Political discourse in Canada, as seen by the National Post, that well known champion of common courtesy. Below: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

The National Post is shocked, just shocked, at the tone of the public commentary responding to the threatening break-in at Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa home while his wife and small children slept.

“Canadian political dialogue is devolving into a mosh pit where even the vilest personal attacks are more or less routine,” lamented political columnist Michael Den Tandt in the Post yesterday, apparently in response to some of the ferocious debate that reports of the frightening incident sparked in the comment sections of various media outfits.

This is true enough, although a mosh pit is for too benign a metaphor for what has become routine political discourse in this country, thanks in large part to the rise of what’s known here as the Online Tory Rage Machine.

These boiler rooms full of angry Conservative Party agitators respond instantly to any issue with furious online denunciations of anyone who disagrees with the enthusiasms of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, no matter how mild the disagreement.

Fret about the death toll in Gaza, get ready to be called a friend of terrorists, if not an outright terrorist yourself. Express some worries about sabre-rattling in Ukraine, and you’ll be told you’re in bed with Vladimir Putin. Express doubts about the war on drugs, be prepared to be accused of drug use yourself, or maybe selling the stuff. And just try talking about moderate firearms regulations and then watch with astonishment the threatening tone the response to your remarks quickly takes on.

For, oh, the past eight years or so, it’s been relentless – and, with the active and enthusiastic encouragement of the Harper government. And it is semi-official – who can forget the famous Craigslist ad of 2011, when this stuff was really getting off the ground, seeking social media writers to “make up facts” and use “sarcasm and personal insults” to “score points” and “stir outrage.”

No one has ever persuasively denied this was legitimate, although recruitment of operatives seems to have moved to more secure channels, perhaps the back rooms of various right-wing centres for “building democracy.”

This routine abuse of the CPC’s doubters, let alone its actual opponents, has even crept into legitimate media, through the agency of the prime minister’s favourite TV station, the semi-official Sun News Network.

Hell, thanks to Sun News, the Two Minute Hate is practically a Canadian institution now, except that it seldom runs for less than eight or 10 minutes.

And that’s not to mention the Harper Government’s approach to political advertising, which as we know nowadays tends to target on the mostly imagined failings of Mr. Trudeau, with an occasional halfhearted sideswipe at Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.  The fact it doesn’t seem to be working just arouses them to new heights of vituperation.

Not that I’m jumping to any conclusions, but it’s not hard to imagine the possibility that one of the many violent fruitcakes of the right was motivated by this stream of invective to decide they had to … do something.

This has served a purpose for the government. For one thing, keeping the tone of political debate ugly, and fostering the sense that all politicians are corrupt, is a well-understood technique of the political right in North America. It has the tendency to suppress the vote by people who might otherwise be motivated to do something about the state of affairs at the ballot box.

For another, it does in fact have a chilling effect on legitimate democratic discourse and the expression of views not approved by the official right.

Mr. Den Tandt, in the traditional enabling manner of the mainstream media, tries to paint this as something equally contributed to by intemperate supporters of both sides. “As quickly as Trudeau haters popped up to dine out on the break-in, Stephen Harper-haters piled on with their own equally anile attacks,” he wrote, and, I admit, I had to look up “anile” to realize it is sexist as well as largely incorrect.

Although, in fairness, I have noticed in the past few months that traditionally mild-mannered Canadian progressive commentators are holding themselves back much less than in the past – a sleeping dog, perhaps, than the political right may yet regret having awakened. Or perhaps not, since the goal of the strategy was always to debase political discourse.

And so we come to Mr. Den Tandt’s proposed solutions: an end to Internet anonymity and a return to “time-tested standards of common courtesy and decency.”

Well, I understand they’ve been trying something like the former idea in Russia. But good luck with getting any of that to happen in Canada, where, among other things, it would immediately put the Online Tory Rage Machine out of business.

We’re well past all that, I’m afraid. What needs to happen now is for the Mounties to assign protection to the leaders of all Parliamentary parties, and their families. Even the one with only one member. Right now.

That’s going to cost us a few bucks. We’re told we had to pay $47 million from April 1, 2009, to Jan. 31, 2011, to protect Mr. Harper and his family.

Well, so be it. The alternative is much, much worse.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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  1. I found the Den Tandt article interesting.. and your article about his article equally interesting, tho more valid in conclusion and analysis.. Below is the tweet I sent him last night as I feel there is an aspect of anonymity being overlooked..

    That aspect is being missed for what it is..
    Camouflage, Obstruction, Deflection, Unaccountability, Secrecy etc.

