PHOTOS: Nigel Farage, leader of the extremist U.K. Independence Party, at the 2013 Manning Conference in Ottawa. That’s former Australian prime minister John Howard with his back to the camera, for what it’s worth. Below: The target picturing Alberta Premier Rachel Notley used by the Brooks Big Country Oilmen’s Association golf tournament last Friday, a day the assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox in Britain on Thursday. A right-wing extremist has been charged with murder.
It appears to be dawning on the political right in Canada that open misogyny, racism and homophobia, not to mention suggestions violence is an appropriate form of political expression, aren’t going over very well with the Canadian public nowadays.
As a result, at least one conservative politician gingerly condemned the use of an image of Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley as a target for golf balls during a tournament Friday in the town of Brooks, which blew up into an embarrassing national story over the slow summer weekend just ended.
While hitting a golf ball at a picture is hardly the same thing as shooting a firearm at a human being, the assassination in the United Kingdom the day before of Jo Cox, a young Labour MP, has concentrated many people’s minds on the connections between violent rhetoric and actual violence, not to mention between casual misogyny and violence against women. A right-wing extremist has been charged with Ms. Cox’s murder.
“All of my colleagues in the Alberta Legislature deserve respect,” Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt, a young man not usually known for conciliatory rhetoric, said reproachfully. “Including Premier Notley.”
The president of the Brooks Big Country Oilmen’s Association, which perpetrated the gag-inducing gag, responded to the controversy with the traditional non-apology apology: “Sorry if anyone was offended. …” Even as he defended the target as an example of free speech – “we’re still living in Canada and as far as I know, it hasn’t become a communist nation, not as of yet” – it was pretty obvious Ernest Bothi would have been just as happy if this attempt at humour had never come to public attention.
Despite the discomfort among a few politicians of the right with the widespread condemnation of the oilmen’s golf target, however, the disturbing and extremely violent chatter, frequently tinged with misogyny, racism and homophobia that is regularly associated with the extreme right wing in Alberta continues unabated on social media, usefully tracked on Twitter by an account holder called @AB_Separatists.
Lots of talk continues to be heard emanating from these quarters about shooting, lynching and beating people with whom the commenters disagree, or whose lifestyles make them uncomfortable. It is frequently accompanied by gendered slurs, open homophobia, racism and religious bigotry.
Intemperate and even violent comments are made occasionally on the left, too, of course, though hardly as routinely as in right-wing circles nowadays. But unlike small-l liberals in Canada, the Canadian right remains reluctant to deal with the problem of the normalization in their discourse of this kind of extremism, and the acceptance of people who talk this way.
They need to.
A good place to start would be by not making people who engage in this kind of rhetoric welcome in the parties of the right – especially as party officials and candidates.
We also need to hear from more politicians of the right than just Mr. Fildebrandt. It’s time for party leaders like Brian Jean of the Wildrose Opposition and Ric McIver of the Progressive Conservative Party to step up to the mike. My apologies to them if either of them have and I missed it.
Another useful response would be to stop inviting advocates of extremism to their party conferences, as the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, commonly known as Ukip, was warmly welcomed to the Manning Conference in 2013.
Even back then, well before the ugly Brexit debate that was the proximate cause of Ms. Cox’s assassination was even on the radar, Nigel Farage’s party was flirting with fascism and outright racist nationalism.
But you’d never have known it from his enthusiastic reception by participants in Preston Manning’s annual conservative clambake at the Convention Centre in downtown Ottawa that year – which, by the way, I witnessed with my own eyes.
Indeed, Mr. Farage was given rock star treatment by a veritable Who’s Who of the Canadian conservative movement (Stephen Harper excepted, perhaps to his credit) who showed up that year for the conference.
Well, that was three years ago, and maybe the “fascists, felons and fanatical fools” Mr. Farage and Ukip pal around with were not quite so apparent then as they are now – although I doubt that, frankly, when it comes to conservative movement insiders. Nevertheless, the speakers’ lineup at this year’s Manning Conference seemed considerably more benign, leaning heavily toward contenders to replace Mr. Harper in the wake of the Conservative Party’s October 2015 election debacle.
Still, and this goes to the nub of the problem – as conservatives constantly say of other large groups with extremist elements – the violent extremism apparent in social media in Alberta, in the murderous attack in Britain, and the ugly rhetoric of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continue to be tolerated, even welcomed, in the heart of the conservative movement throughout the West. This is particularly true in the English-speaking world, which we once imagined was immune to this sort of contagion.
So this isn’t just about incivility any more. And speaking up about it isn’t mere “political correctness.”
It’s time for conservatives everywhere, including here in Alberta and Canada, to acknowledge and eject the extremists in their midst.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.