21 October 2015

Canadian Elections: How to Deal With Wedge Issues

A couple of days ago Canada's Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau won a convincing majority in Canadian elections.

I rejoiced.

You see, even if I don't live there, Canada is to me what Israel is supposed to be to Jews, a beacon of hope. A place I can go to when chaos reigns supreme elsewhere. A safe haven.

Just as successive Likud governments changed Israel for the worse, Stephen Harpen had set out to do the same to Canada. And I felt the dismay of Jews in diaspora.

BBC called his plan "the Americanisation of Canada" but it was more GOPisation of Canada.

A week before the elections, Foreign Policy ran an article entitled "How Canada's Election Will Decide the Fate of the World." It may sound like a joke or a huge exaggeration as Canada is not a powerful country but the author was dead serious.

His point was that while Canada's contribution to global greenhouse gases is minuscule (3 percent), it has always enjoyed a moral leadership on such issues. And its stance matters because of that.

The outgoing Prime Minister turned his back on that role and moved Canada to the camp of global warming deniers and greenhouse gas refuseniks. In fact, Canada was on course to miss its 2020 emission targets by 20 percent.

The sad part is that, the whole thing was not the result of a firmly held belief. It was more a knee-jerk reaction (in line with American conservatives) to do the wrong thing just to annoy progressives.

Now that Harper has been unceremoniously kicked out of the office, the Paris Summit in December might have a different outcome. With the other climate "villain" Tony Abbott out of the picture even Aussies might have a change of heart and support the new Canadian position.

But to me the reason why these elections should decide the fate of the world is the fact that by electing Trudeau, Canadians rejected the fear and wedge-issue politics that seem to be working everywhere else. It was the first time in recent history a politician took a stand and announced his position on every wedge-issue without any Clintonian triangulation and the voters rewarded him for it.

And we are talking of the mother of all wedge-issues, "them Muslim folks." Harper made the fear of Islamist terrorism and the divisive issue of Islamic garb the center piece of his campaign.

For instance, he declared that women wearing a burqa or a niqab cannot take the citizenship oath or work for the government. He even named (and continually ridiculed) the sole woman who wanted to wear a niqab during the oath ceremony.

Initially, the polls ordered by the Conservative Party gave the impression that a niqab ban would gain traction, especially among the "old-stock" Canadians as Harper called them. But when you look at the election results you realize that either the polls were biased or people changed their minds after a brief reflection.

If change of attitude took place, the media played a big role in that. They interviewed the handful of Canadian women who wore a niqab to report back that they did not conform to the submissive Muslim woman stereotype. They seem to have decided on their own and most often against the wishes of their husband or father.

And the Canadian public understood the distinction, realized that Harper was simply using a polarizing identity politics to win elections and they refused to go along.

Similarly, when the Conservative government began to pick and choose Syrian refugees, giving priority to non-Muslims, Canadians did not react  initially. But when a short time before the elections, it became public knowledge that the government's refugee policy was to actively discourage Sunni and Shia Muslims from seeking asylum, people didn't like the vision of Canada this approach entailed.

Consequently, when they sided with Justin Trudeau they did it with the clear knowledge that he would reverse this policy and open Canada to those people in need, regardless of their religion.

And that he would tax the wealthy, run a deficit for three years to invest in infrastructure, re-examine the Keystone project, investigate the murder and disappearance of first nation women and legalize marijuana.

Even a self-professed socialist Bernie Saunders would blanch upon hearing such a list. Yet Canadians liked what they saw and voted for the list. And did it by the millions.

The Liberals went from having 36 seats to a majority of 184. Whereas Harper's Conservatives dropped from 156 to 99.

In short, the reason I am so pleased with these election results is because when faced with these wedge issues unlike Americans, Europeans and Middle Easterners, Canadians bravely chose the right side of each proposition, the side of hope, humanity, equality, non-discrimination and respect for the planet.

When people ask me who Canadians are, I simply tell them that they are just decent people who strives to do the right thing.

And I am sure I don't have to tell you what a rare and precious thing this is.

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