    And that Anonymous behavior is practiced and polished every day by The Harper Government & Party when Spokespersons, Parliamentary Aides, Media Directors, Federal Lawyers, Ministerial Secretaries become the front to media and the citizens while the actual PM, Ministers, MP’s, unelected aides, unelected Chief of Staff and backroom operators remain hidden, cloaked in power & seemingly unassailable and unaccountable.. Their denials, boasting, braying duplicity & deceits delivered by scripted underlings.. messengers that of course are never attacked, have no further response or answers or responsibility.

    That is Anonymous and Robotic governance. Distorted Paramountcy

    @salamanderhorde: @mdentandt #cdnpoli In the absence of accountability Harper & party revel, excel in mealy anonymity of denial

  2. It makes me chuckle when political columnist’s such as Michael Den Tandt trot out their ‘eliminating anonymity will fix everything’ theories. First of all, as you say, in Canada it would put an end to the Harper Rage Machine ™. Secondly, it would require everyone to purchase a private key from a Certificate Authority which purportedly identifies them. Thirdly, these private identity keys would then have to kept secure at all times – good luck with that.

    These types of internet identity systems would be a technical and administrative nightmare. And online criminals would begin stealing private individual keys, and impersonating those individuals, the moment the system was turned on, thus completely destroying the credibility of the system.

    Mr. Den Tandt does have one useful suggestion, though. A return to common decency and civility on the internet, and society in general, is in order.

  3. Mr. Harper is only Prime Minister because he is the leader of a political party. He wasn’t voted in personally. Take the 47 million he thinks is necessary to protect his sorry hide and split it in four to provide security for the others.

  4. I am as disgusted by the hateful tone of some of the online trolls as anyone, but anonymity on the ‘Net is essential to free speech in this country. Without anonymity, employees in the public sector, including those working in so-called “arms-length” agencies such as the education and health care systems, would be effectively gagged by their employers. Since those employees are also citizens and taxpayers, their voices can add a note of informed comment to public debates on these issues; silencing them would be most unfortunate.

    Provide more moderation of online comment boards, such as at news sites, to remove the most offensive ad hominem attacks. The moderation guidelines should be fairly narrow, with the intent only to remove potentially defamatory posts.

  5. The first right wing columnist/commentator that I noticed changing his stance on the Con government was Andrew Coyne as the full horror of what was happening began to dawn on him. I don’t think most people in Canada knew much about the extreme righters until five or so years ago, when they were officially recognized as the Con Rage Machine, recruited and encouraged to vent like so many hot springs whenever the command came from on high. Before that, most would have been to embarrassed to come out into the light.

    Michael Den Tandt says that Harper is the person most Canadians look to for leadership. I beg to differ. It never was like that, not even approaching half, and the numbers are dropping. Most people, when they can look at all, are terrified by what they might find. The fracturing of our country into warring factions, the destruction of our institutions, the misrepresentation of our views and values to others in the world – most of us find that very disturbing.

    Trudeau said that the incident caused he and his wife to have some serious conversations about the path they are taking and the risks it exposes them all to.

    Reminds me of the “violent fruitcakes” who went around cutting the brake lines of cars parked next to houses displaying a Liberal lawn sign in a Toronto neighbourhood in 2008. Dippers? I don’t think so. One of the vandalized cars had a child seat clearly visible in it. Around here, the fruitcakes sprayed crosshairs on the picture of the Lib candidate on campaign signs. Somehow, I don’t think that was the Dippers either.

  6. Ironic that Alison Redford was removed from office after attempting to ensure her adequate personal security through private flights, a private government-protected residence, Calgary Police escorts, etc…apparently some Albertans weren’t willing to pay for the security of their democratically elected leader, and found this spending “outrageous.” It’s a shame, really.

  7. Oh my goodness. Mr Foster. Is that what Ms. Redford’s actions were all about? Protection, security? Well that makes perfect sense. Pity the CP Caucus didn’t know that.

    Ironic would be the fact the CP caucus didn’t make use of this revelation before your insightful comment. Perhaps you should send a resumé off to the CP HR department. Still. I should offer the suggestion that flying the “security” excuse for Ms Redford’s actions will require an equivalent to putting lipstick on a pig and making it look like a super model in terms of PR spin. You could name your price at that point, I would imagine.

    Umm…you weren’t being sarcastic were you? If you were, I apologize for my comment. However, if you were being sarcastic, you were much too subtle. Remember, sarcasm on political actions these days requires a bludgeon, not a feather. Too many thick-headed people such as myself are about to use feathers. David maybe could uses a feather, but he’s a pro. 🙂

  8. For what it’s worth, as a reader and commenter of Globe and Mail stories, I almost never see the Right Wing Rage Machine in action because I sort comments by the number of ‘thumbs up’ (highest to lowest). Interestingly, on any and all stories regarding Harper or the Conservatives, you have to scroll down really, really far until you start to encounter the righties. In other words, the anti-Harper/anti-Conservative posts are by far the most popular, even in a media outlet like G&M. That says something.

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