Opinion

Please Advise! Is My Cynical, Divisive Tip Line Working?

With turkeys calling in, Dr. Steve helps Harper define 'barbaric' practices.

By Steve Burgess 12 Oct 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor's note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

If re-elected, we at the Conservative Party of Canada have promised to set up a "barbaric cultural practices" tip line. As revealed by Conservative candidates Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch, the phone line would allow patriotic Canadians to report on the shameful behaviour of any neighbourhood barbarians.

Does this seem to you to be a winning political strategy?

Thankfully yours,

The PMO

Dear PMO,

It's probably a good thing the tip line wasn't set up immediately -- on Thanksgiving weekend the lines would have been overloaded with frantic calls from turkeys. Presumably it is meant to root out misogyny, sexual violence, bride burning, inappropriate niqab-wearing, turbans, weird sing-song prayers, and the like. But you're going to get some confusion over what qualifies.

It's hard to imagine you couldn't lodge a legitimate complaint about haggis. Nobody is forcing anyone to attend a Robbie Burns dinner but that's not the point -- we're talking about rituals no one should be subjected to. For that matter, making people sit at a dinner table for hours munching unleavened bread and bitter herbs when there's perfectly good food sitting in the kitchen may seem like a legitimate reason to call, but no. Pretending wafers are flesh and wine is blood, speaking in tongues, and pointing skyward to the celestial home of the Deity of Home Runs and Touchdowns all qualify as odd but again, not barbaric. Besides, they're grandfathered in.

Still, the definition of "barbaric" is fluid. And as time goes on there will surely be some mission creep as "barbaric" shades into "silly" or "really annoying." Your young wanksta neighbour who wears tacky jewelry and calls everybody "dawg," for instance, will likely inspire a few calls. Your co-worker who keeps on being surprised every year when the Leafs suck? Worth a call for sure.

And what about the culture of entitlement? That one would need a dedicated line in the Senate hallway. Perhaps the United States could get a similar line where anonymous callers could complain about the Second Amendment.

Wedging your bets

But I think there are other Canadian practices that fall into the realm of political culture. Not barbaric perhaps, but sad. One is the tendency for Canadians to demand honesty, integrity, and principle in their leaders and then punish them for it.

Look at Tom Mulcair. The poor man has spent most of this campaign trying desperately to flee from past NDP policy traditions like so many wasps at a picnic. To the Canadian left Mulcair has sometimes seemed a man whose spine is made of exceedingly flexible material. But now comes the niqab issue, the depressingly familiar sort of political demagoguery that somehow manages to stir an inverse ratio between emotional power and personal relevancy. And here Mulcair's backbone stiffened, as he pointed out to Quebecers that you don't celebrate our national diversity by telling women what they can and can't wear at a citizenship ceremony. To do otherwise would be base, despicable, or Gilles Duceppe.

The result has been a political disaster for the NDP. Crying "Once more into the wedge, dear friends," the Conservatives and the Bloc gleefully piled on the invective.

On Friday Zunera Ishaq became a Canadian citizen while wearing a niqab. Apparently they were able to figure out who she was. That's important since it had been implied that behind the niqab she was actually Mullah Omar. The anti-Muslim sentiment in this debate has been, shall we say, thinly veiled. The fact that any woman attending a ceremony with a niqab would first have to uncover could not be repeated often enough, apparently, since every repetition bounced off its intended audience like raindrops off Turtle Wax.

Mulcair's big political blunder has been standing up for a principle that has thus far been affirmed by Canadian courts but opposed by Rex Murphy. (Murphy's editorial take, as far as I could parse it, seemed to be: Canada loves diversity. Loving diversity is something we all have in common. So if you love diversity, you should behave like the rest of us.)

But pardon me -- you asked a question. You wanted to know if your cynical, divisive niqab issue has been a good political move? The knee-jerk reaction would be to say absolutely. Your party and the Bloc have once again uncovered depths of Canadian xenophobia that many of us don't like to acknowledge. Kudos!

Quebec seeing red?

Yet your Conservatives may be falling victim to Barbaric Unintended Consequences. In terms of randomness, this development ranks right up there with the flapping butterfly wings that bring on the hurricane: the NDP's Quebec collapse may be leading the Liberals toward strong minority territory.

All along, the neat divide between Liberal and NDP poll numbers was a Conservative's best friend. Now, falling NDP support in Quebec has led to defections to the Liberal camp.

It's somewhat bizarre since Justin Trudeau's niqab position is pretty much the same as Mulcair's. Yet the visible erosion of Quebec NDP support seems to have spooked other NDP voters into defecting, thereby finally accomplishing the left-of-centre consolidation the Conservatives have so desperately feared. Perhaps not a morally satisfying outcome but still, a sweet, delicious slice of irony.

You might still win though, you blue rascals. And if you do, you can start setting up all the secret tip lines you like. How about a line to report poisonous cynicism, ruthless expediency, hypocrisy, and wilful, paranoid blindness? Call 1-800-GOT-FEAR. Or never mind -- they'll call you.  [Tyee]

Read more: Election 2015

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