The Doug Ford re-election strategy has been bracingly clear since he went full Build That Wall and told Justin to shut the airports. He’d lock down Pearson himself if he could. Xenophobia it is, then: fear of others, mainly foreign. .
His PC party released a video ad of planes converging on Toronto from beyond our borders and a kind of crimson peril oozing from their touchdown. It evoked Canada Carries On propaganda (not a bad word then) films during the Second World War. Those always had graphics and arrows. It tutted that Trudeau “didn’t close the borders when the pandemic started” or even “when it got worse.”
Ford noted that those menacing foreign variants “didn’t just swim here,” a phrase worthy of Trump, if a tad subtler than calling the virus the “Kung Flu.” It was weird because his own government’s most recent charts and stats don’t include foreign flight arrivals as a “likely source of infection” at all. The sources include Care Setting, Group Living, Education, Recreational and Workplace. Foreign flight arrivals aren’t even listed under Unknown and Other.
When Trudeau said Ford asked him to bar foreign students from coming here, Ford didn’t deny it, but said it’s not just about students. OK, so it is about students, plus other foreigners. Undeterred by criticism, he reaffirmed this week that he’s “disappointed” no one’s been barred. Hmm. Sounds to me like someone got some good numbers in response to his first round of xenophobia.
All this is connected to Ford reappointing Kory Teneycke as his 2022 campaign manager. Teneycke’s already dropped his day job and gotten started. He’s never as happy as when he’s being mean politically. As chief spokesman for the Conservatives in 2015, he told the press that if Justin Trudeau “comes on stage with his pants on” for the first debate, he will “exceed expectations.” That’s the debate when Justin basically took over the campaign; from then on it was about him, not the other leaders, including prime minister Harper.
(That’s the mystery of political pros: they never suffer if they lose. They just take time off to get rich as lobbyists or consultants, and go on CBC. Then they get asked back into the clubhouse so they can play with matches again.)
I don’t really understand the reluctance to call this strategy racist and xenophobic. It has a strong family resemblance to the “barbaric cultural practices” tip line pushed during the Harper-Teneycke 2015 campaign.
Do I think Ford and Teneycke are personally racist? Not really, but it’s irrelevant. The policies speak for themselves, just as nice, amiable U.S. president George H.W. Bush happily ran on indisputably anti-Black TV ads in 1988.
It’s trickier in Canada, which has a higher foreign-born population than any other G7 country and especially Toronto, which is about 50 per cent. But you can even elicit xenophobic reactions from people who are themselves part of groups that get treated xenophobically. Human nature accommodates such stuff.
Hence the ads. A government can simultaneously try to stop COVID with vaccines and lockdowns while also appealing to anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown people. Why? They know they have to get the virus under control to win re-election, but they don’t want to lose the votes of the covidiots and anti-vaxxers who were a part of the coalition that brought them to power, many of whom — according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network — are responsive to xenophobia. This kind of contradictory combo happens in politics all the time.
Noam Chomsky recently noted that in the U.S. in the 1960s, Richard Nixon knew some civil rights reforms were inevitable or the country would fall into chaos. So he supported limited reform and at the same time embraced the “Southern Strategy,” which targeted racist white voters who hated those very reforms. It’s been Republican party dogma ever since.
You tell yourself it’s about winning, because without that you can’t do anything — and it’s not confined to conservatives. Longtime NDP insider Brad Lavigne recently wrote that Jack Layton’s genius was asking his party: is it enough to be right, or do you want to win? To Lavigne the answer was obvious. “For Jack, the goal was to win.” He managed to make Layton sound like Charlie Sheen.
Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.