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LANA PAYNE: The Conservatives have a racism problem

No one should be surprised that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is playing footsie with racists and refusing to condemn acts of hate and threats of violence.

His social media feed contains an endless litany of hate-coded messages, inaccuracies and sometimes downright lies. His party’s infinite attack against asylum seekers is just one of the ways they are stoking xenophobic fears.

It’s the latest political trend for conservatives across the world. History shows it is nothing new.

Too often racialized people are exploited as scapegoats when incompetent and ineffective politicians are unable or unwilling to do anything to fix challenging economic and societal problems. Blame the victims, the vulnerable, the exploited, the newcomer, Indigenous people. Too many politicians have had success based on this nasty recipe.

It’s much easier apparently to blame the newcomer than do something about rising inequality and wealth concentration or tackle climate change.

It is also dangerous. You may win an election, but in the end all you have achieved is a divided nation, divided by hate rather than united by the possible, by friendship and compassion.

There are so many issues crying out for a good debate in this country. The state of homelessness and affordable housing; the lack of affordable childcare; the rising costs of post-secondary education; the impact artificial intelligence and automation will have on the future labour market; how we can best meet the needs of an aging population; or the shift towards a greener economy and a truly just transition for workers; democratic reform. Pick one. Pick another.

He has refused to denounce the Yellow Vest elements within the United We Roll group who have accused the prime minister of treason, called for violence against Justin Trudeau and who have been spewing hate and violence against immigrants. He has refused to condemn statements by one of his own Senators who asked the truckers participating in the United We Roll rally to “roll over every Liberal left in the country.”

Instead, politics has become not about how we build a better Canada, a more inclusive Canada, a stronger Canada, but rather politics is about dividing Canadians, pointing to “the other” as the problem.

Sure, wedge politics is nothing new. Stephen Harper perfected them.

Yet today the wedges are wider and cause deeper divisions.

Consider that the breakaway political party led by Maxime Bernier exists only to fan the flames of division and hate.

Because when you have no real solutions for the big problems that plague nations and citizens, you hide behind manufactured problems and you stoke fear.

Does anyone know what Andrew Scheer stands for on the important issues affecting Canadians and what his proposals for Canadians are? Perhaps he is attempting to pull a Doug Ford. Don’t tell the people anything about your plans, merely criticize the other side. Something the federal Liberals are making easier by the day.

It worked for Donald Trump and Scheer is clearly betting his political future on this kind of populist politics working for him.

But when you play these kind of games you will eventually be judged by them. You will also be judged by the company you keep. Lately for Scheer that company has been Canadians who identify with the racist Yellow Vest gang.

Consider that for a second. This could be our next prime minister.

Indeed, from all appearances he has had no trouble cavorting and courting with Yellow Vests or appearing on a stage with white nationalists and smiling through it all as if he was attending a potluck at the local Legion hall.

He has refused to denounce the Yellow Vest elements within the United We Roll group who have accused the prime minister of treason, called for violence against Justin Trudeau and who have been spewing hate and violence against immigrants. He has refused to condemn statements by one of his own Senators who asked the truckers participating in the United We Roll rally to “roll over every Liberal left in the country.”

This is a matter of character. And Andrew Scheer has obviously decided that lining up with racists is preferable to finding some political courage and condemning the indefensible.

Today’s Conservatives have a racism problem.

The question is whether enough Canadians are willing to overlook it or whether they will push back.

Friends, we can all do something to denounce this kind of politically inflamed xenophobia.

Reach out to newcomers. Make friendships. Ask questions. Learn about each other. Find all the things you have in common. I promise there will be many.

Let’s not allow racism to define us as a nation.

We have had too much of it as it is.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at lanapaynenl@gmail.com. Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns in two weeks.

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