To Americans, the bright red maple leaf flanked by the red pillars is a sign of friendliness, welcoming, and maybe too much apologizing. Canadians are known for being overly polite and apologetic, frequently uttering, “Sorry,” and immediately backing away from the smallest source of conflict.
Canada has had same-sex domestic unions for 15 years, and same-sex marriage for 10. Socialized healthcare has been in place for decades, with very few impediments to accessing birth control and abortion when necessary (although birth control costs come out-of-pocket from the consumer, but are much lower than in the States, due to a single-payer system). Post-secondary education is heavily subsidized by the government. Pretty progressive stuff.
This progressive cultural discourse started going downhill when the Canadian election was announced. The current-in-power Conservative Party of Canada (a slightly more centrist version of the American GOP) has made xenophobia their front-line strategy to getting reelected.
Brochures sent to millions of homes read that the Conservative party is determined to protect Canadians from “jihadi terrorists.” Apparently non-jihadi terrorists are okay. (How do you know which is which? Easy, “jihadi terrorists” are brown and wear turbans.)
Another key Conservative tactic has been to promote a ban on the niqab, a full-body cover associated with Islam, during the Canadian immigration ceremony. Apparently this is a super-big deal in Canada right now (not!).
Recently, the Conservatives have announced they will fund a tip line in which Canadians can call in to report “barbaric cultural practices.” Ostensibly, the bill is to prevent child marriages, but there is a whole lot of xenophobic animus behind it. The wording is strategic to make “old stock Canadians” (a phrase used by the Conservative leader recently) wary of new immigrants, bringing their barbaric cultural practices.
Why the sudden, uncharacteristic, un-Canadian xenophobia and unspoken racism? The Conservatives have hired a strategist who is referred to as “Australia’s Karl Rove,” known for employing wedge politics, especially in exploiting fear of immigrants.
Although Canadians have virtually nothing to fear from “jihadi terrorists,” from Syrian refugees, or from a full-body cover, the Conservatives have insisted on focusing the election conversation on these non-issues. There are many issues that are worth discussing (like women’s rights and the economy), but they make Conservatives look bad.
Here’s hoping that voters see past these xenophobic red herrings and choose a less racist party for this Canadian election on October 19th.