The Hamilton Spectator
Tories cosy up to extremism
The Trudeau government was doing a pretty good job of digging itself a deep electoral hole in the first few weeks of 2023. Multiple ethics violations, an embarrassing reversal on gun control, the China election mess — it wasn’t a pretty picture.
The government, it became clear, needed help. So right on cue comes an assist from a group that can always be counted on to shoot itself in the foot at a key moment — the Conservative Party of Canada.
We learned last week that three Conservative MPs had a chummy lunch with a leader of one of the most extreme parties in European politics, Christine Anderson of Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany). Anderson is notorious for her anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic views, something anyone can find out with a quick Google search.
Anderson had quite the week in Canada. Aside from the meeting with MPs Leslyn Lewis, Colin Carrie and Dean Allison, she was feted from Calgary to Cambridge, where maybe 150 members of what’s left of the “Freedom Convoy” movement cheered her on. She even got a ride in a big rig, which left her visibly emotional.
Now, unlike his recent predecessors as Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre obviously doesn’t think the path to victory lies in dragging his party into the centre. He wants to win from the right and drag voters over there. But there are limits.
So Poilievre quickly condemned Anderson’s views as “vile” and said his MPs were “not aware” of her positions. The MPs followed up by saying that, indeed, “we were not aware of the views or associations of her and her political party.” And they “strongly condemn any views that are racist or hateful.”
The trouble with all this is that it beggars belief. Anderson may be an obscure figure for the majority of Canadians. But for anyone associated with the antivax, “freedom” crowd she’s iconic.
One of the three Conservative MPs, Colin Carrie, was certainly familiar with Anderson and some of her views. Last March she made a speech in the European Parliament attacking Canada’s pandemic restrictions and labelling Justin Trudeau a “disgrace to democracy.” Carrie cited Anderson’s speech as proof the Trudeau government was being condemned in Europe.
Yet now Carrie and the others claim not to know what she stands for. As far as sympathy for the “Freedom Convoy” goes, that’s simply unbelievable. As for her other views on immigration and Islam, they’re either being wilfully ignorant or they simply don’t care. Either possibility is unacceptable.
There’s something strange about Poilievre’s statement, too. Whatever else you think about the Conservative leader, you’ve got to acknowledge he’s a master of social media. Yet his statement condemning the meeting was issued to individual journalists seeking comment. As far as I can tell, it still appears nowhere on his social media accounts. You’d think if Poilievre wanted to make an emphatic statement opposing racism and xenophobia he’d blast that out everywhere. But maybe not. Perhaps he wants to say just enough to get his party off the hook, but not enough to alienate too many associated with the convoy movement.
(Finally, what to make of Anderson’s comment that she’s spoken to Poilievre “a couple of times,” while he maintains that never happened?)
That’s all tactics and political manoeuvring. I don’t know the best way for Poilievre to finesse this issue to his partisan advantage.
More importantly, there’s a matter of principle at stake. Anderson’s unapologetic xenophobia has no place in Canada, and MPs who flirt with it are degrading their own party. If the Conservative party allows itself to be tainted by such views, it will lose, and deservedly so.