Open Letter to MP Ryan Leef:
Adam Goldenberg, writing for the Canadian Jewish News, said this about the Conservative government’s policy on the Middle East. “This is the dark underbelly of the prime minister’s otherwise laudable support for the Jewish state: his party has snatched vice from the jaws of virtue and turned Israel into a partisan bauble, a mere wedge to divide the electorate.”
The Conservative Party has long courted the Canadian Jewish community. In 2010, Conservative MP Steven Fletcher demonstrated that his physical disability was no barrier to malice when he sent propaganda leaflets into a predominantly Jewish, Winnipeg riding. Michael Ignatiaff was called “overtly anti-Semitic” and a supporter of “Hamas and Hezbollah.”
It was all nonsense of course. But slander is an important tool used in wedge politics.
Misinformation is another tool used in wedge politics. In 2012, then minister of citizenship and immigration, Jason Kenney, said, “We don’t think that smuggled migrants and bogus asylum claimants should be getting better health care benefits than Canadian seniors and taxpayers,” after he cut the Interim Federal Health Program, or IFH, for refugee claimants.
According to Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, under IFH, all refugees were “provided access to medications, emergency dental care and vision care similar to what is available to people on provincial social assistance plans.” Cutting IFH meant all medical care for refugee claimants was denied except for diseases that posed risks to public health. A diabetic seeking refuge from torture and an epileptic child fleeing a battlefield were out of luck.
Recently, the Federal Court struck down the cuts to IFH, saying, “the 2012 modifications to the Interim Federal Health Program potentially jeopardize the health, the safety and indeed the very lives of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency.”
So why do Conservatives use hateful rhetoric about issues involving vulnerable people who cannot defend themselves? Who is their audience?
Wedge politics is a strategy used to draw support away from political opponents by inflaming existing resentments and manufacturing controversies. This way politicians can convince select groups (audiences) to support leaders and policies that would otherwise be unpalatable. The Ford Nation exemplifies this.
In Canada, with our first-past-the-post electoral system, a political party need only attract 39 per cent of voters to win a majority government. For the unscrupulous, the easiest to influence are those who don’t pay enough attention to politics to know they are being manipulated. What percentage of Canadians are easy marks?
Marketing expert Patrick Muttart, who was Stephen Harper’s chief of staff from 2006 until 2009, coached Conservatives on how to use marketing strategies in the political theatre. A device he used to teach was to attribute characters to the prospective voters. “Steve and Heather” were middle-class 40-year-olds with kids. “Zoe” was a young, latte drinking, urban, yoga practitioner.
Zoe would never vote Conservative anyway. So there was no point in talking to her, much less gearing programs towards her. Programs would better be directed towards Steve and Heather. The income splitting program, for instance, mostly benefits couples where one person makes more than $85,000 annually. Those who notice that this is grossly unfair don’t vote Conservative anyway.
Targeted advertising is essential. Conservative strategist Tom Flanagan said that Conservative ads “communicate the essence of our policy to middle-aged or older, family-oriented, middle-income people without high levels of formal education.” He also said, “The ads were artfully middle-brow.”
Flanagan is wrong. Conservative ads, like its rhetoric, are low-brow.
Flattery is often used to create division. It is a smooth progression from “ordinary hardworking Canadians” to “real folks” to “REAL Canadians.” Zoe, by implication, is “not real.”
How are wedge politics working for Stephen Harper?
In the case of refugees, Conservatives were hoping to gain support by creating resentment where none existed before and by keeping the bigot vote happy.
Now, not all Conservative supporters are bigots. However, bigots are staunchly behind the Conservative Party now. What percentage of Canadians is intolerant?
With regard to Jewish Canadians, Conservatives are hoping to draw votes away from the Liberal Party through slavish, one-sided support for Israel. Will that work with a community that prides itself on its savvy?
Standing with Zoe are doctors, judges, scientists, civil servants, postal workers, union workers, librarians, humanitarians, CBC fans, teachers, the poor, First Nations, refugees, scholars, environmentalists, war veterans and the well informed who do understand when they are being manipulated.
Linda Leon is a
Whitehorse freelance writer.