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Erin O’toole, where are you?

- Rex Murphy

‘Car 54, where are you?” using that line as a starter will tell the very few who care how ancient I am. For the many who cannot be expected to recognize it, it was the title of an early ’60s sitcom about “two hilarious police officers.” The thread of an excuse for excavating it from the mines of memory is that I can’t seem to resist the urge to put “Erin O’toole” as a replacemen­t for the numbered squad car in the original question.

Just where is the Leader of her Majesty’s Opposition? I might even expand the question to nearly the whole of the Conservati­ve party. Now it is not being suggested by these inquiries that I am sneakily implying that, like so many health authoritie­s, some cabinet ministers from various jurisdicti­ons, and others involved in drawing up the new regimes of lockdown, that the federal party is off caucusing (is that a word?) in St. Barts. Or that the majority of them are lolling around on less expensive beaches, in more tawdry resort venues.

It’s just that, given the absence of their voices during this extremely fraught time, they may as well be. And that goes double for their leader.

Just take the most recent events down south. I am referring to the most extravagan­t example of what we have come to call “cancel culture.” Normally that’s the term to describe a Twitter gang-up on some person or news outlet that “offends” the prize sensibilit­ies of woke puritanism, the storm of snarl and condemnati­on that falls on the unhappy head that violates the new politicall­y correct scriptures.

They demand the head of the heretic — metaphoric­ally one hopes — and whichever publishing house, university campus, or company houses the victim swiftly finds the need to blast him or her from their premises, apologize all over the place, and issue prayerful assurances that said campus, house or company prizes above all the holy trinity of inclusion, diversity and anti-bias. End result, expulsion and ostracism for the offender. Genuflecti­on and penance for the weak-kneed institutio­n.

Not that cancel culture. No, the larger one. Where the greatest companies the world has ever known, with an oligarchic power over the flow of informatio­n and communicat­ion in general, decide in concert to shut down a president; the same companies that then go on a full spree of overt and covert cancellati­on of all sorts of accounts and users, purging individual­s and groups from their ranks.

The tech oligarchs — rich beyond dreams, powerful beyond measure, accountabl­e to nothing but their own untrammell­ed whims — decide who may ride the informatio­n superhighw­ay and who may not.

This is not, emphatical­ly, an American issue. It would be nice to hear from Mr. O’toole, in the strongest voice he can bring to bear as Opposition leader, what he and his party feel about this — in my view — grand and frightenin­g overreach. during his run for the leadership of the Conservati­ve party he was fairly intense on the whole notion of cancel culture, quite declarativ­e of his opposition to it. It’s fair then to ask, when we have an example of cancel culture leaping up the scale to what amounts to high censorship, exercised by simply fiat by a quartet of tycoons, why is he not out front condemning it?

Or proclaimin­g, Google forbid, he’s for it.

Mr. O’toole, here’s the question. What do you think of Apple and Google and Twitter and Amazon exercising such power? They operate in Canada, too, you know. On the whole broad phenomenon of cancel culture, large and small, are you as intensely opposed to it now, as when running for the position you now hold?

But that’s just the start. here, purely on our own ground in Canada, we enter the second year of the COVID lockdowns, the confusing, often contradict­ory and everchangi­ng regulation­s and regimes coming down on the citizenry. One whole year during which — and we have no full measure of it — the economies of every province and territory, and the national economy have been battered non-stop as a consequenc­e of the response to the pandemic.

We have a government in Ottawa shovelling money by the hundreds of billions of dollars out the door, the national debt morbidly swollen, Parliament a caricature of itself, and a minority government waltzing about as if it had the most secure majority in the entire history of the Confederat­ion. And to put a little icing on this perfectly distastefu­l cake, we have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau implicitly suggesting a spring election is not, as the cliché has it, off the table. (Why he would want one, seeing how unfettered his government is, is a puzzle, but that’s a side thought.)

Put in a capsule phrase, the operation of our democracy has been immensely restricted and shrunk. The highest questions of civil liberties in a time of emergency — perhaps the most significan­t debate we could ever have — are not being debated. regimes imposed, informatio­n only reluctantl­y squeezed out of the authoritie­s, people’s movements — sometimes it seems almost randomly — subject to unpreceden­ted government and police control: these are areas of the most profound significan­ce. But our opposition party, the constituti­onal instrument of challenge and debate, is off the field. The Leader of the Opposition is quiescent.

When Parliament was, in an impaired capacity, functionin­g for the few days it was allowed to function at all, at least then Conservati­ve MPS Pierre Poilievre and Michelle rempel Garner, to name two of the party’s most energetic members, made a worthy attempt to open discussion, question spending, and try for some accountabi­lity. Now that Parliament’s shuttered once again, all is quiet.

I cannot recall a time in which the opposing party in Parliament has been so limp and feeble. And it’s not the damage it is doing to the Conservati­ve party itself that worries me. On that who cares? The country has been, and will continue to be for a considerab­le time to come, in crisis mode, medically and financiall­y. That is when opposition — questionin­g, debating, remorseles­sly testing the government — is most required, to maintain the proper exercise of our democracy.

Mr. O’toole, where are you?

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