Goodbye, Bernier: Canadians have rejected your politics of fear

By Mustafa Farooq
The Globe and Mail | October 26, 2019

Mustafa Farooq is a lawyer and the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

At the beginning of the campaign, we at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) saw clearly that Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) planned to use this election cycle to see if Islamophobia and Trump-style politics of fear and division would work in Canada.

Thus we were confronted with “platform paradox”: How do you publicly critique someone engaging in racist conduct without adding fuel to the fire? How do you prevent them from using your critique to raise their own public image among their constituents?

We think our solution of refusing to engage with the PPC’s ridiculous policies and ideas was the right one.

On election night, despite his defeat, Mr. Bernier was unrepentant about his core policy agenda. He proclaimed that the PPC had laid down the groundwork to confront “uncontrolled immigration.” Another person in his position might have reflected on how irresponsible it was to use such language when any modicum of research would show how untrue that notion was.

The reality is that Mr. Bernier and his party engaged in a campaign of misinformation, racism and dog-whistle politics aimed at Islamophobes. Mr. Bernier said he would fight against “extreme multiculturalism.” He promised to end the “glorification of diversity.” He promised to fight any motion in Parliament that contained the word “Islamophobia.” He was slated to show up at a rally with the neo-Nazi group Soldiers of Odin and far-right La Meute.

And that’s just Mr. Bernier himself. Take a look at the smouldering ruins of the PPC and you discover the artifacts of racism and hate. One of the original signatories to the registration of the party was the former leader of a neo-Nazi group. The PPC had a candidate who called Islam “pure evil” and argued that it was time to have a conversation about Muslims being allowed to enter Canada, but they were never censured by the party. One candidate mulled over suing a mosque because he hadn’t been invited to a community town hall. And the list goes on and on.

Mr. Bernier lost in his home riding of Beauce. The riding is not too far from Quebec City, where, on Jan. 29, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette, driven by Islamophobic and anti-immigrant sentiments, opened fire and ended the lives of six Muslims and injured numerous others. This happened at the same mosque where someone left a severed pig’s head. The same mosque that faced violent online threats, some resulting in criminal convictions. The same mosque whose executives were targeted in an arson attack.

And so, in reaction to the PPC, we at the NCCM decided to do something radical: We refused to respond to the party’s vitriolic Islamophobia and racism. Research shows that “de-platforming” far-right personalities and social-media channels that spew hate, such as Faith Goldy, Infowars and others, can be effective in limiting the spread of ideologies of hate into the mainstream. As with these far-right media personalities and websites, engaging with the PPC would risk normalizing hate and fear in Canadian politics.

As an anti-racism advocacy organization, we had to think about the long-term implications of engaging a hateful and ridiculous political “party.”

We decided not to feed the troll.

When we saw the PPC doing nothing about a candidate who appeared to endorse limiting Muslim “entryism” into Canada, we knew that engaging with yet another ignorant position from a PPC candidate would be counterproductive. We refused to engage with the party on principle, knowing that this party had made hate and division a central element of its platform.

Parties such as the PPC have to understand that the politics of hate can never succeed in entering mainstream discourse in Canada.

At the conclusion of this election, we can rest easy knowing that we did not give Mr. Bernier or his ideas a platform. And more importantly, Canadians refused to platform Mr. Bernier – instead, they utterly rejected the politics of fear. That doesn’t mean elected officials don’t have to engage in serious conversations about racism in Canada. But this election has clearly shown that hate is a failed organizing principle in Canadian politics.