The federal election campaign and yesterday felt like the first “normal” campaign day, which is mostly because it was. It was a day of campaign announcements, whistle stops and events, all the usual kinds of things you’d see once a campaign started to find it stride. The biggest difference was, of course, that everything is being done through the lens of COVID and within public health measures. That meant a record amount of elbow-bumping, lots of masks, and a while lot of nasal swabbing by members of the National Press Gallery. It’s all been a bit of an adjustment.
But another big difference also started to be noticed yesterday, one that was much more worrying and one that appears will feature bigger in this campaign that most of us would like. What was that? Well here is what happened to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh early in the day yesterday in Toronto:
Some might point out that being heckled at a campaign event isn’t that new for Jagmeet, as that has happened to him before and he dealt with it remarkably well then in 2017. But this feels very different, and that gets confirmed when you add this video of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s event in Cobourg, Ontario later in the evening:
Justin Trudeau isn’t unfamiliar with protests showing up at his events either, but what we saw in Toronto and Cobourg feels very different to me. It reminds me of what happened back in September, when we saw conspiracy theorists and the crowd that has circled around the anti-public health movement try to enact a “citizens arrest” of Jagmeet Singh, Justin Trudeau and Radio-Canada journalist Daniel Thibeault in the Parliamentary Precinct in Ottawa. In that case, there were lots of threats and talk of “traitors” and crap like that, and it was a moment that made people sit up and realize that we needed to take the safety of our political leaders a bit more seriously.
But as COVID has gone on, we’ve seen many of these anti-public health, anti-social activists get more and more aggressive, both here at home and in the United States. We saw the cases involving a Calgary mayoral candidate that involved charges being brought against him for making threats against public health workers. We’ve seen scenes in the US like this as well:
What’s getting worryingly clear is that these groups are getting aggressive to the point where we’re seeing sights like that. There is no way in Hell in a proper democracy that doctors should face crap like that for simply doing their jobs and providing their best medical advice, yet we’re seeing more and more things like that. And here at home, we’re seeing more of that tone creeping into the discourse and tactics. The fact is that a Federal Election gives these people an opportunity to do more of this, and I suspect that this is something that will continue to happen as this campaign goes along. I would also expect that Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole will likely see some of the same as well, as that crowd isn’t totally thrilled with him and his party at this moment, no matter how much he tries to keep them in the tent.
I do worry that someone involved in that movement will escalate this even further, and given the tone coming from those groups, it doesn’t feel unreasonable to plan for that. I remember how we shuttered during the last campaign when it became public that Justin Trudeau needed to wear a bulletproof vest at an event because of a threat. That felt like such an un-Canadian moment because we’ve not seen those kinds of threats and violence in our politics since the early 1970’s. Yet here we are, just two years later, and seeing the anger and threatening tone from those videos yesterday does feel just as shuttering. Not for the fact that it happened, but because its likely not going to be the last time it happens in this campaign.
I hope that I’m wrong about this, but it felt that just as we were settling into a more “normal” campaign rhythm, seeing that potentially being a part of that “normal” was very jarring and worrying. I hope we can turn that around, but something tells me that won’t happen in this campaign. We’ll see what happens but if we continue to see sights like that as the campaign continues, some action will need to be taken quickly. We can’t let that kind of malignant force fester in our politics. We’re seeing in real time to our South when that is allowed to happen, and we are better than that. Now it’s time to prove it.