Manitoba should have no space for hate

Dog whistles in provincial election campaign symptom of larger issue

In case students somehow missed the visual cacophony of political signage on their trek to campus, the Manitoba provincial election is this upcoming Tuesday, Oct. 3.

To say this provincial election has been an embarrassment is an understatement.

From straight-up dog whistles in political advertisements to campaign pledges, the trudge to the ballot box has been disgraceful.

While this editorial reads the recent uptick of divisive politics as a product of recent Canadian history, provincial politicians seem to be steepening that uptick. The question that begs to be asked this election cycle is: why is the Manitoba Progressive Conservative (PC) party running a campaign to appease voters using — via their own campaign ads, no less — dishonest communications strategies?

Racist ads have sprouted up across the city on bus benches, one of the worst featuring a cop, arms crossed, telling us how the only province in Canada founded by Indigenous leadership would turn into The Purge overnight if the party led by an Indigenous man was elected.

This editorial could be 30 pages of the Manitoban if the preferred word count allowed space to unpack the astronomical levels of racism within this ad alone. Policing has had a close relationship with anti-Indigenous violence — from cops committing historical starlight tours against Indigenous Peoples, to Indigenous men being stereotyped as violent criminals. It has me wondering why a city police officer is even allowed to have a say in a provincial election?

Next, we have the ads that claim children in the province need to be protected from what is being taught in public schools. Parents already — checks notes — have rights over their children, can consult the government of Manitoba website about what’s going on in schools and have the power to homeschool their children if they don’t agree with what’s being taught in the classroom.

Dog whistling, or cryptic messaging that lends the speaker plausible deniability but still registers with those in-the-know, has been a key component of the PCs’ communications. Much like a real dog whistle is not audible to the human ear, most of the public does not register that right-wing dog whistles cover for broader agendas.

The PCs’ promise of “fighting for parental rights” is, in recent years, not only an anti-2SLGBTQIA+ dog whistle, but a racist dog whistle that has led to our southerly neighbours banning critical race theory in some states. This excuse was used in an attempt to ban 2SLGBTQIA+ books in the Brandon School Division this May. The public hears “parental rights” while white supremacists and transphobes hear “erase marginalized people from the public eye.”

The “1 Million March 4 Children” that culminated last Wednesday to “protect” kids was yet another real-life consequence of when politicians are allowed to peddle hate.

Popular culture points to former president Donald Trump for bringing divisiveness and polarization into the political mainstream, but we are remiss to ignore Canada’s own contribution to this rhetoric.

Recent iterations of extreme right-wing Canadian politics can be traced back to when the federal Reform Party of Canada — a fringe, populist conservative party founded in 1987 — snowballed into the just-as-hard conservative federal Canadian Alliance party in 2000. In 2003, Stephen Harper, leader of the Canadian Alliance at the time, talked then-federal Progressive Conservative party leader Peter MacKay into merging the parties to become the Conservative Party of Canada.

The Conservative party would win the federal election in 2006 and Harper would go on to rule over Canada as prime minister for nearly a decade until the party was voted out in the 2015 federal election.

To quote John Oliver’s spin on Hannah Arendt’s famous line, “where there is banality, there is evil.”

“The nerd who came from nowhere,” Harper prorogued — which means the shut down of government — twice to hold onto power: once in 2008 to evade a no-confidence vote, and a second time in 2009 during an inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees, where the shutdown would allow the Conservatives to gain majority control of the Senate when parliament was back in session.

Harper also muzzled scientists from sharing research with the public about climate change during his tenure. He stalled government action on climate change for nine whole years, paving the path for conspiracy theories that climate change is a hoax, because “suddenly” there were climate change reports that weren’t around in Canada during Harper’s tenure as PM.

Most infamously, Harper established the “Barbaric Cultural Practices” hotline in 2015 during the election campaign. The creation of this racist hotline was a direct result of new immigrant Zunera Ishaq pushing back on the Conservative government’s 2011 policy that banned face veils when she wished to wear her niqab during her 2014 citizenship ceremony.

Those who are just reading about this part of recent Canadian history will be happy to know Ishaq not only won her battle in court, but wore her niqab during her citizenship ceremony in 2015. However, the damage of conservative politicians claiming to protect “Canadian values” had already been done and Harper was never shy about using dog whistles, saying “old stock Canadians” outright during the 2015 Globe and Mail federal election leadership debate.

Recently, Harper, who is currently chairman of the International Democratic Union — a conservative global collective that promotes right-wing policies around the world — claims the Canadian media had a role in the Conservative Party’s 2015 federal election loss.

The majority of these problematic actions and principles, then, were established within the Canadian political landscape pre-Trump. These politics have bled down from the federal levels of the Conservative party in Canada to the provincial levels.

The dog whistle — that was more like a foghorn — of the “Barbaric Cultural Practices” hotline has morphed into calls to protect children against being indoctrinated by the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

Climate change as a hoax is reflected in the Manitoba PCs’ election platform, does not include any campaign pledges to protect the environment.

And the rhetoric of the PC campaign is an absolute “us versus them” mentality. The PCs’ slogan is “Fighting for Manitobans.” Fighting against what exactly? What is a party who has been in power for the last seven years fighting against? Themselves? Morals? Ethics?

The PCs should be embarrassed about running such a divisive campaign. It’s 2023. There should be no dog whistles in politics, and those who use them should be punished. Yet, where are the adults in the room? Where is Elections Manitoba’s enforcement of their “Code of Ethical Conduct”?

There should be no space for hate in this province.