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As befits an election that seemed at times like it was about nothing, we’ve ended up with a result that tells us very little we didn’t already know. Justin Trudeau is still the prime minister, the Conservative Party of Canada is still torn between appealing to urban moderates and playing to its base, and the NDP is still trying to find its post-Layton identity. But while we may be back where we started politically, the road we traveled along the way was dangerously bumpy. Canadians are more politically divided, both at an individual and party level, than ever. And while part of this is a reflection of the pandemic and the toll it’s taken on our reserves of patience and charity, it’s also being fed by our political system and the players in it.

To hear some pundits, this is on the prime minister and his decision to call an election. As Andrew Potter wrote in The Line, “Trudeau has chiseled away at tried-and-true wedge issues (gun control, health care) while doing the usual Liberal suck-and-blow of pandering to Quebec nationalists while demonizing Albertans as un-Canadian. The result is that Canada is not only more divided and polarized than it was in 2019, it is more divided than it has been at any time in the last half century.”

Never mind, for the moment, that Trudeau has never actually demonized Albertans as “un-Canadian”, and that the sucking and blowing in Quebec is being done just as enthusiastically by every federal political leader. What’s more interesting is the notion that Trudeau who has been the subject of six-plus years of open hostility, paranoid and perverse conspiracy theories, and an online barrage of hatred and vitriol, is to blame for said hatred and vitriol.

Apparently it’s entirely Trudeau’s fault that federal Conservatives have spent years actively feeding the anti-expertise, anti-government forces that coalesced around the PPC and the anti-vaccine movement. One assumes it will also be his fault when the Conservative Party of Canada tries to bring those same forces back into their partisan fold — and his fault if they fail to do that.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it should. It’s exactly the same playbook that Republicans ran against Barack Obama in the United States during his eight years in office, which were also marked by a widening of the partisan divide and accusations from pundits that he was responsible. His signature piece of legislation, which gave healthcare coverage to millions of Americans, was framed as an attack on liberty and freedom by the nearly 90 per cent of Republicans who opposed it.

Love him or hate him, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not to blame for the divisiveness and discord in Canada today. Look to the conservatives for that. @maxfawcett writes for @natobserver

By the time he was done, America’s first black president was being blamed for the behaviour of those who opposed him — many of whom were doing it for reasons that went well beyond, or perhaps beneath, his legislative record. “The worst failing of the Obama presidency, as judged by his own promise to unite the nation, has been his divisiveness,” Buck Sexton (yes, that’s a real person) wrote in a 2017 piece for CNN. “His comments on climate change in particular betrayed a deep frustration with anyone who questions that carbon emissions will destroy the planet unless drastic action is taken. Mocking those who disagree with him on climate change is petty and should be beneath the President.”

Gee, does that sound familiar? After all, any number of pundits and political analysts were blaming Trudeau for gently mocking an anti-vaccine protester after he made vile comments about Trudeau’s wife Sophie, suggesting that he should have been more tolerant of the man’s intolerance.

And that’s the rub here: for a growing slice of the conservative political universe, hating Justin Trudeau is the essence of their politics. There is nothing he could do, short of resigning and leaving office, that would make them less hostile, less angry, or less divided.

That might be best for Canada right now, in some respects. But the anger machine that conservatives in Canada have built can just as easily generate and amplify hatred towards someone else, and it’s not hard to imagine how they might use it against, say, Chrystia Freeland. That’s why it’s incumbent upon them to dismantle it, if they’re genuinely interested in making our politics less divided and divisive.

That means an end to funding and support for websites like Canada Proud and the Post-Millennial, which are clearing houses for polarizing political information. That means no more winking at your far-right base with slogans like “take back Canada” or “secure the future”. And that means putting candidates like Cheryl Gallant and others who trade in far-right conspiracy theories out to pasture for good.

Fat chance of that happening any time soon, though. As Erin O’Toole indicated in his concession speech, he’s far more interested in keeping up the fight than bringing down the temperature. As Toronto Star political reporter Susan Delacourt tweeted, “it seemed like the launch of another election campaign. Which, after telling Canadians about an unwanted election for five weeks, seems odd/weird/bizarre.”

That was almost certainly because he felt the need to defend his position as the leader of the CPC, which had already been challenged in some circles. Ironically, O’Toole said that “we need to heal the divides in Canada, not risk worsening them for selfish gains.” If he genuinely believes that, he must start with his own party — and himself.

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In the case of Mr. Obama, blaming him for stuff other people were doing in most cases was (and is) the only option for the GOP as it was (and is) difficult to find fault in the man himself, in his actions, or in his intentions.

Mr. Trudeau is far from perfect, but neither are any of us. I shudder to think of where we might collectively be if he hadn't stepped up in 2015.

Well done! Quite simply, this is one of the best editorials I have read in a long time. If only other journalists tried to provide such context and analysis. Very well done, and thank you so much.

