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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters at a June 22 news conference in Ottawa. Photo by Art Babych.

A peaceable kingdom?

Celebrate Canadian democracy. But let’s not be complacent.

By Dennis Gruending

As MPs headed back to their constituencies for the summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a news conference in late June. Before submitting to questions from journalists, Trudeau talked about three promises kept since the Liberals won power in October 2015. They had, he said, delivered on a tax cut for middle-class Canadians and modified the Canada Child Benefit to support families. They also promised to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan for future retirees.

My temptation was to look for weaknesses in Trudeau’s presentation. They exist, of course, but on that day, I felt grateful to be living in a peaceable kingdom with a healthy, functioning democracy. For one thing, the prime minister actually met with journalists and submitted himself graciously to the questions that reporters ask on our behalf. Contrast that to the rant by visiting Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in June, when a Canadian journalist asked him about human rights in China. Conversely, journalists in China wouldn’t dare to ask such questions, and in Russia, the best investigative reporters — not to mention opposition politicians — risk assassination.

At his recent news conference, Trudeau didn’t even mention that Canada has accepted 25,000 Syrian refugees, nor did anyone ask him a question about it. In the U.S., however, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, promises to ban entry to Muslims. In the U.K., the recent Brexit campaign featured anti-refugee rhetoric and recklessly provocative advertisements. Jo Cox, a bright young Labour MP who was both sympathetic to refugees and a supporter of Britain’s continued membership in the European Union, was murdered on a street in her constituency. The assailant may well have been influenced by the coarse rhetoric that accompanied the Brexit campaign. In fact, racist incidents have been on the rise since the Brexit referendum. 

Trudeau also didn’t mention that half of his cabinet ministers are women. In the U.S., however, Trump has gone out of his way to denigrate women, referring publicly to some as “fat pigs,” “dogs” and “disgusting animals.” There are, of course, some men in every society who are misogynists, but it’s distressing when one of them becomes a candidate for the U.S. presidency.

Still, Trump’s comments about women are no more outrageous than comments — including death threats — made on social media about Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (She has provided for gender parity in the cabinet, too.). Many of these remarks are being made by supporters of the Wildrose Party, and some MLAs appear to be encouraging those excesses.

The attempt to scapegoat refugees and Muslims isn’t confined to the Brexit campaign either. You’ll remember that in the 2015 federal election, the Conservative manufactured a needless and mean-spirited controversy over Muslim women who wear the niqab. Although the Conservatives lost the election, many people supported them on that very issue.

So, certainly, Canadians have a political culture that they can cherish. But as the harassment of Notley and Conservative campaigning prove, we have no reason to be complacent.

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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