LONDON, ONTARIO – I have twice been persuaded, against my instincts, to join a political party; both times so I could have a vote in nominating a candidate I admired for the federal Conservatives in my riding of London North Centre. Both experiences turned out to be so wretchedly disheartening for everyone involved that I think I’ve finally learned my lesson and hereby take the pledge to never again take out another party membership.
The first time was in the fall of 2006 when, very late in the process, two-term ex-Mayor Dianne Haskett was wooed by party brass to come back to the Forest City from the United States so she could contest a by-election that would take place barely one month later to fill the seat vacated by Liberal MP Joe Fontana in his first, unsuccessful bid to unseat Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best. Potential candidates had already been waging intramural campaigns for months and Tom Weihmayr seemed to have the Tory nomination nicely sewn up until Haskett's unanticipated intrusion in the 11th-hour.
The half-cocked hastiness of Haskett's return undoubtedly put noses out of joint and outside the Polish Hall just after she won the nomination, I heard one disenchanted Tory say to his friends in disgust, "Well, I guess this frees me up to vote Green." Indeed, Elizabeth May, still in search of a seat anywhere in the country from which to manage her emerging party, had, like Haskett, been parachuted into London North Centre but she ultimately had to settle for second place; sandwiched in between Haskett’s demoralizing third place and the victory which handily went to Liberal Glen Pearson.
It was my boundless admiration for Dianne Haskett’s mayoral reign from 1994 to 2000 that impelled me to take out that first membership. I invite you to check out this blog’s very first post from January 8, 2018, in which I recount the glories of those six years: http://www.hermangoodden.ca/blog/matt-brown-is-a-very-sorry-mayor-indeed
But none of the qualities that had distinguished Haskett’s mayoralty – her peerless grasp of the issues and sense of fair play informed by a devout faith, her coherent political philosophy and heightened level of articulation by which to express that philosophy, and her unflinching courage in resisting the pressures of lazy sentiment or obnoxious bullying – none of these were in evidence during that 2006 race. The Tory brass wanted a name candidate but had no regard whatsoever for how she had earned that name and kept her on a choke chain for the duration of the campaign; disallowing any original input or any deviation from the inane sloganeering of the party's approved script. It was like they had recruited Samson as their star candidate and then sent him to the barber to make sure he’d be presentable for the electorate.
So why was I prepared twelve years after that fiasco to repeat the ignominy of joining the Conservative Party in this seemingly cursed riding of mine? Once again, it was my admiration for the wisdom and courage of a would-be candidate; this time, author and professor emeritus Salim Mansur. The first time I really sat up and took notice of Mansur was in April of 2005 when he wrote a column for The Toronto Sun on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s death, praising the late pontiff for all the work he had done in trying to foster understanding and respect among Christians, Jews and Muslims. Hoping to get that column a wider readership, I zapped it along to American writer Mark Shea whose Catholic and Enjoying It blog was then going great guns. Shea loved the piece and did indeed post it, first checking back with me to make sure that the writer really was a practicing Muslim and saying what a marvelous validation the column was of everything JPII stood for.
In his two most famous books, The Delectable Lie; a liberal repudiation of multiculturalism and The Qur’an Problem and Islamism, Mansur stands forth as that rarest of academics who recognizes the absolute primacy of free speech, as a Calcutta-born immigrant who does not believe that diversity is any kind of strengthening agent if it seeks to supplant or suppress time-proven Canadian values and traditions, and as a faithful Muslim who stands four-square against the soul-rotting and murderous convictions of radical Islam.
And if the candidate was excellent this time, the timing was even better. The election to be contested was more than a year away, so there’d be nothing half-baked about Mansur’s candidacy if it went forward. Perhaps naively, I had assumed that the Tory overlords must have learned from their past mistake with Haskett and wouldn’t downplay or suppress the very qualities that made this newest prospective candidate so attractive.
But there were also some auspices in evidence that weren’t so encouraging. At right about the same time as Mansur filed his nomination application, Maxime Bernier, Tory MP for Beauce, Quebec and one of the most popular and dynamic politicians on Parliament Hill, quit the Conservative Party in disgust at Tory leader Andrew Scheer’s increasingly cautious and unimaginative leadership and announced that he was starting up another truly conservative party which he dubbed The People’s Party of Canada. Going into the last Tory leadership contest in May of 2017, Bernier was actually regarded as the front-runner for the post until Scheer picked up some last minute support by caving into pressure from the dairy lobby which long ago outlived any usefulness it had and now serves only to keep prices of Canadian dairy products unconscionably high. You may recall the galling sight of Scheer smirking as he swigged from a carton of milk at a Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner shortly after that convention.
