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Rights + Justice
Federal Election 2011

Case of the Curious Conservative Campaign

Why is Harper's team taking unnecessary risks bashing the environment and refugees?

Bill Tieleman 5 Apr

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at [email protected] or visit his blog.

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Hmmm. What is 'human smuggling' really meant to mean?

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" -- Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of The Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It's the Case of the Curious Conservative Campaign -- and call in Sherlock Holmes to do the political detective work because something is deeply amiss.

The evidence is overwhelming.

Despite a hefty 14 per cent lead in recent public opinion polls, the Conservative Party is intent on taking absolutely unnecessary risks by bashing the environment and refugees, moves that seem sure to cost them votes in the urban ridings they need to win for a majority government.

Inexplicably, they are going out of their way to alienate voters who have any environmental concerns about oil tankers off the British Columbia coast or climate change.

And the Tories are using deplorable scare tactics about Tamil refugees in their television ads, despite Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's endless moves to court immigrant voters -- appearing in Vancouver-Kingsway riding last week to watch a Pakistan cricket match on TV, for example.

Mix immigrant bashing with disdain for the environment and presto -- it looks a lot like the old redneck Reform Party of Preston Manning that could never beat the Liberals. But the mystery is why?

Vote for risk of coastal oil spills!

Here's the evidence. Exhibit A. Conservative Party candidate Deborah Meredith's election flyer in Vancouver Quadra.

When you get past all the boilerplate stuff on the economy, crime and trade, you find this special highlighted section attacking her main opponent:

"Quadra Liberal MP Joyce Murray introduced an irresponsible private member's bill to stop tanker traffic off our north coast -- killing the northern gateway and hindering trade with Asia."

Wow. So I should vote Conservative to make sure oil tankers steam down our pristine coastline and risk a catastrophe like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill?

And Meredith is just warming up, literally.

The Conservative candidate also cites "examples of irresponsible private members' bill [sic] supported by the Liberals: To legislate reduction in carbon dioxide emissions to Kyoto targets reachable only by shutting down our economy."

Hmmm. Has Meredith actually met any Vancouver Quadra voters before putting this out?

It's a very environmentally minded riding full of professionals who actually want to fight global warming and oppose oil tanker traffic on our coast, not follow Meredith's Big Oil agenda.

And why push potential voters away when there's no reason to?

Touting polluters in an eco-friendly riding

You'd think Meredith and the Tory strategists might have learned a lesson from the March 2008 by-election that she lost by just 151 votes to Murray.

In that contest Meredith shunned media interviews and all candidates debates -- including one specifically focused on climate change issues.

And it's not like Liberal MP Joyce Murray is a tough target. She was arguably the worst environment minister in the province's history.

Murray was the minister when BC Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell's first government approved a massive increase in salmon farm licenses, ended the grizzly bear hunting moratorium, fired wildlife protection officers and watered down pesticide and waste management regulations. They even removed the name "environment" from the ministry!

So why didn't Meredith simply say the Conservatives will protect the environment? After all, Harper's government did reject the Prosperity Mine proposal in northern B.C. because of the potential for environmental devastation.

Meredith could even point out that Harper is showing more environmental leadership than new BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark, who wants the rejection reversed.

Or just say nothing about environmental issues at all -- even that would be better than needlessly alienating many voters.

Vote to block the desperate from our shores!

But there's more evidence of this curiously dubious Conservative Party campaign -- Exhibit B -- their new television ad.

An election ballot graphic shows three items with checkmarks -- "Strong leadership" and "Lower taxes" (but no mention of Harper and Campbell imposing the Harmonized Sales Tax increase on B.C.), followed by "Tough on human smuggling."

Huh? Is that Canada's third most important issue in this election?

The pleasant female voiceover explains that Harper has "taken action to protect our borders -- not from those who are welcome but from human smugglers who take advantage of our generosity."

The Conservative ad also shows film of a ship being taken into custody by the Canadian navy.

Oh, I see. It's coded language only true Tories understand.

But let's unscramble the message: "Conservatives will keep refugees on boats out of Canada."

It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure this one out. Last August a ship called the MV Sun Sea carrying 492 Sri Lankans of Tamil origin claiming refugee status after that country's civil war arrived off the B.C. coast. They were detained and questioned. About 39 remain in custody.

The year before another ship carrying 76 Tamil passengers, the Ocean Lady, entered B.C. waters.

Let's also make a wild guess. The Conservatives have noticed that these refugee claimants were not, shall we say, Scandinavian-looking.

'Ad borders on racism': Canadian Tamils

In fact, the National Council of Canadian Tamils has strongly criticized the Conservative ad and demanded it be pulled off the air.

"This election ad is xenophobic and borders on racism," said Krisna Saravanamuttu, a council spokesman. It appeals to the "worst instincts of Canadians to score political points and votes."

"It is reminiscent of the political rhetoric used to turn back Sikhs and Hindus on board the Kamagata Maru in 1914, and Jewish refugees on board the MS St. Louis fleeing persecution in 1939," Saravanamuttu said. "In these cases, refugees fleeing persecution were labelled 'criminals' and vilified by politicians appealing to the worst instincts of Canadians to score political points and votes."

Ouch. Not the kind of message the Conservatives need to win over immigrant voters -- or anyone with a sense of social justice!

And with regard to the Tamil refugee applicants, we are talking about less than 600 people when Canada admits between 240,000 and 265,000 immigrants a year -- that's 0.2 per cent of the total. All refugees have to go through a rigorous and lengthy approval process.

But why let the facts get in the way of a good scary immigration and environment bashing election ad?

Perhaps the next Conservative slogan will be even simpler: "British Columbia's coast: Oil tankers good -- refugee ships bad."

But how the Conservatives expect these tactics will help them win urban ridings is still a mystery that even Sherlock Holmes would find puzzling.  [Tyee]

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