’s key. Indeed, it’s the latest slur gifted to the right from the left. That’s why Doug Ford is now “alt-right.” It’s why Andrew Scheer is “alt-right.” And it’s why cookie-baking hockey mom MacLeod is “alt-right,” too.

And as with so much else in the world today, we have Donald Trump to thank for it.

It was Trump who brought the “alt-right”—then, as now, a bunch of white supremacists and violent fascists—into the light. But the President’s tacit acceptance of these “deplorables” gave license to Trump’s political opponents to paint all of his support—the vast majority of which are neither racist or supremacist—with the alt-right brush, especially those who oppose the current immigration system, which no one can describe as perfect. This is the dynamic the Liberals—once the purveyor of sunny ways, let’s not forget—seem to be trying to import into Canada.

Although the migrant problems facing Canada’s borders are nowhere near the scale of those between Mexico and the United States, they are as complex, and nearly as intractable, absent a willing partner in the White House. Hence the PMO’s desire to reach for the shorthand of the “alt-right”: It’s better to brand your opponents than explain why you can’t get the job done.

Because MacLeod is certainly correct that the feds don’t (yet) have a workable plan to stem arrivals at non-designated border crossings. She’s also correct when she says the provinces are bearing a lot of the costs of housing and caring for refugees and asylum seekers. Nor is she the only one raising the alarm; it’s been a constant criticism from the federal Tories as well. No wonder it rankles the PMO. I’d be yelling “alt-right” too, especially if I knew my opponents didn’t have a workable plan either.

Now, Butts doesn’t actually think MacLeod is a noxious white supremacist like Richard Spencer, the lodestar of the U.S.’s alt-right movement. But he is certainly happy to have that association linger in your mind, no matter how untrue or uncharitable it might be. Here, the application of the label “alt-right” is meant to stifle debate on immigration, not encourage it. If there can be no reasonable critique made on immigration then the status quo, no matter how bad, will carry the day.

It’s a trick the right has pulled on the left on many occasions. A school shooting? Can’t criticize the Second Amendment, my fellow American, or else you ain’t a patriot. Or, to pick a less noxious example, any plan by a left-of-centre party to raise a tax—any tax—is evidence of economy-killing communism or socialism. Again, it’s a tactic meant to kill nuance and throttle debate. Just ask Stéphane Dion about his “Green Shift,” aka the “permanent tax on everything.”

The Liberals are clearly casting around for slurs that stick in a similar fashion. They’ve largely leaned on using Stephen Harper’s name as a bogeyman; voters grew tired of the Harper government’s perceived nastiness in the last election, hence the longtime Liberal habit of shouting “Harper” in every crowded theatre. It’s why Trudeau himself fronted the “it may be Andrew Scheer’s smile, but it’s still Stephen Harper’s party” attack line at the recent Liberal convention. Slagging Harper sells.

But it doesn’t work nearly as well when speaking about problems the Liberals have created, like the deficit, or inherited and made worse, like the border. Tweeting “Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada” might have won a news cycle, but it’s come back to bite the Liberals in the backside in the form of multiplying “temporary” asylum shelters and an  overwhelmed processing system.

Step forward the “alt-right.” And even if the shoe doesn’t quite fit, the Liberals are going to try their damnedest to make the Conservatives wear it. Because, whether Canadian conservatives like it or not, a lot of their European brethren are piling in against immigration in a nasty fashion. And the reality is that Canada’s vaunted all-party support for immigration might crumble all the same if it faced European-like numbers of asylum seekers, too—just the kind of circumstance that birthed such alt-right movements elsewhere. No conservative party is truly safe.

Nor should liberals rest easy either. The European left is struggling mightily too, and it’s largely because they underestimated the people’s tolerance for an immigration system that clearly could no longer deal with what was coming its way.

To fight back against the alt-right slur, Conservatives in Canada need to do three things: keep supporting much-needed immigration and legitimate refugee claims; avoid hyperbole while making valid criticisms of the government’s actions; and uprooting any actual and visible forms of alt-right support in their party. The Republicans missed their weeding moment; the Tories can’t afford to miss theirs.

Because if they do miss it, it will be Trudeau’s Liberals who have the last laugh—no matter how poor their joke.

Source: The term ‘alt-right’ has become a cudgel against conservatives

And:

…First and foremost, opposition politicians need to stop performing for their bases and begin the challenging task of reaching out to Ford’s supporters. This is both the path to a more civilized discourse, as well as the eventual route back to power.

This isn’t to suggest the opposition remain quiet or docile. Far from it.

Ontario’s system of government requires a strong opposition, especially in holding a majority to account. But a sober critique can land as effectively as a headline-searching cheap shot. Mr. Ford’s support isn’t a monolith; it can be picked off if done reasonably. If he bungles government, people will notice.

And the opposition’s lessons apply equally to the media.

So much of today’s surging populism is fuelled by the sense the arbiters of a society’s discourse – including the press and the politicians they hold to account – are happy to ignore their views. And right now a lot of people are worried about crime and border security. Mr. Ford understands that. Their fears might not necessarily be backed up by statistics, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Here, the sneering tone of journalism on platforms such as Twitter does the profession no favours.

The media need to remain clear-eyed in their work, even if the Premier isn’t their cup of tea. It was a mistake to equate Ford Nation with Mr. Trump and his “deplorables” during the campaign, and it remains a mistake now that Mr. Ford is in government. One thing is certain: The “fake news” drumbeat, still quiet in Canada, will surely grow louder with every unforced reporting error and torqued editorial position.

Premier Ford might not like the press (what politician does), but he isn’t in the class of Mr. Trump. For the moment Mr. Ford is busy running his government, not running against the media. That Mr. Ford doesn’t court or flatter the press shouldn’t count against him, even if it does ultimately make his job more difficult.

