Look out, there’s a mon­ster com­ing

It’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore a pop­ulist-po­lit­i­cal move­ment rises in Nova Sco­tia.

The Coast - - THE CITY - BY JA­COB BOON

A pop­ulist po­lit­i­cal up­ris­ing will emerge in Nova Sco­tia’s po­lit­i­cal arena. It’s in­escapable, like fate.

Al­ready there have been sparks of life from young Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive mem­bers, fed­eral Tory hope­fuls and Hal­i­fax coun­cil­lors who—know­ingly or not—trudge out com­mon plays from the pop­ulist, far-right and lib­er­tar­ian on­line play­book.

Right now, though, the clos­est thing Nova Sco­tia has to a gen­uine right-of-cen­tre pop­ulist is John Lohr, one of the can­di­dates fight­ing this week­end for Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Party lead­er­ship.

“John has cer­tainly done ev­ery­thing he can to mount a pop­ulist cam­paign,” says Chris Ly­don, vice-pres­i­dent of M5 pub­lic af­fairs, “in­ter­mit­tent” PC strate­gist, me­dia pun­dit and CBC ‘spin­buster.’ “It’s been pretty provoca­tive.”

The Kings North MLA has spent his cam­paign threat­en­ing uni­ver­si­ties with a with­drawal of gov­ern­ment fund­ing should they “give in to po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” by shut­ting down “free speech.” He’s a proud pro-lifer who would “like to see the fed­eral gov­ern­ment put pa­ram­e­ters around abor­tion.” Lohr has also fol­lowed sim­i­lar pop­ulist po­lit­i­cal fig­ures by ig­nor­ing oper­a­tional ju­ris­dic­tions to re­lease vi­ral-friendly barbs about what­ever hot topic is trend­ing on­line, whether its the lack of Uber in Hal­i­fax, the re­moval of the Ed­ward Corn­wal­lis statue or wrongly claim­ing that en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists against North­ern Pulp were paid pro­test­ers.

Some­one who is paid is Lohr’s cam­paign man­ager, Steve Out­house, who the Mac­Don­ald Note­book de­scribes as an “in­flu­en­tial back­room player dur­ing the 10-year long regime of Con­ser­va­tive leader Stephen Harp- er.” Out­house pre­vi­ously man­aged the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship cam­paign of Pierre Lemieux. The can­di­date’s mes­sag­ing fo­cused on so­cially con­ser­va­tive is­sues like re­open­ing the abor­tion de­bate in Par­lia­ment, op­pos­ing leg­is­la­tion to add gen­der ex­pres­sion to the Hu­man Rights Act and de­mand­ing greater au­thor­ity to screen im­mi­grants at our bor­ders to com­bat rad­i­cal Is­lam.

Ly­don, who’s old friends with Out­house, says the strategy for a dark-horse can­di­date like Lohr seems to be to “get this can­di­dacy from an also-ran, ‘isn’t John a good guy,’ to a lead­ing pol­icy can­di­date” by at­tempt­ing to go vi­ral in on­line con­ser­va­tive cir­cles.

It’s work­ing, a lit­tle. Lohr’s anti-left poli­cies have at­tracted ‘star’ en­dorse­ments from for­mer Aca­dia Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Rick Me­hta and for­mer leader of the Chris­tian Her­itage Party Jim Hnatiuk. There are also smaller en­dorse­ments, such as from Joe Hazel­ton, an IT man­ager in Yar­mouth whose YouTube chan­nel rants against Ge­orge Soros, “the rise of Is­lam in the west” and the Justin Trudeau’s ef­forts to “repa­tri­ate and rein­te­grate ISIS ter­ror­ists.” Hazel­ton’s rec­om­men­da­tion is proudly dis­played on Lohr’s cam­paign page.

Canada has a his­tory of these move­ments. There was the So­cial Credit Party, Pre­ston Man­ning’s Re­form Party and, more re­cently, fringe Tory per­son­al­i­ties like Kevin O’Leary and Kel­lie Leitch. It was at the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive con­ven­tion in Hal­i­fax back in Au­gust that MP Maxime Bernier an­nounced he was leav­ing the CPC to form a “right of cen­tre, pop­ulist” Peo­ple’s Party of Canada.

A na­tional poll from last year found 80 per­cent of Cana­di­ans think “the elite” are “out of touch” with or­di­nary folks and that main­stream politi­cians can’t solve so­ci­ety’s prob­lems. Hard-line right-wing views have in­creas­ingly cropped up on univer­sity cam­puses and in al­ter­na­tive me­dia. Anti-im­mi­gra­tion, pro-na­tion­al­ist and racist voices are speak­ing up louder and be­ing am­pli­fied by their sup­port­ers. It’s a land­scape ripe for pop­ulists, and they’ve stepped up to the plate.

Doug Ford’s Tories took On­tario ear­lier this year. The Coali­tion Avenir Québec formed a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment in that province and the An­glo-cen­tric Peo­ple’s Al­liance made big strides re­cently in New Brunswick. Just this week, a white su­prem­a­cist came third in Toronto’s may­oral elec­tion. A dis­tant third, but she still earned some 25,000 votes.

Ly­don doesn’t think it’ll be a road Nova Sco­tia’s Tories head down, how­ever. The redTory Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive brand isn’t par­tic­u­larly right-of-cen­tre. The “real meat on the bone” for pop­ulism in the Mar­itimes, he says, could come from the left.

“You’re giv­ing non-tra­di­tional, so­cial me­dia driven ac­tivist vot­ers an out­side-the-box op­tion that isn’t one of the big two,” he says. “I don’t know if here in Nova Sco­tia it would be to the right.”

Right now, ev­ery party is strug­gling to spark the in­ter­est of mil­len­nial vot­ers, says the pun­dit. That means en­gag­ing with the pub­lic in those on­line spa­ces where they con­gre­gate, and telling them what­ever they want to hear. Add in a cult of per­son­al­ity and, well...

“If it’s not the un­beat­able sce­nario, it’s cer­tainly the req­ui­site sce­nario to be im­pact­ful right now,” says Ly­don.

In other words, a pop­ulist move­ment might be un­avoid­able if only be­cause it could be the best way to win. Now that’s scary.

ROB HANSEN

Like fash­ion styles and food trends, Nova Sco­tia might just be a decade be­hind on po­lit­i­cal move­ments.

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