The next two nights will feature what could be two of the most pivotal moments in this election campaign; the French and English national leaders’ debates. The old adage says that “debates don’t change elections, unless they do”, and there is a lot of truth there. But given the tight nature of this race and the stakes, it feels like if anything is going to break the log jam in the polls that we’re currently seeing, surely these debates offer the best chances.
That being said, actually being on that stage the next couple of nights matters, giving each of those leaders a chance to make their marks. We’ll see the leaders from all five national parties with seats in the House of Commons and who met the criteria to participate; the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Greens. That composition is being questioned by some, a topic that I wasn’t planning on touching. But then columnist Andrew Coyne came out with a piece on this, and I believe it required a direct reply:
I should be clear right at the start here, as I have been on radio & tv when asked about this; I don’t think that the PPC’s Maxime Bernier should be on that stage, and I’m comforted that the Debate Commission set criteria and actually stuck to it. Remember, Bernier was on that stage in 2019 and it was questionable if he should have been. This time clear requirements were put in place, and they were followed to the letter. That is a good thing, and I’ll come back to that.
But Coyne is taking the opposite view, for reasons that I take issue with. I don’t think that Bernier should be on that stage for many good reasons, but if he had met the criteria, he would be there, period. He didn’t miss the criteria by much, so it was within his hands to get there. My problem with Coyne’s view basically comes down to what appears to be the premise of his argument; PPC supporters are conspiracy theorists, suspect that “the fix is in” and that should be answered to.
Coyne rightfully points to the noxious and ignorant nature of the PPC’s rhetoric and Bernier’s own over the top crap. He then considers the question about “how should the wider community react to this phenomenon?” and arrives at the following answer; we should basically validate their suspicions by taking them seriously. Or as he put it, “when dealing with people who believe powerful people are meeting in secret to conspire against them, it is generally best if powerful people do not meet in secret to conspire against them.”
I have to admit that this approach and those last words is what sent me to the keyboard today, mostly because of what he is basically suggesting; that rational people following facts and rules in society should change our approaches and how we rationally act because some irrational people are seeing irrational things that aren’t there. He basically suggests that if we don’t take there crap seriously, we’re proving that their crap isn’t crap at all, but oh so real. In short, he’s suggesting that we validate their irrationality. That today sounds completely nutty to me, if not downright naïve, a word I never thought I’d use to describe words written by a columnist I respect, even if I don’t always agree with.
And here is the thing, there might have been a time when I would have been more willing to subscribe to Coyne’s suggestion here. Yes, there are some people who back the PPC who have fallen deeply down insane rabbit holes and we hope could be brought back out with some kind discussion, patience and understanding. Early on, I would have agreed that leaders should try to do just that. But we’re now at a point where PPC members are showing up at other parties’ rallies, screaming, swearing, throwing things and calling for harm to other leaders. A PPC candidate in London went on Twitter calling for Justin Trudeau to be executive while another in Niagara tweeted about arresting and doing worse to journalists. Hell, Bernier himself put out a video just the other day he told a rally in Kelowna that “when tyranny becomes law, revolution becomes our duty”.
Let’s be clear everyone; we’re not living in a fucking tyranny and there is no need for “revolution”. So why in the Hell would we, as law abiding and respectful citizens, validate that kind of dangerous lunacy by treating such vile shit as worthy of our respect? Worse yet, why would we give that leader four hours of prime-time national television in order to spew his racist, ignorant shit to the public? Also, in a time when we’re trying to fight this COVID pandemic, why in the Hell would you let a COVID denier on stage who is unvaccinated himself while trying to convince others not to be?
This isn’t a matter of having a simple disagreement in policy or having a “different take” on how our politics should be done. It is reasonable to have respectful discussion on such matters. But this is something completely different, because almost all of what the PPC is running on is based on conspiracy theories, lies, crap and threats. There is nothing reasonable about any of that. By treating that party as “reasonable” or making it acceptable to discuss this crap isn’t going to bring those people back out of the rabbit hole. If anything, it’s going to validate their burrowing and their new fascinations with these fascist fantasies.
In the end, it doesn’t fall to the law abiding and rational public to make the irrational feel heard when they spew their irrationality. That’s not to be mean, but it’s just a fact of life. To do so only justifies the unjustifiable and feeds the irrationality. Worse yet, indulging them won’t do any more to cure those of that irrationality. Those who see conspiracy theories around every corner will continue to, no matter what approach we in rational society take. It’s dangerous to the health of our democracy to continue to bend over backwards to try to please a tiny, irrational minority that has no interest or desire to be pleased.
Rules are rules and these rules set up were very reasonable. I see no value or reason to upend them now, especially when we consider the noxious and dangerous voice it would bring to the scene. I’m more than fine that Maxime Bernier won’t be on that debate stage the next couple of nights, period. While our debate set up isn’t perfect, this situation where Bernier isn’t invited isn’t an example of that imperfection. If Bernier and Co. want to be on that debate stage next time, they’ll need to do it by following the rules; either win a seat or get high enough in the polls in time. If they pull that off next time, we’ll worry about that then but for today, the PPC hasn’t earned their spot and that’s more than alright.