OTTAWA—A week after the Liberals were caught with their proverbial hands in the cookie jar of yet another ethics violation, they dropped a new mixtape, Antebellum Andy. Apparently, somewhere in the recesses of 2005, Andrew Scheer, stood up in Parliament and debated LGBTQ2+ rights, rife with some sort of bizarre comparison of gay people to the tail of a dog (or is it the leg?). We’ll spare you the details, but you’ve heard it from Fox News before.
What is clear about this election is that the Liberals have decided to paint Andrew Scheer as an out-of-touch, right-wing bigot who hides his Rebel Media bonafides under the veneer of innocence that his dimples underwrite. Basically, a vote for Andrew Scheer is a vote for the 1950s (or the 1890s), where straight white men were atop the socio-economic pyramid and the little lady had dinner waiting for you, on time, without complaint.
And they’re not wrong. What was displayed in Scheer’s speech was an attitude that seemed so regressive and bigoted that questions about how he would govern for the LGBTQ2+ community were warranted. Make no mistake, the Liberals will make the 43rd election one about how each candidate will govern with respect to social issues, not the deficit or the debt. Against the backdrop of the state-sanctioned racism, transphobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, and misogyny proliferating in the United States—and the violence that comes with it—it’s a smart political move. But it’s a cynical one and the Liberals aren’t beyond reproach on these issues, given that they have said very little about the state-sanctioned, systemic, and systematic discrimination of Quebec’s Bill 21.
Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law that prohibits the display of religious symbols for all public sector employees, is truly the litmus test of the defence of human rights. And while Prime Minister Trudeau the First’s legacy was that of multiculturalism enshrined in Canadian law, the Second’s defence of it has been tepid and selective. While Trudeau, the Younger, talks a good game, including strategically placing people of colour front and centre in his campaign materials, when it comes to standing up for Canadians, he doesn’t stand up for all Canadians in a consistent manner. He stands up for those who help him to market his brand of inclusion, while leaving those who threaten his political standing in Quebec S.O.L.
But he’s not the only one. Even the Conservatives-in-tree-pose Green Party has told its Quebec candidates to chill on all that discrimination talk while campaigning, even though they officially oppose it. And while the Conservatives give us platitudes of “we don’t condone this -ism or that -phobia,” Stephen Harper also supported a niqab ban for public servants in 2015 under the guise of protecting women from violence. Because as we all know, there’s no greater threat to women than the sartorial beatdown of a niqab, whose only competitor in the ring are a pair of Air Jordans.
Contrastingly, the only one to actually stand up for minority rights with respect to Bill 21 is Jagmeet Singh. Hands up if you know why.
Visible minorities, women, and Indigenous people make up a formidable umbrella coalition, and their numbers are growing. Attempts to disenfranchise these voting blocs is hardly surprising, since they threaten the power base of all of these parties—a threat that will only grow in time. The implementation of Bill 21 is just that, a lawful attempt to create a permanent minority underclass whose disenfranchisement begins economically, but will continue into the political realm. The next step is voter suppression, and if the leaders vying for our votes are not standing up for them now, when the ostensible price to be paid is the loss of seats in Parliament, what happens when the consequences include violence?
Oh wait, we already had that. And the result of a shooting at a Quebec City mosque was more platitudes.
Silence is violence, and the disgraceful way in which three out of four political parties have kept ducking this issue tells us a lot about where they stand on protecting the rights of marginalized communities who are politically expendable outside of election season. And when they do form syllables to recite the language of inclusion it is only in service to their political marketing strategy, seasoned with the garnish of hackneyed platitudes. However, platitudes are the lullabies of political discourse which only serve to draw us into a slumber of apathy and cynicism.
Erica Ifill co-hosts the Bad+Bitchy podcast.
As published in The Hill Times.