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In 2015, Justin Trudeau rode his promise of “sunny ways” to 24 Sussex Drive and the prime minister’s office. But as the recent spate of ugly protests at Liberal campaign events shows, Canadian politics have become increasingly defined in the six years since by the ability to hate Trudeau as openly and enthusiastically as possible. And nowhere is that more obvious — or dangerous — than within the ranks of the Conservative Party of Canada.

While Erin O’Toole has tried to present a positive and policy-oriented face to Canadians during this election campaign, he is stewarding a party that still boils with hatred for his opponent. At last Friday’s campaign event, where anti-vaccine protesters hurled obscenities and threats at Trudeau, there were members of Conservative candidate Kyle Seeback’s campaign in the crowd — wearing blue Conservative shirts, no less. Seeback told the media they were “no longer welcome on my campaign,” but the real question is why they thought they were welcome among those protesters in the first place.

Even a cursory glance at some conservative-leaning Facebook groups reveals a level of vitriol and nastiness towards the Liberal leader that could, in the wrong hands, lead to a tragic outcome. As we saw with the rise of the “Yellow Vest” movement in 2019, that’s what some people in these groups seem to be openly rooting for. It almost happened last year, when Corey Hurren showed up at Rideau Hall with a bunch of weapons and a head full of conspiracy theories. “Corey Hurren committed a politically motivated, armed assault intended to intimidate Canada's elected government,” Justice Robert Wadden said in his sentencing decision.

Neither O’Toole nor the Conservative Party of Canada is responsible for Hurren’s crimes. But they are responsible for the conspiracy theories that keep finding a home within their own ranks, and their refusal to root them out more aggressively. In a recent video that’s since been taken down, longtime Ontario Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant suggests the Trudeau Liberals will start calling for a “climate lockdown.” “Trudeau is counting on Liberal-minded Canadians not looking too closely at his agenda. If they did, they might realize Trudeau’s a con man and climate change may be his biggest grift.”

When asked if he agreed with Gallant’s recent comments or the conspiracy-tinged thinking behind them, O’Toole refused to answer the question. “We’re not running on things that were said five months ago, five years ago,” he told reporters. And no wonder — in Gallant’s case, they would include her suggestion to a group of young Conservatives at Queen’s that Liberals “want all illicit drugs to be legal” and “to normalize sexual activity with children.” Back then, O’Toole lamely offered: “Canadians have other priorities and so do I.”

But as the poison of conspiracy theories about vaccines and climate change continues to spread into his base, he needs to make it a priority. The real question at this point is whether he even can. The CPC has spent so long winking at, and flirting with, this fringe element on the right that it may not be able to contain or control it. Indeed, O’Toole’s victory in the leadership race was at least in part a result of his successful flirtation with Derek Sloan and his supporters. And while Sloan was booted out of caucus, his base — the same one that nearly handed Maxime Bernier the leadership of the party in 2017 — abides.

On Twitter, in response to the anti-Trudeau protests, the Conservative Party’s official account said: “The threatening images and behaviour are disgusting. This needs to stop immediately.” And O’Toole, for his part, has said he condemns the harassment his opponent has been receiving: “We have no time for people who bring in negativity to campaigning.” This is an odd statement for someone who won the leadership of his party with the help of Jeff Ballingall, a digital strategist whose capacity for negative campaigning is practically legendary in Canada.

But if O’Toole really wants to nip this stuff in the bud, he needs to channel the late John McCain. At an October 2008 campaign event, the Republican presidential nominee pushed back forcefully against a slur directed at Barack Obama by one of his own supporters. “No, ma’am,” he told the woman. “He’s a decent family man (and) citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about.” McCain had the courage to stand up to his own base and call out a lie when he heard it.

So far, O’Toole has shown little of the sort.

While Erin O’Toole has tried to present a positive and policy-oriented face to Canadians during this election campaign, he is stewarding a party that still boils with hatred for his opponent, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver. #elxn44

If he wants to prove to Canadians that he’s serious here, he can start by giving Gallant the boot. He can make it clear to his own supporters that the prime minister is a good and decent man with different ideas about the country’s future, not a bogeyman who wants to take away their livelihoods or steal the equity in their home, as Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre has suggested.

