Lynton Crosby Takes His Dark Magic to Canada - And it Seems to Be Working

With racist apes like Donald Trump and homophobic ideologues like Ted Cruz running for office on the other side of the border, the blinding idiocy of U.S. electioneering that will drag on for another year is stealing all of the attention from a Canadian federal election that’s only two weeks away. Save for the spectacle that was Toronto’s former crack-addict Mayor Rob Ford, Canadians don’t expect global headlines about their political contests to make it above the fold. That may have changed, thanks to niqab-wearing Muslim women, an Australian political provocateur, the British Royal Family, and the lowest common denominating political instinct.

In an election that seems too close to call, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are using a wedge issue by calling some Muslim practices “barbaric” to gain an edge. In recent televised debates, the Conservatives have emphasized their efforts to ban women from wearing the niqab while taking the oath of citizenship - a proposal that’s now before the Supreme Court – while the two other main national parties support a woman’s right to wear the most modest form of Muslim dress during the citizenship ceremony.

The ensuing rhetoric has thrown more light on a bill brought forward by the Conservatives earlier this year. The bill’s name, “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” - says much about what it includes, but a more accurate title would be: “Economic Growth Evaporated Because We Put Oil at the Center of Our Strategy So Let’s Bash the Muslims Act.” The bill, which has passed parliamentary readings, received Royal Assent and is on course to become law, strengthens provisions aimed at keeping polygamy and forced marriages - practices that are already illegal in Canada - out of the country.

a new strategy driven by Crosby, the Conservatives are doubling down on anti-Muslim sentimentThose who thought sober and polite Canadians are above such divisive politics might be surprised to learn that the Conservatives’ gambit is working. This would come as no shock to Lynton Crosby, an Australian political consultant who helped David Cameron’s party. Harper’s party brought Crosby in last month, when the Conservatives appeared on course to lose the parliamentary majority they gained in 2011 or even face an outright loss to the left-leaning New Democratic Party. The NDP, which became the official opposition in 2011, is most vocal in its support for the niqab. And now the party is running third place behind the Liberals.  

Now, with a new strategy driven by Crosby, the Conservatives are doubling down on anti-Muslim sentiment by promising to establish a snitch line allowing people to report “information about incidents of barbaric cultural practices in Canada.” They’ve also been battling the courts to sanction their proposed ban on women wearing niqabs while they’re taking the oath of citizenship, a proposal with broad public support and which is now before the Supreme Court. Piling on, Canada’s Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney said: "The niqab reflects a medieval tribal custom that reflects a misogynistic view of women.” Kenney is also the country’s defense minister and an incumbent MP from a riding that represents part of Calgary.

Canadians have begun attacking women who choose to wear the veil

The Conservatives’ loss of support before the niqab fracas resurfaced wasn’t a surprise. They’ve held power for nearly a decade on their credentials as reliable economic stewards. Those credentials stood partly on high oil prices and Harper’s efforts to cast Canada as an “emerging energy superpower.” The country fell into a technical recession in the first half of this year on the back of the decline in oil prices, and a return to growth in the past couple of months is stuck below 0.5 percent. Given that energy accounts for 10% of Canada’s economy and growth among the country’s biggest trading partners remains tepid (the US) or in decline (China), it’s difficult to see Canada’s economy gaining much momentum.

The “barbaric practices” tip line promise has sparked a backlash in social media. #BarbaricCulturalPractices on Twitter has attracted thousands of posts since Conservative incumbent MPs Chris Alexander, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and Kellie Leitch announced plans for the tip line on Oct. 2. The overwhelming majority of posts use the hashtag to skewer the Conservatives on issues such as their efforts to muzzle government-funded scientists and a perceived reluctance to act on the disappearance of aboriginal women.

Crosby, Harper and the rest of Canada’s Conservatives can probably afford to ignore social media. They need only to look at Europe, the UK, and the US to know that debates about long-term economic strategies and questions about employment prospects for graduating classes fighting for unpaid internship positions are easily subsumed by the visceral images of ISIS beheadings and immolations, barbaric practices for sure.

Instead of demanding answers about the Conservatives’ losing gamble on energy prices, Canadians have begun attacking women who choose to wear the veil.

All of this, of course, overlooks the farce at the center of the Canadian debate about what can and can’t be worn at citizenship ceremonies, where arrivals from all corners of the world must swear allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors. Many of those taking this oath contravene those they’re bound to because of the citizenship they hold in other countries.

More importantly, forced allegiance to a monarchy that lives half a world away, based on nothing other than legends about the superiority of a particular bloodline should be considered, in the words of Minister Kenney, “medieval.” So does it really matter what one wears to a ritual so very disingenuous – if not medieval or tribal? When you’re pledging allegiance to a Queen, a niqab should be as appropriate as a Mickey Mouse costume or a thong-and-nipple-tape ensemble890.

It’s not the monarchy that draws so many immigrants to Canada as much as the country’s long history as a safe harbour protected by the rule of law, reinforced by protections enshrined in the Charter of Rights and, until the niqab question was lobbed into the center of public discourse, Canadians’ sense of decency.

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About the author

Robert has been a journalist and editor in Beijing and Toronto for publications including The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News, and Financial Times. 

Follow Robert on Twitter.

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