Thank you, Max Fawcett, for putting things into perspective. I have been saying for the past year that the Conservatives have been using the Republican playbook of focusing on Trudeau rather than policy as shown by the disgusting actions in committees intent only on character assassination and not getting at the facts. The biggest laugh in the election was O'Toole trotting out Lyin' Brian Mulroney while trying to say O'Toole's party wasn't "your fathers party. I'm guessing that was a very bad attempt at skipping the Harper years which killed off any Red Tories and created this new ReformaCon party. But really? Mulroney? Hardly the perfect link to a rich past of Conservative leaders who stood for Canadians and Canada. If O'Toole was trying to appeal to young undecided voters it was a big fail. They probably thought 'who the heck is this doddering old fart they trotted out as an example?'. And I admit too, I was pretty ticked by the media coverage of most of the election. The English debate format, in it's second iteration, has proven to be a complete disaster and the media consortium must address this failure. It was unworkable. It is unworkable. Another media failure was the coverage of the Bernier/People's Party. Far too much time just treating it as 'normal' dissidents without seeing or commenting on the dangers of this extremist group of FreeDUMB believers and not enough condemnation of their actions. Too many 5 second (maybe 10 second) video clips of these Covidiots to get on the 6 o'clock news first. So, Conservatives in disarray, a rising Trump-like party of Libertarians splitting the Conservatives, character assassination of the Prime Minister, lack of real policies by the opposition parties, poor reporting by media and journalists, a poorly done 'debate' format for the one and only debate in French and English, people losing their homes to raging forest fires, a deadly new Covid variant, extreme weather events causing droughts and floods, loss of income from lockdowns, and the stage was set for an ugly election. But Trudeau rightly, wanted a mandate to go forward with his policies, policies that had been put aside to deal with Covid. Trudeau wanted that mandate. It wasn't a case of wanting to get a majority (although that would have been nice) but a case of voters having their say about the direction the Liberal party saw for the future which they did by returning the Liberals to power with a mandate to go forward but with the constraints of a minority government. But we had our chance to speak with our votes and that was important. After all of the mandates and policies and management during a pandemic, we voted to say what was done was right and we trust you to go forward even more aggressively on your policies. And that is what so many journalists and pundits seem to have missed as they do their postmortems ... we, the voters, had our chance to say yes, continue on.

Excellent article. The conservative anger machine, indeed. They push every lever and chain to get us worked up, then have the gall to say, "who, me", when caught red-handed.

Yeah, the "Proud Boy" name says it all, bringing to mind a roving gang of bad boys gone rogue on the land or some such. As a female I have always seen how deeply embedded male entitlement is, so deep as to be wholly unrecognizable for the most part, but this bristling, relatively recent and particularly virulent manifestation is still a bit puzzling. Is it possibly just a reaction to what is perceived to be a general "feminization" of society wrought by progressives, an unwelcome change in the traditional role of men that was started decades ago by the women's movement in the sixties? That and the thoroughly base and utterly tribal tendency toward "revolution" in some men, a hare-trigger, knee-jerk defensiveness around personal freedom, a hypersensitivity when it comes to being told what to do, i.e. a generalized "oppositional defiance disorder?"
The GOP insurrection has opened some floodgates it seems, and if nothing else, Trudeau calling this election has nicely outed all these belligernt guy guys out there lurking and simmering with resentment, looking for any excuse to riot.

I think I largely share your feminist version of the right wing. It has long seemed to me that their language, and their policies reflect a reactive masculine bias......key in this last election was O'Toole's bozo decision to say he'd tear up the bill that outlawed assault weapons. What woman jumped for joy at that idea?

And then there was his obtuse decision to 'tear up' the agreements already in place regarding affordable child care....and repeat the Harper penny pinching idea to give tax rebates or some such none sense to parents to they could decide what care to purchase for their kids.....not even a pedophile would work for what that would amount to in a month........but it didn't seem like O'Toole had a clue how many women swore off his party at that moment.

And yes...there was a lot of dog whistle appeals to making Canada great again....which couldn't help but remind many women of how good it was in our youth, when male values were assumed, and women's unpaid labour was even more invisible than it is now. Cons seemed more concerned with the rights of anti vaccers then the needs of essential workers...and I smelled an overload of testosterone in much of that.

But to Conservatives realize how unappealing their messaging often is to women? I'm not so sure....entitlement often doesn't see itself as entitled.

Where are we going? Another 40 years of neoliberalism by all Canadians will destroy our society as well as our democracy. Inequality is the biggest threat and as the gap continues to widen, so the extremists will complain. Alberta complains almost daily about being left out. Leadership is lacking in Conservative governments. Participate, don't divide, but Kenney , Moe former Pallister and Ford are still primarily focused on reducing taxes, reducing regulation, improving profits vs looking out for we citizens and voters. I don't believe O'Toole for a minute when he says his is softer Conservativism

Where are we going? Another 40 years of neoliberalism by all Canadians will destroy our society as well as our democracy. Inequality is the biggest threat and as the gap continues to widen, so the extremists will complain. Alberta complains almost daily about being left out. Leadership is lacking in Conservative governments. Participate, don't divide, but Kenney , Moe former Pallister and Ford are still primarily focused on reducing taxes, reducing regulation, improving profits vs looking out for we citizens and voters. I don't believe O'Toole for a minute when he says his is softer Conservativism