How to deal with extremists in your midst
As someone who has left the conservative movement over the ugliness displayed by some segments of the yellow vest group (itself a small part of the movement, but still), I’d like to offer Conservative leader Andrew Scheer a few pointers.
Actually, I’d like to write him the speech he should have given to the United we Roll protest two weeks ago. One that would not force him to defend himself for what looks to anyone who doesn’t wake up at night to hate Justin Trudeau like a tacit endorsement of, well, you know, ugliness and unhinged intolerance bordering, at times, on the violent.
Which is not something he wants. You can’t be prime minister that way. This is Canada. We don’t reward extremism, hatred, and ugliness.
I know we’re all going gaga over what looks like the Liberal administration of Justin Trudeau imploding these days, but this stuff matters a great deal, especially now. If - if - Andrew Scheer winds up in the PM’s chair he’ll have to be clear about who he’s representing. It can’t be ugly anger. It’s just not right. And it certainly isn’t what conservatism should be about.
I know why he’s being accused of being soft on this sort of thing. That’s because he is. These are among his most devoted supporters - to them the Tories aren’t perfect but they’re the only hope. These folks, let’s call them the angry ugly minority, will not only vote for his party, they will fund it as well. These are the people who send money to blue coffers pretty much every time they get an email asking them to.
It’s his base. Not that his base is intolerant and extreme. But it harbours enough of them on the margins that it colours the whole brew. Scheer needs to speak out, clearly and forcefully, and tell his base that while he’s got their back, he needs to draw a clear line between legitimate political disagreements (very much including frustration and noisy protests) and hateful angry intolerance.
Here’s what he should say:
Hi everyone, I want to thank you all for coming here today to make your voices heard. Unlike the Liberal Party, I am committed to listening to you - and more than just listening to you, I want to hear you.
I understand your concerns. I have travelled across this great nation many times over the course of my career and I have met countless oil-and-gas workers and their families, everyday people who work hard to bring much-needed energy to Canadians. My party shares your goals, and when we are in a position to make the changes this country needs, you have my promise that we will do so.
Now before we go any further, I have a very important clarification to make. There are rumours that among this group in front of me there might be a few people who have gone over the line in online comments and elsewhere. [Hold hand up to quiet the boos.]
I don’t know who these people are, and I am not here to judge anyone. But hear me when I say this: Our movement, and the goals that we share, do not benefit from extremism. And while I understand the frustration many of you have with the direction this country is taking under the Liberals of Prime Minister Trudeau, and the fear some of you may have for the future, we cannot, as a political party and movement, allow our message to get sidetracked by hatred or intolerance.
This is Canada, and everyone here has the right to free expression. Nobody, least of all me, questions that. But as a political party we need to do better. We need to have a message that can convince other Canadians that we are right. And we don’t do that with insults.
As some of you know, my father is a very educated man who’s taught me more Latin than I really cared to know. [Smile] One expression applies especially well to our situation: suaviter in modo, fortiter in re. It means: be strong on the substance, but with gentle methods.
We will never compromise on the substance of our message, because we believe it is right. But we will also not let it be derailed by harsh methods that don’t help us convince more Canadians to join us.
Thank you again for coming all this way to make yourselves heard. Thank you for all your hard work on behalf of this great nation. I for one have heard you. I hope you hear me, too.