THUNDER BAY – GUEST OP-ED – The Orange Wave was indestructible. Nothing appeared able to bring down the party that Tom Mulcair inherited from the likable and personable Jack Layton, who had succumbed to cancer three and a half months after leading the NDP to a breakthrough in the 2011 federal election. The NDP – the party synonymous with Tommy Douglas and universal health care – was leading the polls and well on its way to forming its first national government. There was anticipation the Orange Wave in Alberta – as signified by Premier Rachel Notley’s victory in that province – coupled with party support in Quebec, would move elsewhere and allow the NDP to battle the Conservative Party in riding-rich Ontario.
One of the election’s two turning points came in the hiring of Australian Lynton Crosby as Conservative campaign strategist. Crosby is known to be a master of “dog-whistle” politics and is well-noted for his accolades in both Australia and Britain. Crosby spear-headed successful campaigns for former Australian Prime Minister John Howard and London’s current mayor Boris Johnson. Crosby is also noted for spear-heading Michael Howard’s unsuccessful 2005 campaign against Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. That 2005 British campaign was synonymous for the Conservative Party attack on immigration policy. Sound familiar, Canada?
With Crosby now at the helm of the Conservative Party campaign in Canada it was expected this election would get nasty, and fast. The Conservative Party wasted no time applying Crosby’s “dog-whistle” accolades. As hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees were fleeing the tyranny of Bashar al-Assad and their country’s civil war for the shores of Greece and train stations of Hungary en route to Germany, the Conservative Party had hit the reset button on its campaign and Prime Minister Harper was now boldly and unapologetically appealing to “old stock” Canadians. Subsequently, the Prime Minister’s quote regarding “old stock” Canadians did not backfire. That comment was deliberately intended to appeal to the fear-mongering prejudices and rhetoric about immigrants, refugees, and Muslims. It came at a moment of the campaign when the leaders of the three parties were expected to announce plans to assist Eastern European nations with the so-called “refugee crisis.”
From the refugee crisis Harper and the Conservative Party continued its attacks on anyone not considered “old stock.” Up next was the Islamophobia that followed regarding women wearing niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. Once again the Conservative Party was able to appeal to the fear-mongering prejudices and rhetoric of our society. The rhetoric that ensued was akin to American rhetoric following both the crane accident and Hajj stampede in Saudi Arabia. From herein this election became about the import of American-like prejudices and Islamophobia onto the Canadian political arena. This was Lynton Crosby brilliantly at work for Stephen Harper. Let’s also not forget Donald Trump was at work in the United States at this time appealing to similar prejudices firmly embedded into the psyche of GOP supporters and other Americans.
This is where Tom Mulcair and the NDP started its downward spiral in the polls. Staying true to the NDP’s pledge for social justice, Mulcair announced his support for Muslim women wearing niqabs at Canadian citizenship ceremonies. Mr. Mulcair’s opinion was widely unpopular with Canadians, and the first sign of NDP decline was slipping numbers in Quebec. This was the second turning point of the 2015 Canadian election.
With NDP numbers slipping this was the long-awaited breakthrough needed by Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party. Prior to Mulcair announcing his support for the wearing of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies all three main parties were engaged in a three-way deadlock separated by a percentage point or two. Early in the election campaign Mr. Trudeau was not able to differentiate his leftist-leaning party from the surprisingly more centrist NDP. Mr. Trudeau was also under constant barrage from Stephen Harper and attack ads for his lackadaisical comments about balanced budgets and the economy. The Conservative Party was standing by attack ads which claimed Mr. Trudeau was “just not ready.”
The recent Liberal Party upswing cannot be attributed to the ideals of Mr. Trudeau or to the strength of the Liberal platform, but rather to the miscalculation of Tom Mulcair and NDP strategy with regards to the contentious niqab issue. The Conservative Party and Prime Minister Harper had been polling low, however their situation was not dire on account of the likelihood for vote-splitting between the NDP and Liberals. The NDP and Liberals had been beating up on each other as both parties were trying to occupy the same space on the political spectrum and appeal to the same demographic. This vote-splitting had been working in favour of the Conservative Party. Now that NDP numbers are slipping Mr. Trudeau is on task to inherit either a seat as Prime Minister or as the Leader of the Opposition. Whatever the outcome on the evening of October 19 the Liberal Party and Mr. Trudeau have Tom Mulcair to thank for his miscalculation and widely unpopular opinion in support of the niqab issue. Unlike 2011, NDP resurgence and the return of the Orange Wave appear unlikely to happen with two weeks remaining in the campaign
Fort William First Nation, Ont.
Ken Cyrette is a member of the Fort William First Nation and is a student of Political Science at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.