This week has been a watershed moment for democracy, with the insurrection of the Capitol of the United States making a dark moment in history. Never did we ever think we’d witness such things, especially in the nation that has been seen as the leaders of the Free World. We’ve seen the impact of years of lies, conspiracy theories and people practicing the worst kinds of political malpractice, all in the pursuit of power.
There is no mistaking how the tactics of promoting lies and conspiracy theories, in an attempt to harness the wild energy of fringe movements, has led to this awful moment. And while we look to the US and tut-tut, we have our own issues here at home as I pointed out earlier this week. They have a mess down there to clean up, but we have our own here to deal with. No party is completely innocent of how they speak, and all have made mistakes, but I can’t honestly say that all are equally guilty and share equal responsibility. That was the thought in my mind when social media flagged this website that is currently up online, still there and still extremely troubling:
Folks, that was sitting on the website of the Conservative Party of Canada as I was writing this piece. By the time I was finished just after 1 pm today, it was down. I don’t know when that was posted but it appears to be over a year old according to the archived link below. To be honest, while the timing may explain the thoughts in putting it there, the fact that it still remains there after what happened on Wednesday in Washington is stomach churningly bad. It’s the kind of thing we’ve seen from the Conservatives over time here at home, torqueing language, twisting facts and jumping to wild conclusions, all in the attempt to get supporters and donors.
This page in particular is egregious given the events of this week. The page screams “Justin Trudeau is rigging the next election in his favour”, a clearly inflammatory and disgusting claim straight out of the Donald Trump playbook. That’s exactly why the timing of when that page went up, not only because making such wild claims is dangerous as Hell, but because Trump himself has been making similar claims about the US for long before the past couple of months. For the year plus before Americans voted in November, Trump kept saying that “the only way Trump could lose was if the election was rigged or stolen”. Tell me, how exactly are those kinds of claims different from Canada’s Conservatives claiming that Justin Trudeau is trying to rig our next election? It falls from the same logic, that the only way that Conservatives can lose is if the other side cheats or fixes the game, which we know is 100% false.
The site goes further with its misinformation and attempts to foment conspiracies in two ways. Firstly it claims that campaign spending rules that we have, to ensure that we have free and fair elections, are actually Justin Trudeau “attempting to limiting what his opponents can do, while refusing to apply those same restriction on himself.” That is torqued language that not only impugns more malign motives to those laws, but also skates right past the past actions of the former Harper government, which was famous for using government announcements and funding to pump up their own re-election efforts. It’s fair game to point out that governments get an unfair advantage in the run up to campaigns because they are the government, but that’s a problem across all governments and one that the Conservatives themselves never did anything to improve. But in framing it like this, the Conservatives are trying to paint the other side as evil for doing what they called virtuous in their time in office. That’s dangerous as Hell, and is exactly the kind of venom we need to suck out of our politics right now.
But the second thing that really bothered me as something that these Conservatives constantly do and can’t seem to stop themselves from doing. They go over the top with claims that are just factually incorrect, seemingly in an attempt to drive peoples blood pressures higher. The site also claims that “the Liberal legislation does almost nothing to eliminate foreign funding in Canadian elections!”, which makes it sound like the Liberals are trying to funnel foreign money to tilt an election in their favour. That is also extremely untrue, but it’s already illegal for foreign nationals to give money to Canadian election campaigns. What were they going to do, make it “more illegal”? Super duper illegal? This is a prime example of Conservative messaging, trying to tag torqued claims and allegations of the worst sort, offering no evidence of them, then after people are pissed off, asking them to sign an online believe “if you think our democracy deserves better”.
Our democracy does deserve better, so much better than this crap that’s sitting on the Conservatives servers, collecting the contact information of people who they have spun into a frenzy with misinformation and demagoguery. It’s the worst kind of politics and while other parties do their own, toned down versions of this, the Conservatives have consistently shown themselves to be the worst actors in this sense. While everyone uses issues to drive their outreach, only one Canadian party goes this far, in similar lock step to the tactics used by the Republicans in the United States.
Right now all Canadian politicos and political parties need to take a long look in the mirror about how we practice politics. We do need to be able to disagree without demonizing the other. We do need to be able to raise legitimate concerns with legislation without casting the vilest aspersions onto those who sit opposite from us. And while some have more work to do on this front than others, we all have work that needs to be done. Online petitions like that one above are a prime example of playing the worst kind of shameless politics, the kind that led to what we saw in Washington on Wednesday. We all need to do better because right now, we’re not. We need our political leaders to be able to criticize the other side and their own, in equal measures. We also need those same leaders to response to legitimate questions and criticism with insight and thoughtful answers, not wild partisan invectives and dehumanization.
Sadly right now we have too many politicians whose default position is to attack and dehumanize their opponents, seeing them first as enemies of good and rarely seeing them as collegial equals with real concerns and potential solutions. Those politicians are not the majority, but our current political structures give them incentive to be that way. That’s how they generally win leadership elections, nomination races and alike, while the majority don’t call out their crap enough. We need better across the board and I hope that in this moment that we’ll see some of that. If we don’t start doing better, we’ll see more of the worst in our own back yards, like we saw in Washington on Wednesday. And if that happens, we’ll have no one else to blame but ourselves because, frankly, we all knew better. We’ve had the talk and we’ve seen the warning signals. If we don’t change, that will be on us. The next step is ours, it’s just a question of what we’ll do.