Generally speaking, Canadians take pride when their fellow countrymen and women make it big in America. And few have made it bigger than one Rafael (Ted) Cruz, the junior senator from Texas who played a key role in the failed coup against his own government. Last week, while a gang of fired-up Trump supporters was in the midst of storming the U.S. Capitol building and occupying the Senate floor and various congressional offices, Cruz was texting his own base, telling them he was “leading the fight” to overturn the election results.
Ironically, Canadians were also involved the last time anyone occupied the capital of the United States, when British soldiers burned the White House and other buildings to the ground in 1814 after the Americans destroyed Port Dover in Upper Canada. But while Canadians like to brag about that historical footnote, few should be celebrating Cruz’s role in the revolutionary cosplay that left five Americans dead and millions utterly humiliated. And although it might be tempting to think that Cruz’s willingness to trade in far-right fantasies is a uniquely American phenomenon, conservatives here in Canada do it almost every day.
Not all of them, of course. In a recent piece for The Line, conservative strategist and former Harper staffer Ken Boessenkool noted that “American politics is sick. That sickness has many causes, with acceptance of bad character being near the top. If we don’t recognize that, and do something about it, it could infect us as well.”
But with all due respect to Mr. Boessenkool, the movement and party that he’s spent the better part of his adult life in already has a full-blown case of Trumpism. The real question that people like him need to answer is whether it’s terminal or not.
Take his own political backyard of Alberta, where the current government has both staffers and elected officials — including one cabinet minister — who have proudly worn the red MAGA hat in the past. Devin Dreeshen, the MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake and the minister of agriculture and forestry, even worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign. And while he released a statement last week condemning “all forms of political violence,” he has yet to apologize for his decision to associate with the Trump universe — or explain why he found it so attractive.
Dreeshen isn’t alone. At the federal level, a photo of MP Candice Bergen wearing a camo-style MAGA hat emerged recently, one she has so far declined to explain. On Monday, Bergen’s office told the Globe and Mail that the photo was taken at an event a few years ago when someone handed her the hat and asked for a picture, but the influence of Trumpism on Canada’s conservative movement goes much deeper than their occasionally questionable choices in hats.
The rhetoric coming from conservatives in both Alberta and Ottawa, for example, is inescapably Trumpy. There’s the constant fear-mongering about Canada’s borders and the threats posed by illegal immigrants, which was Trump’s North Star during the 2016 election campaign. There’s the talk about “taking Canada back,” which Erin O’Toole used repeatedly during the course of the recent leadership campaign.
And, like Trump, Canadian conservatives are more than happy to demonize the media. Indeed, in his final speech as outgoing leader, Andrew Scheer encouraged conservatives to “challenge the mainstream media” and “check out smart, independent, objective organizations like the Post Millennial, or True North.” These “independent” and “objective” organizations happened to be run by conservative partisans, including Jeff Ballingall, the founder of the Ontario Proud and Canada Proud Facebook pages and O’Toole’s digital campaign director. However, this somehow escaped mention.
And then, of course, there’s the Rebel News Network. Rebel personalities were present at Jason Kenney’s victory celebration in 2019 and have done interviews with numerous federal conservatives, including O’Toole. But he disavowed them in a 2019 tweet, noting that “I stopped appearing on Rebel when they veered from journalism to divisive and dangerous theatrics and innuendo.”
Trump-style rhetoric from key politicians is damaging Canada's Conservative Party, and it's dangerous for the country, @MaxFawcett explains, writing that it's a "full-blown case of Trumpism" and starts with @TedCruz
Those theatrics have only continued since then, and the Rebel has been at the forefront of Canadian efforts to discredit the U.S. election — including sending correspondent Keean Bexte to the failed coup. But for some reason, O’Toole’s office decided it was a good idea to participate in an interview with none other than the Rebel’s Ezra Levant. They've since announced that they won't work with the Rebel in the future, but the Conservative Party of Canada's history with that organization suggests the breakup won't last for long.
It’s not hard to see why they’re doing this. After all, Derek Sloan — someone whose values and beliefs would be right at home in a Trump rally — received nearly 15 per cent of the first-place votes in the first round of the Conservative Party of Canada’s recent leadership race, and played a key role in ultimately handing the crown to O’Toole. And while O’Toole has since made noises about moderating the approach that Scheer took to issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, he’s done nothing to curb the party’s fascination with Trumpist thinking.
Despite his fondness for far-right conspiracy theories, Sloan remains a member of O’Toole’s caucus, and Pierre Poilievre, the party’s shadow minister of finance, continues to trade in half-baked theories, whether it’s about the federal Liberals planning on taxing the equity in people’s homes or their apparently nefarious intentions associated with the so-called “great reset.”
And so far, at least, the failed coup on Jan. 6 doesn’t seem to have prompted anything in the way of soul-searching. Despite the obvious similarities to the “stop the steal” rhetoric that’s been coming from Trump supporters ever since they lost on November 3, the Conservative Party of Canada left a post from 2019 featuring a grainy photo of the Prime Minister next to a suggestion that he was “rigging the next election in his favour" up on their website until finally pulling it down a few days ago in the face of public pressure.
There is, of course, no way that the prime minister can “rig” an election in Canada, just as there was no way the Biden campaign rigged it in the United States. But truth and reality don’t appear to be important priorities for the Trumpist movement, either in its original incarnation down south or the branch plant that’s been set up north of the border.
And while it might have once been possible for conservative politicians to deceive themselves into thinking that this was all a harmless flirtation, the events of the last year have proven that notion dead wrong. In addition to America’s failed coup, there was the incident last summer in Ottawa where a Canadian Armed Forces member named Corey Hurren — a man with a well-documented fascination with far-right conspiracy theories — drove onto the grounds of Rideau Hall with a bunch of loaded weapons and the intention of arresting the prime minister for, among other things, his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That no bloodshed occurred was fortunate, and far from guaranteed. But there is one guarantee here: if conservatives insist on continuing to trade in their own brand of Trumpism, there will be more Corey Hurrens in the future. That’s why it’s long past time for people like O’Toole, Doug Ford and Kenney to disavow the radicals in their midst. Yes, it will probably cost them a few votes. But as Ted Cruz inadvertently showed the world recently, playing for those votes can come at a very high price.