You seldom hear Canadians call politicians “scary”. But that’s the description that many are giving to Stockwell Day. “Boring, irrelevant, out-of-touch”, are more common labels. So, what is it about this new leader that provokes such a response?
Stockwell Day embraces social and fiscal conservatism. Fiscal conservatism is nothing new in Canadian politics. Most parties think it’s a good idea to give tax breaks to the rich under the pretense of giving tax breaks to all; reduce welfare and unemployment insurance to drive people into poverty and homelessness; blame the poor and homeless for circumstances beyond their control.
Social conservatism is a different matter. Social conservatism is a blend of politics and fundamentalist religion that we normally see south of the border. Canadians are not used to pushy, slick preachers who promote self-righteous recipes for how others should live. We get nervous when politicians promote their personal biases as solutions to society’s problems. When Stockwell Day preaches anti-gay and anti-abortion sermons, those opinions gain political momentum. His views spread from the realm of personal belief to social imperative.
If we are told that homosexuality is an abomination unto the Lord, for example, then impressionable zealots and thugs have a license to cruise streets, looking for fags to harass and beat up. If we are told that abortionists are murderers, then some group on the lunatic fringe is going to take up the cause and serve crude justice by snuffing out the murderers.
Words can hurt you. Inflammatory rhetoric takes on a life of its own, regardless of how well-intentioned the source of that rhetoric is. Take the recent stabbing of abortion provider Dr. Garson Romalis in Vancouver, for example. A radical anti-abortion group, Babies Liberation Army, has taken credit for the assault. They are not prepared to give up — they told Romalis to “watch his back”.
They, or a similar misguided group, are following up on a sniper attack on Dr. Romalis in 1994. The circumstances of that assault was similar to other deadly attacks on abortion providers in North America. These attacks are not the act of rational people who think that killing of babies is wrong — it’s the result of dogma run amuck.
Stockwell Day is no neo-Nazi but there are remarkable similarities between him and the leader of the Austrian Freedom party, Jeorg Haider. Both are youthful looking (despite being middle-aged), athletic, and articulate. The Alliance and Freedom parties attract approximately the same percentage of the popular vote. Both are leaders of right-wing parties who are trying to gain power by forming a coalition with conservative parties.
Haider’s extremist right-wing Freedom party was invited to share a coalition government with Austria’s Conservative party. The proposal generated an international storm because of Haider’s talent in breeding intolerance. He condemned immigration and praised the policies of Adolf Hitler.
Immigrants were suddenly to blame for Austria’s problems. The idea of closing boarders was no longer such a bad idea. What was once intolerant had moved into the realm of respectability. Hitler’s “orderly employment practices” started to make a lot of sense. Haider became very scary to neighbouring Europeans who recalled the nightmares of earlier Nazi exterminations.
Under threat of trade sanctions against Austria, the Conservatives rethought the coalition, and the Freedom party was cut from political power. Canadians are nervous at the prospect of a right-wing fundamentalist leader. If supposedly “middle-of-the-road” parties, like the Liberals, dispatch the poor and homeless with such haste, who would be the next targets of a right-wing party?
With a right-wing government in power, a many Canadians would be looking over their shoulders for attacks from goon squads who don’t like the fact that they are gay, immigrant, pro-choice, feminist, activist, squeegee-kid, tree-hugging radical, or anyone else who doesn’t conform to the moral minority’s view of upright and proper citizens.
The wedding of Day’s social beliefs and fiscal conservatism is a marriage made in hell. Intolerance already festers on the surface of Canadian society, ready for opportunistic infection — it doesn’t need to be cultivated by political leaders.