Over the course of an interesting brownbag lunch our department was having discussing the debate last night, I had an epiphany:
This election may test one of my beliefs about how ethnic conflict "works". That is, I have long argued that politicians engaged in symbolic stances on identity issues will be most successful when there is significant insecurity. That when there is not much real security, the symbolic stances will not fly.
Well, here we are: Stephen Harper's niqab-baiting, securitizing refugee stances seem to be working as the support for the NDP in Quebec seems to be dropping and leading to greater support for the Conservatives. Why? Islamophobia seems to be working even though the threat posed by a few women wearing niqabs is just non-existent.
One takeaway from last night's debate was Thomas Mulcair's relief that the niqab "issue" did not come up. Instead, Harper emphasized the need to vet refugees, as if the threat posed by terrorists hiding among the refugees is huge. Indeed, not helping these folks might radicalize more Canadians than whatever terrorists slip through and are admitted as refugees (and forever monitored).
Yes, there was some violence last October by a couple of individuals aimed at Canadian institutions (the Canadian Forces, the War Memorial, the Parliament), but Canadians have not been acting as if they have lived in fear since then. Yes, the Conservatives have passed a law (C-51), but that happened quite opportunistically in the aftermath of the attacks. Since then, how serious have Canadians pondered the Islamist threat to Canada? Not much.
The actual threat is quite low, but Harper has been able to pander to Islamophobes throughout the country (not just a Quebec thing), putting both opposing parties in difficult spots. On the bright side, neither the Liberals or the NDP have pandered to these very worst instincts. Instead, the NDP resisted the bill, and the Liberals are pushing back on the effort to revoke dual citizenship from terrorists. Neither opposing party is seeking to play to the haters (well, I always discount the Bloc Quebecois), and that is good news.
But damn, this election may lead to another Conservative win due to its manipulation of hate and fear. And they are, indeed, of the dark side. This would be an electoral win most tainted. I am hoping that the polls are either wrong or will bounce back. Not because I want the NDP to win, but I don't want it to lose this way. And I certainly don't want the Tories to win this way, since it would likely lead to emulation. Ethnic outbidding starts this way, with a party seeking to win votes from the majority population by representing a minority as a threat. The Muslims of Canada have done little to earn this targeting, but we have it nonetheless.
Yes, not just a Quebec thing, but right now it's only in formerly Bloc (now NDP-held) ridings where the issue might be a game-changer; there's also the question whether both the Tories and the Bloc rising at the same time could result in three-way races, where NDP candidates still mange to squeak out wins.
Remember that the Tories were polling as low as 26% just a few weeks back. It's possible that these same voters could be making a big whoop about (theoretically) a successfully-negotiated TPP or Pamela Wallin's charges on election day instead.
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