In the two years since nabbing the leadership, Scheer has only become more timid, managing to scrape a dangerous new low for spinelessness in early June when he removed Edmonton Tory MP, Michael Cooper, from a House of Commons justice committee studying hate online and censorship because of behaviour which Scheer condemned as “insensitive and unacceptable”. Cooper’s crime was that he dared to refute the risible testimony of witness Faisal Khan Suri, who told the justice committee that the mass murderer behind the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attack in March that killed 51 people, was driven by a conservative agenda. Cooper countered that Suri should be ashamed of himself for spouting such calumny and read from the murderer’s own manifesto in which he expressed his contempt for conservatives.
When Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault then brought forth a motion to expunge Cooper’s objection in its entirety from the parliamentary record, Scheer forbade Conservative members to vote on the motion at all so that it was able to pass unanimously. Yes, it reads like heavy-handed satire, but in the name of collegiality and good manners, the leader of our so-called Conservative Party really did take part in vaporizing one of his most alert and incisive MP’s – removing his testimony and his very presence – from a committee that was studying (wait for it) censorship.
About a week after that craven failure of Conservative nerve – and nearly ten months after Mansur had initially applied to run as a candidate – discouraging words dribbled out from party headquarters that they would not be allowing him to stand as a candidate. And they didn’t even have the courage or the grace to tell him why he didn’t make the cut. Then on June 14th, the inimitable and indispensable Rex Murphy took up Mansur’s case in his weekend column in The National Post, cutting the Tory leader a new one, as they say, in the process:
“And then there is Scheer’s almost reflexive deference toward his critics, his outright timidity when routinely assailed by the virtuecrats of the Liberal party. This was nowhere more gutlessly displayed than in barring Prof. Salim Mansur from pursuing the Conservative nomination . . . Prof. Mansur, a Muslim, has been a long-time, informed, and straight-on critic of radical Islam. Why has he, after a 10-month waiting period for “vetting,” been told by Andrew Scheer that he can’t run? He is intelligent, well-spoken, an immigrant who earned a doctorate at the University of Toronto. The answer, in so far as it can be inferred — as the Tories have not been fulsome in explanation — is that they fear he will be targeted by the Liberals as an Islamophobe — a Muslim Islamophobe.
“So rather than stand up for an intellectual and courageous candidate against the campaign slurs that might be tossed against him, the Conservative apparat haul out the blackball, strike him from the list, and probably think they have done a smart thing. No party should have its strategy determined by what it thinks another party might get away with saying about it. If a candidate has genuine merit, stand up for him. Don’t let implicit or imagined threats from the other side determine what your party stands for, or whom it supports. Mr. Scheer may be building an image for himself worse than any the Liberals are eager to build for him. If he’s scared of their attacks before the campaign even starts, how will he be when the heat is on?”
Rex Murphy closed that column with the declaration that, “Mr. Mansur deserves a chance to run as a Conservative nominee in London North Centre.” Well, make that a small ‘c’ at the front of the word ‘Conservative’, and that is exactly what came to pass. Bernier asked Mansur to run for the People’s Party of Canada and he accepted. Last Friday – on the hottest day of the year – People’s Party supporters packed a low-ceilinged suite on the third floor of the Doubletree Hilton downtown where almost 40 new PPC candidates from across Ontario were introduced to the public and the press.
In my brain-fried misery to get out of the sun, neurons were paradoxically freezing, causing me to blank out on the combination of my lock while chaining my bike to a post outside the Hilton. Once I finally got that figured out and headed toward the hotel's air-conditioned lobby, I realized I was full of both hope and trepidation about what I would encounter inside. On the one hand, who can forget the decades of conservative vote-splitting that kept the Liberals in near-perpetual power as the Reform, Canadian Alliance and other conservative factions emerged and jockeyed and split and reconfigured and took their sweet time in assuming any sort of electable form? Was Maxime ‘Short-Fuse’ Bernier's latest amoeba-like split sentencing us to another indeterminate term of uncoordinated conservative exile? On the other hand, the world does seem to be undergoing a period just now of populist insurgency when sudden eruptions of dammed up resentment against corrupted and complacent mainline parties, can bring on a Brexit, a Trump, or the kind of return to more traditional precepts of governance that we see emerging in places like Poland, Hungary and Italy. And then on a third hand, I remember that this is stodgy old Canada we’re talking about here; a country that has never distinguished itself by its bold, or even reckless, political gestures.
