Things are going to “get nasty,” according to a guy who couldn’t appear any sweeter if he tried. I’m referring to Andrew Scheer, federal leader of the Conservative Party, a man whose politics I dislike, but whom I would very much like to hug.
I know it’s bad form to comment on a leader’s physical appearance and demeanour — even a male leader’s — but Scheer, a dead ringer for Samwise Gamgee in a suit, is so genial in public, it’s hard to take him seriously when he tries to be foreboding, for example when he says things like this: “The Liberals are going to throw everything they have at us. It’s gonna get worse, it’s gonna get nasty.” Is it though? Or is it, more likely, going to get spirited with a few heated but ultimately civil moments?
Scheer made these remarks at an event in Ottawa on Sunday, one year away from the 2019 federal election, when the conservative leader will try to oust Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The PC candidate appears to be gearing up for a fight when few Canadians are thinking about next year’s federal election but are instead, in true Canadian fashion, devoting their screen time to American politics.
I’d bet my savings in U.S. dollars that there are more people in this country who know the name of Stormy Daniels than there are people who know the name Andrew Scheer. This is not an indictment of Canadians obsessed with American politics. American politics are fascinating and terrifying. And for the most part, Canadian politics are not. I just hope they stay that way.
But they probably won’t. It appears that despite his genial nature, Scheer is trying to inject Canada’s sober political rhetoric with a touch of Trumpian flavour. In addition to his warnings about campaign nastiness, the PM hopeful recently penned an “open letter to Canadians on why we need change” in the right-wing paper the Toronto Sun.
He doesn’t call anyone a horseface in the piece nor does he declare himself a nationalist, as Trump recently did at a rally in Texas. But he does, in Trumpian form, mention the media, not as a necessary element of a strong democracy, but as an adversary that must be challenged. He writes: “Never have taxpayers and everyday Canadians more needed someone who will stand up to this government, the media and the privileged elite on their behalf.”
Of course Scheer has it backwards. Governments do not typically “stand up” to media. Media stands up governments — left and right. At least this is the proper, healthy order of things. Does the mainstream media lean left?
Maybe, but that’s not the point.
The point is that if Canadians would like to buck the trend of right-wing populism sweeping the planet at the moment, we should be very wary when politicians frame the media (in the media no less) as opponents; not to mention at a time when the world isn’t exactly a safe place for journalists. (And as for the popular, Trumpian notion that the mainstream media is destroying the lives of good conservative men, us journalist types clearly aren’t doing a great job at this, as one of those men — alleged sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh — was recently sworn into the highest judicial post in the United States.)
Speaking of not-as-fringe-as-you’d-like candidates, white nationalist Faith Goldy received more than 25,000 votes in Toronto’s municipal election, something we aren’t supposed to talk about lest we give her any more attention. But I think we should talk about it. Clearly there is an appetite for anti-immigrant, anti-media rhetoric in this country — even in one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Better to overreact to these events and confront them directly rather than shrug them off — be they seemingly benign, like Scheer’s nod to anti-media sentiment or extremely disturbing, like the not insignificant turnout for Goldy. Better to be called an alarmist than to sit back and say nothing until everyone around you is genuinely alarmed.
Scheer thinks things will get nasty in the coming year, on the campaign trail and maybe they will. But they don’t have to get this way. My hope is that the conservative leader resists the temptation to channel the president of the United States and instead channels twice-victorious Toronto mayor John Tory. The bland win too, not just the brutish.
Emma Teitel is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @emmaroseteitel