For his part, the Premier would do well to keep his ears open to legitimate criticism. Yes, “the People” have spoken and, yes, there are still many promises to keep, but there is also wisdom to be found on all sides. Lashing out at critics isn’t a plan; Mr. Ford must keep his famous temper in check if he is to keep “the People” on his side.

Governing is a marathon, not a race. Mr. Ford won’t secure his re-election in a single day, nor will he be defeated in one. Keeping the hysteria to a minimum gives voters the best chance to make a reasoned decision the next time around.

Ford is not Trump. Ontario’s opposition would be wise to lower the outrage

Martin Regg Cohn: Canadians should beware Premier Doug Ford using ‘illegal’ refugee claimants as a wedge to drive us apart

Agree that wedge politics being played here, arguably by both sides, with the more corrosive discourse and approach by Ford. One thing to argue over funding – yes, the federal government is largely on the hook – but another to refuse participation in all three level of government coordination and cooperation:

One week in power, and Doug Ford’s government has declared war against Justin Trudeau.

By taking aim at asylum claimants who cross into Canada.

That was fast. Don’t shed a tear for the prime minister, who can presumably take care of himself — whether rebuffing a Ford missive or repelling a Donald Trump tirade.

But ask yourself what happens to the inevitable casualties of this conflict between Queen’s Park and Ottawa:

No, not just the people crossing the border to claim refugee status. Think about the rest of us, and what this does to us — the way we treat border crossers, and the way we treat each other.

This will test all of us, not just Ontario’s new premier and his federal counterpart.

The rise in migrants slipping across the border has already challenged our border security and police officers, who have comported themselves with Canadian decency and dignity. It is testing our refugee determination system, which (lest we forget) is burdened and bound by due process.

Now, the border-crossing story that landed in Quebec a year ago, and then crossed over into eastern Ontario, has landed hard on Toronto’s doorstep. Just in time for Ford’s new Progressive Conservative team to seize on it as a wedge issue that drives people apart.

Beware the wedge that exploits refugee claimants — for while many may indeed be economic migrants gaming the system, a good number might well be legitimate victims of persecution seeking sanctuary. You never know, until you know for sure (see: due process).

Yet Ford’s government is wagging its finger at “illegal border crossers” in official statements that misstate reality and incite hostility. It is an axiom of international law that desperate refugee claimants often cross borders by hook or by crook, but that doesn’t make them criminals (it’s precisely how both my parents escaped post-war Communist Europe).

Ontario’s new minister of children and social services, Lisa MacLeod, points an accusing finger at Trudeau for supposedly triggering a mass migration when he “tweeted out that everyone was welcome here, and as a result of that, we’ve had thousands of people cross the border illegally.”

Was this truly the tweet that launched a thousand ships? Or dispatched thousands of taxis to our border, there to disgorge their human cargo on our doorstep as per the PM’s precise GPS directions?

Were it so simple, Trudeau need only delete the troubling tweet. But he never offered directions to those unauthorized border pathways, nor invitations to cross over at leisure.

Yes, Trudeau and countless Canadians took turns humble-bragging and boasting about our supposed virtue in welcoming Syrian refugees after Stephen Harper’s Conservatives behaved churlishly and Barack Obama’s America acted ungenerously. But to draw a direct line between a Trudeau tweet and an imagined human stampede to the border is to elevate the prime minister’s Twitter feed to Trumpian influence.

Let’s be clear here. The migrant movement that began last summer emanated not from any misplaced magnanimity by the PM, but from fear of a looming Trump clampdown on Haitians still enjoying sanctuary in the U.S. after a 2010 earthquake.

It bears repeating that Canada had previously ended that sanctuary status — yes, faster than the Americans — and was systematically deporting Haitians who were here back to their homeland. Oblivious to that fact, thousands of Haitians crossed over into Canada, making up 85 per cent of migrants at the outset.

Under an existing bilateral agreement, the U.S. automatically takes back any refugee claimants who show up at our side of official border crossings. But by slipping over out of sight of those official crossings, migrants exploited a loophole by which the Americans wouldn’t take them back.

Since then, there has been a long and awkward debate about what to do to avoid turning a trickle into a tide.

Federal Conservatives have suggested we declare the entire border one big crossing — as if this would force the Americans to take back their asylum claimants. But Trudeau can no more demand that Trump do as we say on refugees than he can insist that the president undo the tariffs he slapped on our steel and aluminum.

Shall we stand our ground and instruct our police to point guns and draw bayonets at asylum-seekers to keep them on the American side? Or heave them back across the border, throwing their bags after them? Do we build a Trump-style wall across our undefended border and demand Mexico pay for it?

Not really so easy, except in the virtual reality of Twitter.

It’s perfectly fair for the provincial and municipal governments to demand that Ottawa come up with the money and plans to deal with the pressure points in local facilities — in Ontario as in Quebec. To his credit, Mayor John Tory has been pressing the case for Toronto’s needs without turning people against migrants in need.

Ford’s government could learn from the mayor’s approach, instead of delegitimizing asylum-seekers as illegal, and demonizing Ottawa for following a legal framework. On Thursday, when Trudeau met him at Queen’s Park, a statement from the premier’s office declared, provocatively:

“This mess was 100 per cent the result of the federal government.”

In truth, there are no easy answers, just the certainty that public support can easily be turned against asylum-claimants if politicians want to press those buttons (see: Europe and America). All the more reason for all levels of government to start working together, rather than driving people apart.

Source: Martin Regg Cohn: Canadians should beware Premier Doug Ford using ‘illegal’ refugee claimants as a wedge to drive us apart