And he can treat conspiracy theories, whether they’re about COVID-19 or climate change, like the poison that they are. If he doesn’t, the consequences could be much bigger than just the outcome of an election.

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As mentioned in a previous comment, lots of Liberal campaign signs vandalized in my riding. Some with eyes cut out and faces x-ed over with black spray paint.

Some angry people out there.

Is this our equivalent of Mr. Trump's base? Economically left behind, and now taking the brunt of the pandemic economics, roiled up by politicians and pundits peddling easy answers, angry and looking for someone to blame?

Are these people with the box cutters and black spray paint beyond redemption? I certainly hope not, they are our neighbours.

What Hillary Clinton tragically referred to as a basket of deplorables? In my opinion she was missing the point entirely. I'd say instead more like a collection of those, in one way or another, left behind, living in a state of desperation and hopelessness.

I will only support politicians who are in the business of giving people in need hope and a tangible leg up, and shun those that cynically attempt to gain advantage at the polls by riling them up to burn it all to the ground.

Agreed on politicians who care about helping people, recognizing the need for real hope, which used to be found to some degree with all parties until the right was hijacked.
Apparently Canadians and Americans are generally more progressive, roughly 60% of us, but that leaves 40% that are not. It's fewer yes, but throwing distance from HALF are inclined to be conservative; try googling "conservative brain," it's a thing, and explains much. I read one assessment of the fundamental difference being described as one side being "open" the other "closed." Now that social media has provided the platform, the less open- minded among us have found a vehicle for their latent resentment of people like us. I remember kids like that in school; they basically lacked the "cool" factor. Typically, we on the left wring our hands in mostly genuine consternation over these people, "practising sociology" as Harper disparagingly put it by having discussion groups and such, thinking these poor angry people are just left behind somehow, and struggling, but I don't think that's it. I think it's more envy and hatred as with the cool thing (I was struck at Justin and Sophie dancing together when he won, they were beautiful and lively, and could just imagine the look on Harper and his wife's faces) while others are just not too bright, period, and you know the saying, that you can't fix stupid. When you google the brain thing, they're generally more fearful people, so more paranoid, often lack a "good" sense of humour, which further indicates a lack of perspective, and are simply more "closed."
So I'm not sure we can redeem this or these people so afflicted now that it and they have found their ugly, envious, hate-filled voices; I kind of think we just have to marginalize conservatives anyway we can to keep it at bay, at least with governance. They can come back in when they allow what's left of their banished, more progressive element back in, because obviously there are degrees of this affliction.

Your comments are generally on target but you don't mention the number of disaffected and angry people who are also religious zealots and many are undereducated or poorly educated. Canada, like the US, allows for parents to opt out of the public school system and many religious parents did just that, taking advantage of homeschooling. That keeps kids separate from outside influences and allows the parents and their mostly religious community to be the only standard these kids see and hear from . They are thoroughly indoctrinated by the time they leave home into the big bad world. They are generally poorly socialized with others and mostly incapable of tolerance of views opposite to what they were taught or experienced. I also though, would fault the public education for not teaching kids how to question, think for themselves instead of googling, for not enough time spent on debating views opposite their own, for not emphasizing Science more.

Couldn't agree more and have you noticed that even though the current consensus that kids learning online and not in school is an all-round negative that's impacting their mental health, no one has mentioned the implicit criticism of home schooling in that assessment?
And since public education is rightly called the "cornerstone of democracy" but Americans have been steadily privatizing it, with the majority of their "charter" schools being religious, it goes some way to explaining why their democracy is crumbling.

