October 08, 2015

When Fear Hijacks Campaigns

When former NDP leader Jack Layton passed away on August 22, 2011, his final words became legend and transcended partisan lines. He called on Canadians to embrace love, hope, and optimism instead of anger, fear, and despair. Fast forward to 2015 and it appears Canadians have forgotten this message, thanks to fear hijacking the current election campaign. Honestly, what happened to this country’s political discourse? It can be attributed to a headdress worn by Muslim women called the niqab.

The Conservatives and Bloc Québécois used the niqab to play on Québec’s passion for identity – almost 90% of Québec residents supported banning the headdress during citizenship ceremonies per Radio-Canada's "Boussole Électorale"[1] – to harm the NDP who was leading in the province. The NDP supported previous laws, which require Muslim women to unveil their headdress only when identifying themselves in front of a citizenship officer and may keep it on during the ceremony. The Federal Court of Appeal upheld previous laws and the Conservatives tried to get a stay on the decision, which was denied. Given only two women were impacted since the ban was introduced in 2011, this shouldn’t have even been debated in the first place, given there are more important issues to discuss. Still, it was effective in reducing NDP support from a three way tie at around 30% to the low 20% range. Strange enough, the Liberals also opposed the ban and were not yet impacted, though the Conservatives recently launched an attack ad.[2] Sure, the NDP’s decline in support cannot be attributed to that issue alone – they were also attacked for balanced budgets and their cautious approach – but it was a major contributor.

In spite of this recent misfortune, NDP leader Tom Mulcair had brilliant responses during the two French language debates. He called the niqab issue a “weapon of mass distraction” and called out Prime Minister Stephen Harper for hiding his dismal economic record behind a niqab. After all, Harper had the worst job growth since the Second World War, added $150 billion to the federal debt, and banked the Canadian economy on the oil and gas sector which collapsed. Green Party leader Elizabeth May also called out Harper for this move for similar reasons.

The niqab was only the latest in Harper’s ten year tenure marked by fear. They repeatedly used the “Just Not Ready” ads to attack Justin Trudeau’s inexperience and willingness to run deficits, while “Can’t Afford” was the main tagline against Mulcair, though the NDP’s platform debunked their claims. Even outside of political parties, anti-abortion groups made their presence known. They sent disturbing postcards of aborted fetuses with Trudeau’s face; an old idea, given it was also used against New Brunswick Liberal Premier Brian Gallant in 2014. This past Sunday, they staged nationwide protests including one in Parkdale which a fellow volunteer and I passed by prior to canvassing, though one woman had the courage to hold a pro-choice sign. There are other examples of fear, but you get the picture.
Given the level of fear mongering, does it mean all hope is lost for the NDP? It would be unwise to assume this, given they were all but written off during the 2011 election campaign and it was only during the final week when the Orange Wave in Québec propelled the NDP to official opposition for the first time ever. Several recent developments occurred which can help the NDP rebound and are already being reflected in Nanos polls.

  1. A record quarter for fundraising, in which they raised $9 million from July to September from 64 000 donors.[3]
  2. The Trans Pacific Partnership – signed by the Conservatives on Monday, supported by Trudeau, and opposed by Mulcair – was criticized for being negotiated in secrecy, endangering dairy and manufacturing jobs, and jeopardizing Internet privacy.
  3. A powerful new tagline was established during Sunday’s tour in Southwestern Ontario. Childcare, Healthcare, Pharmacare, Mulcair.[4]

With eleven days until the election and advance polls open during the Thanksgiving long weekend, the final campaign stretch will be critical for the NDP and their volunteers to show what they are made of! The best course of action is to vote at the advance poll and help get out the vote on Election Day! As I witnessed in last year’s Ontario election where my MPP Cheri DiNovo won with less than 600 votes, Election Day volunteers can make the difference in tight races! We can still do this, for Canada must be better than being subject to division and fear.

Reject fear!
Rob Z (e-mail)


[1] http://ici.radio-canada.ca/sujet/elections-canada-2015/2015/09/21/011-boussole-port-niqab-ceremonie-citoyennete-opposition-contre-visage-couvert-immigrante.shtml 

[2] Ryan Maloney. Huffington Post. “Tories Release Niqab Ad Day After Harper Blames Rivals For Making Veil An Issue.” October 7, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/10/07/tories-niqab-ad_n_8260206.html?ncid=tweetlnkcahpmg00000002 
[3] http://www.ndp.ca/you-just-made-history  
[4] Mychaylo Prystupa. National Observer. “Can Mulcair pull off an NDP turnaround?” October 6, 2015. http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/10/06/news/can-mulcair-pull-ndp-turnaround  

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