When facts caught up with Stephen Harper's claim that he was the best person to manage the economy, he tried to stoke the fires of xenophobia, convinced that the heat he generated would lead him all the way back to Sussex Drive. He failed. But, Errol Mendes writes, we should look carefully at the numbers:
Yet, drilling down into the election results, the Conservative strategy partly succeeded at least in Quebec in parts where there was a dominant francophone population. In these ridings, where there are not many and in some cases, not any, Muslims or people from other cultures, the Conservative campaign played into what are often the catalysts of incipient racism and xenophobia, namely fear of loss of identity and suspicion of the “different other”. The French policy of secularism imported into francophone Quebec also played a part.
Canadians, as a whole, are decent people. However, some decent people are easily manipulated:
But irresponsible political leaders attempted to drive a large hole into that precious quality of respect for diversity that Canada gives to the world. The campaign of Stephen Harper partially succeeded in that. It massively rebounded on him and his party due the fact that it wounded the NDP and its leader who courageously stuck to his principles and stood by the fundamental right of the solitary women to wear her niqab at the citizenship ceremony as long she had shown her identity without the face covering beforehand. The demise of the NDP in Quebec due to the xenophobic strategy of the Conservatives led the majority of progressive voters to swing massively to the Liberals as the main hope of ousting the Harper government. The majority Liberal government will no doubt bury the barely disguised xenophobic proposals and actions of the Harper government. However, what limited success those proposals and actions had in Quebec is deeply troubling not only for Canada, but I suggest for many parts of our troubled world. There are growing number of examples in Europe of similar attempts by usually far right politicians to use various forms of xenophobia to make inroads into main stream and sometimes even traditionally progressive parties.
The same kind of race baiting is alive and well in European politics. And, after yesterday's events in Paris, it's bound to raise its ugly head again. Language and symbols -- like niqabs -- can inflame a population:
Language and symbols as much as guns and bullets can cause great damage to any society and pose the greatest dangers to those in democratic societies whose very guarantees of freedom of expression can be used by those who may want to gain power by scapegoating and vilifying the minorities who are part of their increasingly diverse societies.
That is why what happened in Canada a month ago is so important. Like it or not, we are an example -- either good or bad -- for the world. And, for the moment, we have listened to our better angels.