I don't think most Conservative supporters, even the "fear and loathing" ones, are in fact economically left behind. On average they're economically doing pretty well. And, perhaps not co-incidentally, white. But they fear the (relative) gravy train may be leaving. The emblematic case is all those Albertans with lucrative oil patch jobs, a hundred grand a year plus without arbitrarily requiring a university degree, which they fear will disappear if everyone admits climate change is real.
They don't want to find themselves falling into the (often brown) masses who can't afford the ridiculous price of a decent home. And they have been sold some ridiculous bills of goods about just why that fall is waiting for them, which they are very willing to believe because it's sure a lot easier than assimilating the fact that the people eliminating the middle class jobs and jacking up house prices and so on, are the same uber-rich types they work for and, in some cases, aspire to join.

Agreed, and a central aspect of the close-minded is how much they fear and hate change, especially the kind of societal change that is currently taking place and where their status is threatened, first by women and now by brown-skinned people, not to mention the ever-expanding LGBTQ set. One of the problems with being that way of course is that change is central to life, period, but it also explains why conservatives are disproportionately believers in religious doctrines that follow a rulebook. But there's also the fact that religion is the first and worst "big lie," providing a springboard for endless, dangerous magical thinking, as we have seen unfold in the super-religious U.S. No surprise that becoming the "religious right" has also meant growing "extremism," religion's wheelhouse. (Not enough is said about how extreme the very idea is in the first place that some god actually exists anywhere other than in peoples' heads. )

The divisions seem to draw themselves along lines of education and occupation.
Farm kids who dropped out of school on the birthday that made them old enough to do so within the law, found ready employment in the oil patch. Somehow, those inflated wages in their minds became God's View of "what they're worth." With or without God, it's a point of view that's widespread.
No matter what one's background, it seems to me that inordinately disproportionate rewards/incomes engender Entitlement, writ large.
Grade 8 dropouts (who by and large weren't doing well in school either), who entered the Oil Curve in the right place at the right time did very, very well ... some "retired" early to become contractors in The Patch. Sell the farm as building lots if none of the kids want it.
So take that 3, 4 generations.
What endures that long seems to be What's Normal. Take away the jobs? *Someone* had to be playing fast and loose with Normal, to get that to happen. It couldn't be Just How Things Are. It couldn't be no one wants to buy TarSands oil. It couldn't be their own employers doing them in, Good Grief No ... they've been there for the young'uns, and their fathers and grandfathers.
If you forget that these are not educated people, you can miss that their behaviour is probably not only normal, to them, but actually stepping up.
Life came easy to the Oil Patch Boys. They did physical work, and even scoffed at the idea that "pencil pushers" actually *worked* at all. They were able to improve their standard of living immensely. They weren't savers or investors: they were Buyers of Stuff, of indicators of, basically, status.
But they, like the urban well-off Conservatives, all agreed that one had to be lazy, to be poor.
Not unpredictably, those Farm-to-Patch boys are not at all interested in going back to school. Why should they? They're Worth more than that. There's no point telling them something's only worth what someone's willing to pay: that someone was once (and fairly recently to!) willing to pay that amount Means that's what they're worth. That's an unshakeable tenet of the belief system.
Same thing happens in mining towns, factory towns, anywhere labor is needed and education isn't.
(Those who did well enough doing the same behaviours as the group they "came up" with are doing the same thing. That "same thing" has to do with education and socioeconomic status. The usual factors determined their "risk of success," if you will. They, not unlike the less-educated conservatives, seem to believe themselves to be superior individuals compared those lower on their value scales.

and is taken to be a measure of social worth.

Good points; the "Alberta Advantage." Money really sealed the deal didn't it? That automatic superiority, on display with all those effing big, black, jacked-up trucks bearing down on you at every turn are like they want to mow you down. Everyone jokes about the link with penis size, but the Ford F-150 is the best selling vehicle of all time, so I see this as one long, protracted backlash against feminism. Trudeau was right; we are at a crossroads here, and it makes sense to call an election on who should be in charge, those idiots protesting vaccination and/or masks, not to mention reality itself (a disproportionate number are "believers" remember) or progressives. Since the cons all seem to have oppositional defiant disorder, you have to consider that the opposite of progressive is regressive and wonder how on earth "socialism" and "progressive" have become negatives among us definitively social beings progressing forward along the path of life?

