When guilt by association wasn’t the Canadian way

TheGlobeandMail.com – Opinions
Published Tuesday, October 12, 2010.  Lawrence Martin

Canadians have gained a reputation as a fair-minded people. There have been exceptions through our history, but, by and large, we have been seen as a moderate and tolerant country.

We didn’t do guilt by association, for example. But that’s what so distressing about the character of today’s Conservatives. They revel in it. The most recent manifestation is the cancellation of a speech by the head of the Canadian Islamic Congress at the National Defence Headquarters. Many years ago, a former director of the group made some remarks – vile remarks – about Israelis over the age of 18 being legitimate targets for suicide bombers.

By all accounts, new director Imam Zijad Delic repudiates that extremism. By all accounts, he is trying to bridge the divide. But the Conservatives tar him with the same brush and won’t allow him to give a speech at the National Defence Headquarters. Imagine the harm it would have done!

There are countless examples of the intolerant streak that marks this government. Canada opposed the Iraq war, yet we won’t allow a haven to Americans who opposed fighting in that war, as we did with Vietnam. We’re probably the only G20 country that tried to bar George Galloway, at the time a British MP, from coming to speak. Minister of State Diane Ablonczy was stripped of some of her responsibilities for her support of Gay Pride week. Those criticizing aspects of our Afghanistan policy are berated for not supporting our troops. If a bank executive like Ed Clark criticizes government economic policy, he’s pilloried for supposedly being motivated by politics rather than economic expertise.

The tolerant Canada of old would have allowed Omar Khadr his basic Charter rights. The tolerant Canada of the past would have allowed our federal scientists to express their views, not have them vetted by political operatives. It would allow sophisticated research at the Justice Department to see the light of day even if it contradicted government sentencing policy, and it would give full wing to data collection by Statistics Canada.

One of the more remarkable observations by our Prime Minister came with his dumping of Linda Keen, the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, after she shut down the nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ont. The PM had reasonable grounds for arguing for a different course, and he was within his rights to dismiss her. But he then gave away his deeper motivation – he suspected she was secretly doing the handiwork of the Liberal Party. “Since when does the Liberal Party have a right, from the grave through one of its previous appointees, to block the production of necessary medical products in this country,” he said.

Guilt by association. It’s a hallmark of the modus operandi, a cheap instrument of attack politics that tarnishes the image of all Conservatives.

The Progressive Conservatives of old would not have put up with it. Those Tories always had a right-wing cabal that manifested a prejudice and narrow-mindedness, like some U.S. Republicans. But that faction was always very much in the minority. It was frowned upon by the likes of Joe Clark, Robert Stanfield and John Diefenbaker. Brian Mulroney used the faction’s support to win the party leadership in 1983, but once in power, he paid the hard-liners little heed.

They eventually linked arms with the Reform Party. They could hardly dream, back then, of becoming Canada’s government. But the merger of the two conservative parties in 2004, more a Canadian Alliance takeover than a merger, gave them the prominence of place they enjoy today.

That’s why the Canada of today isn’t as tolerant as it once was.

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