Why progressive Canadians should sign up to vote in the upcoming Conservative leadership election

Stopping far right wing populists demands your vote

Graphic by Aldo Rios.

The alt-right – an offshoot of conservatism that combines elements of populism, white nationalism, bigotry, and reactionary anger due to growing income inequality and the deteriorating quality of life – has gone from being a largely obscure, online subculture lurking in the shadows of the internet to a mainstream central player in the political spheres of the United States, the Netherlands, and France, among others. In particular, it was Donald Trump’s rise to the American presidency that emboldened these nativist elements, giving the alt-right movement legitimacy and strength.

And while we like to think of Canada as one of the last remaining havens of liberal tolerance, we have also witnessed a recent surge in racist, alt-right propaganda, especially around Canadian campuses.

Posters, flyers, and other paraphernalia promoting alt-right slogans have been found on several campuses across the country – the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, York University, and McMaster University. “Make Canada Great Again” posters displaying anti-Muslim and anti-gay symbols were posted around McGill University in December. And posters picturing a Sikh man with bold letters plastered across his turban reading “Fuck Your Turban” were taped around the University of Alberta.

Fortunately, there are differences between Canada and the United States that can work against our own rising tide of alt-right activity.

For one, laws around free speech differ. In Canada, “hate propaganda” is forbidden. This includes any form of visible, verbal, or physical representation that promotes hatred, discrimination, hostility or “the destruction of an identifiable group.” Unlike their American counterparts, Canadian judges also have the power to confiscate any such publication. Interpretations of the First Amendment in the U.S. limit free speech that incites violence or falls under slander and obscenity, but it does not limit hate speech. In a way, hate crime legislation in Canada keeps the alt-right in check.

Additionally, the alt-right movement in Canada places less emphasis on the issue of gun rights and the mantra of survivalism, and it is less organized as it suffers from internal conflicts and lacks the same level of political support we see in the United States and Europe.

But Canada is not immune to the re-normalization of these right-wing extremist sentiments. The alt-right exists here and it may be growing. Indeed, there are a number of Canadians that can be classified as “sympathizers” – those who don’t completely align with the alt-right but are visiting their websites and agreeing with their arguments.

The rise of the alt-right movement has inspired officials on the Canadian right to espouse a similar populist message. Conservative leadership candidates Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander already tested these waters when they proposed the Barbaric Cultural Practices act in the last federal election – an RCMP hotline for Canadians to report on “barbaric practices” they witness.

Leitch even outright celebrated Donald Trump’s win when she sent out an email to her supporters hoping to spread Trump’s “exciting message” to Canada. Recently, she posted a video that looks more like a Saturday Night Live sketch than a policy video where she laid out her immigration plan, which among other things would require the federal government to screen potential immigrants and refugees for “Canadian values.”

The latest poll on the Conservative leadership race, released in February, discovered that out of the 14 candidates running, Kevin O’Leary, the self-interested, cash money connoisseur is the most appealing candidate to Canadians. This is despite the fact that since entering the race, O’Leary has spent more than half his time in the U.S. and a few weeks ago chose to skip the Edmonton bilingual debate, attributing his absence to the debate’s “terrible” format in what seemed to be an attempt to deflect from the fact that he can hardly speak a word of French.

Whoever wins the Conservative leadership race will inevitably shape and define the ideology that will dominate the Conservative Party and consequently the 2019 general federal elections. Conservative or not, it is our duty to ensure that we prevent any candidate that aligns themselves with the alt-right from becoming the leader of the Conservative Party and we can do this by an unconventional yet effective way: voting in the Conservative leadership race.

Unlike the Liberal Party, which opened up its leadership race to all Canadians, the Conservative party still requires a $15 membership purchase from those wishing to participate in the leadership vote. So here’s my plea to progressive millennials concerned about the country’s future: sign up as a member of the Conservative political party before March 28, tell your friends to do the same, and vote on May 27. Then, during the 2019 elections, vote for whomever you want.

The only somewhat progressive candidate in the Conservative leadership race is Michael Chong, tied for second in the polls alongside Maxime Bernier. Both appear to have a good chance of becoming the next Conservative Party leader. But it’s not Bernier that progressives should be interested in.

Chong has highlighted the urgency of climate change and supported the move toward carbon taxation and was the only Conservative MP to publicly support M-103 – the controversial anti-Islamophobia motion. Chong also notably fought against the lack of government oversight in Bill C-51 in 2015, which is also known as the Anti-Terrorism Act. The legislation broadened the government’s ability to share information about individuals, infringing upon the rights and freedoms of Canadians for the sake of public safety.

By paying the $15 fee and signing up for the Conservative membership, you are not endorsing the party or its policies. Rather, you are participating in the democratic process by adding your voice and choosing a candidate who will likely realign the Conservative Party with the fundamental values we all share and expect from our leaders: multiculturalism, equality, and environmental protection. We can commit the party to meeting the real needs of Canadians.

This is an opportunity for us to move beyond party lines and open up constructive political dialogue that will hopefully move us away from the “left versus right” discourse that has separated us has and halted the potential for real and effective change – change that we all seek regardless of political affiliation.