We elect representatives by either approving the incumbent’s performance in getting policy proposals done, or, instead, by trusting a challenger’s alternative proposed policy and how to get it done. General elections are exercised between other democratic exercises: before the general election, parties elect executives in various ways, standardized by public statute (parties aren’t even mentioned in the Constitution) and/or idiosyncratic rules, and policy is voted on that, depending on the party, binds the parliamentary caucus to some degree; the riding association is something of a miniature of and tributary to the whole, federated party apparatus, but individual parties are not recognized on the floor of the parliament. After the general election, the voting happens in parliament, chamber and committee; often in-party voting parallels and adjusts policy proposals to what happens in parliament. Only about two-thirds of eligible voters actually vote, only a few percent join political parties and even fewer get involved enough to vote on party policy. Very few get to vote as Members of Parliament. Despite the dearth of citizen participation in our democracy, most like expressing their opinions about how this should or shouldn’t be, especially, nowadays, on social media where we here a lot of chatter lately about the early election, ranging from Covid concerns to a tried, old neo-right trope that tries to label early elections as unethical. We should remember that Stephen Harper also said coalition governments (when an alliance of NDP, Liberal and Bloc parties threatened his minority) were “unconstitutional”, a total falsehood.

Citizens get an opportunity to respond to government (including all parties and MPs) at the end of each constitutionally limited term (five years). Citizen democracy is indirect: voters can let a governing party know their dissatisfaction over its performance between elections and caucus might correspond to keep voters happy—or it might not correspond satisfactorily from voters’ point of view, in which case they may appeal to the courts, or resort to a number of citizens’ initiatives (like ‘Recall’) where such legislation exists (it does not, federally, but some provinces have some level of CI, British Columbia having the widest panoply). At final resort—at the next general election—unsatisfied voters elect an alternative representative they hope will do better. Yet the electorate participates only sporadically in any of these processes: very rarely, if allowed, with CI; rarely, if affordable, with the judiciary; and only partially in general or by-elections. Protest has always been the preview of the most dedicated Political activists. These days, citizens often make partisan political criticism via social media—but then many don’t get out to vote, seeing their ‘voice’ on social platforms being satisfactory enough—which, aside from citizens appearing to go about their business despite Covid, begs the question whether criticism of this early election is as sincere as many like to grumble.

Our Westminster and the US Congressional parliaments differ in that the former is predicated on timely passage of bills into law which requires parliamentary confidence in cabinet such that if a tabled money-bill fails to pass by a majority of parliamentarians’ votes, the governing party is said to “fall”—the governor then immediately looks for a group of MPs who will commit to voting en bloc to get bills passed, looking first at the existing parliament, then, failing that, by dissolving it and ordering a general election to replace it and get back to work ASAP. One could think that early or more opportunities to vote is not, at least, antithetical to the general Westminster intents of timeliness, responsiveness, and readiness.

In contrast, Congress is not dissolved if a tabled bill doesn’t pass. Thus the ‘when’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ policy impasses are referred back to voters is different between the two systems: in Westminster, cabinet rarely tables a money-bill it knows will fail to pass, but if confidence is lost for some reason or other, the matter is usually referred to voters forthwith in an ‘early election’. (Exceptionally, some parties have forced non-confidence In their own governments —see the first Social Credit government in BC, 1952.) In the USA’s comparatively stiff, grid-locking parliamentary system, voters get to respond more frequently: every two years. And Americans also get to vote for a wider array of offices, district attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs, dog-catchers, &c. It’s a matter of opinion whether this compensates for the lumbering pace of legislation in the USA.

So, are early elections good or bad? It’s no surprise that Liberal opponents’ rhetoric certainly claims they’re generally bad and, specific to the incumbent Liberal government, heinously so. One of the dominant neo-right features in Canada over the last to decades has been to emulate American-style fixed parliamentary terms, but because such do not fit with Westminster’s requisite parliamentary confidence rule, it’s correctly regarded as a neo-right reaction to it’s chronically flagging popularity since cresting its peak. (The neo-right would also copy American private healthcare, right to bear arms, and privatized incarceration.) To answer the early-election question, one needs to re-examine the constitutionally enshrined Westminster parliamentary system.