So I don’t know if the People’s Party has a hope in hell of winning any kind of power in October's federal election. But I was thrilled to hear that these impertinent upstarts who’ve only been around for ten months have already signed up 41,000 members (not me, though; I’m an ashamed card-carrying Conservative) and as of Friday, have 300 candidates in place to run in races all across the country; far more than can be marshaled by certain parties that have been around for decades. And I don’t know if Salim Mansur as a PPC candidate has got a serious shot at winning the privilege to serve this country he loves. But I am sure that he’s finally found himself a party that fits his particular sensibilities and gifts like a glove. I can’t tell you how moved I was to hear his party leader introduce him with pride as his “star candidate” and then to hear Mansur give a maiden stump speech like this:
“In 1980 Quebec separatism threatened the unity of our country; today it is the twin forces of Globalism and Islamism, joined at the hip, that threatens both the unity of Canada and its liberal democratic culture founded on the principle of freedom based on individual rights. Globalism, as an ideology, points to a borderless world administered by international organizations, such as the UN and its agencies, while nation-states are viewed as obsolete and need to be dissolved. Islamism, or militant or radical Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood, of the Iranian clerical regime and their offshoots, are at war with the West and modernity and are bent upon pushing their global agenda of Sharia compliance.
“Together, Globalism and Islamism, is the elephant in the room. And we cannot seriously address any of the issues that demand our attention – whether it be policies pertaining to immigration and domestic security, or the economy and resource development, or health and welfare of our people, or defence and foreign affairs – without taking into account the elephant in the room. But both the Liberals and the Conservatives are fully determined to avoid addressing this elephant in the room. The only difference between the two parties is that one is willing to ride the elephant, and the other is seeking to hide from the elephant. The People’s Party are the only people in Canada prepared to engage in a national conversation on the subject. For we recognize how in failing to contain and defeat these twin forces, Canada is on a fast track to become a laboratory of the Globalist-Islamist agenda.
“Today, freedom, most importantly free speech, which is the mother of all freedoms, is under siege right here in Canada. Political correctness and the passage of Motion-103 to abridge and censor free speech in the name of Islamophobia, illustrate how precarious freedom in Canada has become. Justin Trudeau proudly proclaims Canada has no core identity and is a post-national state. This is Trudeau’s slogan wrapped in virtue-signalling, as he adopted UN Agenda 2030, the Paris Accord and the UN Global Compact on Migration, which together radically weaken Canadian sovereignty. We, the People’s Party of Canada, will have none of it.”
When I got home around three p.m., about equally drenched in sweat and rain, I babbled to my wife for 20 minutes about the clammy crush of the scene I'd just witnessed; the convention chairs slammed edge to edge in rows, twelve chairs to a row reaching right across the room, with only one narrow aisle up the middle for everyone to navigate. You could see people at the end of those rows closest to the walls; some of them resting their faces against the somewhat cooler plaster for an illusion of relief. By the end of the rally, my Jimmy Olsen notepad had taken on the consistency of a damp slice of Wonder bread and could no longer receive a clear imprint from the point of my pen. Towards the end of the meeting, as Maxime Bernier was talking about how the PPC is indeed a populist party and populism is not something to be afraid of or apologize for, a tornado warning suddenly started bleeping away on every cell phone in the room. When an older lady near me started to fret and wonder if she should seek out shelter in a building that wasn't 20 storeys high, I tried to calm her down by telling her a theory that the poet Colleen Thibaudeau shared with me many moons ago: “London is in a bowl. That’s what makes this city so humid in the summer. But that also means that tornadoes just scud right over us.”
At the end of my account, Kirtley asked a question which pulled me up short and suddenly made me realize another encouraging and refreshing thing about the meeting and about this party and the people drawn to it who want to throw off all the bullshit of politics-as-usual that nobody actually believes but somehow feel they have to pretend to. “The hottest day of the year . . . a tornado warning . . . I'm wondering . . . did anybody even mention climate change?”
"Bless their hearts," I said. "They didn't. Not a single word."
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