Of cats and rats and elephants

October 5, 2015

Stephen Harper has entered the final two weeks of the federal election campaign slightly ahead of, tied with, or slightly trailing Justin Trudeau, depending upon the poll. Contrary to expectations “Justin” has refused to give up despite withering air attacks over the last two years, and like another former teacher, a guy named Mao, he just keeps growing stronger and picking up support in spite of the relentless propaganda barrage during his long march to 24 Sussex.

But all is not lost. Harper has hired political fixer extraordinaire Lynton Crosby to revitalize his floundering campaign. With elephants in the room like Duffy, Carson, Del Mastro, Cadman, murdered aboriginal women and the Senate, he definitely needs a distraction from pointed questions about his record over the last 9½ years.

Crosby has thrown a dead cat onto the table. It is the niqab dispute, and everybody has instantly become obsessed with the issue. That’s the genius of the dead cat move: everybody hates it, but nobody can think of anything else while the dead cat’s lying there on the dinner table, offending everyone. Dead cats are Crosby’s stock-in-trade. Most have to do with racism. In Australia Crosby went after immigrants with the slogan, We get to determine who comes to our country. John Howard won the election.

In the last week in Canada we’ve seen how Mulcair and Trudeau have offered conventional positions on the wearing of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies and have been shouted down by the loudest and the stupidest of the mob in Quebec.

That’s Crosby’s specialty, bringing out the worst in voters using dog whistle politics. Crosby’s anti-Muslim bent also comes out in Harper’s reaction to the Syrian refugee problem. After weeks of dithering, Harper is receiving plaudits from a significant percentage of voters for doing nothing to help Syrian refugees, even over the pleas of Christian churches, NATO allies, and the U.N.

But perhaps Harper could have selected a better distraction, as this particular dead cat can scratch back. On Monday the “dead cat” herself, Zunera Ishaq, was cleared by the Federal Court of Appeals to take her citizenship oath while wearing a niqab (CBC). The Court ruled that The minister acted illegally in creating a policy that went contrary to the legislation.

In an accompanying story, the CBC series Baloney Meter judged that the following statement by Conservative MP Costas Menegakis, parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration, is “full of baloney.”

I think for the citizenship ceremony, someone needs to identify themselves. We need to know who they are.

As an English teacher I find it hard to believe that a man with responsibility for Canadian citizenship and immigration would have so much difficulty with the very pronouns which allow precise distinctions between the one and the many. No wonder Menegakis wants to have a peek, just to be sure. Language has utterly failed him.

Harper/Crosby have also come up with an anti-Muslim snitch line to the RCMP for neighbours suspected of barbaric acts. That’s McCarthyism in all but name.

Then Monday morning the dead-cat distraction campaign had to give way to the “dead rat” in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Globe and Mail reporter Alexander Panetta quoted Tim Groser, New Zealand’s trade minister, on the subject of the compromises necessary to achieve a 12-country trade agreement:

And when we say ugly, we mean ugly from each perspective — it doesn’t mean ‘I’ve got to swallow a dead rat and you’re swallowing foie gras.’ It means both of us are swallowing dead rats on three or four issues to get this deal across the line.

Dead rat or not, it sounds as though the TPP is a victory for the Conservatives. Dairy farmers should be happy. Auto workers don’t vote for Harper, anyway. Let them eat the dead rats.

And the timing of the TPP announcement couldn’t have suited Harper better. Buoyant from the massive Liberal rally in Brampton on Sunday, Justin Trudeau had just begun to unveil the Liberal Platform at the University of Waterloo when the CBC cut away from the live announcement to catch Stephen Harper’s triumphal introduction of the TPP agreement to Canadians.

So no unicorns today, Justin.

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