Because our Sovereign guarantees we have a government which can act at all times, because cabinet must maintain parliamentary confidence, because sometimes the government falls before completing a full term, and because that might be for unforeseen reasons (like a catastrophe), the governor’s first go-to is to find a new government in the existing parliament—the quickest way to resume governing and passing bills—and that is most often the Loyal or Official Opposition which usually has the second-highest number of seats. Aside from the governing party, the Opposition is the only party given special recognition in parliament: only the leaders of the government and Opposition are officially recognized by the Speaker as anything other than mere representatives of such-and-such riding; the Opposition is accorded extra funding to set up ministerial critics’ offices and do relevant research, and granted procedural priority, second only to the government, in taking the floor. In effect, the Loyal Opposition is “the government in waiting”, a contingency which helps ensure that, no matter what happens, there will be continuous, timely passage of bills into law. All other government functions are practically corollary. The tests to ensure this sanctity are always simple and democratic: only voters may elect the parliament from which the governor recognizes a governing group, and MPs cast their votes on bills by which the governor determines if the cabinet has the confidence of the house.

Now recall when the wily PM Jean Chrétien called a snap election only, it seemed to right-wing politicians, to spite the hapless leader of the loyal opposition, Stockwell Day—unfairly “playing politics” with the election date, they whined, mainly because they knew the Alliance couldn’t win. Day was certainly an embarrassment to the political right which had been struggling since the collapse of the ProgCon government and Manning’s wonky attempt to re-unite the shattered remnants, not to mention the schism of the resulting Alliance (a nine-member alternative conservative caucus sat independently from Day’s party); and Chrétien was inclined to sneer at the conservatives’ Chicken dance, infuriating them even more, there was, nevertheless, a bona fide reason to call an early election: voters needed to elect a new parliament, hopefully with a Loyal Opposition prepared to assume the mantle of government at a moment’s notice if needs be—and Day’s Alliance was anything but that. The right were losers, and mighty sore, at that.

The neo-right, predictably outraged at Chrétien’s move, started, with the furthest right of neo-right premiers (the BC Liberal government in 2003) to impose fixed, four-year terms, as the federal term was fixed as soon’s Stephen Harper’s CPC took power in 2006. In inchoate fashion typical of reactionary anger, this trite square-peg did not fit with Westminster reality and, with typical hypocrisy, Harper himself broke his own rule by requesting an early election when it suited him—“playing politics”, as ‘t were, just like he did by bullying the governor into proroguing parliament, after one of his own bills had already been tabled, in order to dodge a confidence vote his then-minority government would have lost, almost precipitating a constitutional crisis. The neo-right has absolutely no licence to pronounce upon the ethics of calling an early election. In fact, they have a propensity to game the system, to tilt the table in their own favour, to lie and cheat. We note O’Toole carefully avoids criticizing JT’s early election bid on ethical terms like his CPC predecessors would have because that would risk revealing fundamental hypocrisy—but instead focuses on Covid as reason not to have one. But dismissing Covid on one hand while warning of its danger to voting is, at best, contradictory.

JT could make the same case with regard O’Toole’s CPC as Chrétien did with Day’s Alliance: we need an election now, during the extremis of Covid, because the Loyal Opposition CPC doesn’t inspire confidence in most Canadians that it could be a government in waiting ready to deal with the ongoing pandemic. Indeed, the CPC official and blatant unofficial positions on Covid—ranging dismissively from denial it exists at all to declaring it over—exposes a deep fissure within the party that also does not recommend it a good candidate for government-in-waiting.

Such is the precarious predicament O’Toole and his CPC find themselves. Recall that the Alliance didn’t last long after its subsequent thrashing in that early election. The reactionary response by the CPC and other neo-right governments in Canada—the implementation of the supposed four-year fixed term—is a hypocritical as ever.

One can hope—and hopefully vote—that Day’s Alliance with its attendant schismatic Independent Conservative Caucus and O’Toole’s CPC with its own attendant schismatic People’s Party are bookends of a complete—and completed—set.