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Jack Knox: Crossing party lines in the name of human decency

When the rabid rabble went after Justin Trudeau on the weekend, one of the first to leap to his defence was a political opponent.
Protesters wait for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to arrive at a campaign event in Bolton, Ont. on Friday, August 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

When the rabid rabble went after Justin Trudeau on the weekend, one of the first to leap to his defence was a political opponent.

“I hope every candidate and incumbent will join me 100 per cent in condemning this,” Alistair MacGregor posted on Twitter on Sunday. “We cannot let our politics go down the same road as the U.S. This garbage must be unequivocally called out and put down.”

MacGregor, the New Democrat MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, was reacting to a photo of an Ontario protester waving a sign depicting Trudeau being marched to a noose by a hangman under the words “High treason.” The sign-waver was part of a mob chanting “Lock him up, f—k him up” and hurling sexist and racist abuse at police in the prime minister’s protective detail.

On Monday, MacGregor said he reacted the way he did because while he might not be the biggest fan of Trudeau’s policies or record, the viciousness aimed at the man himself, and that image with the noose, were revolting. How would the prime minister’s family feel seeing that? “He’s got young children.” This inability to separate person and policy, these ad hominem attacks and their corrosive effect on Canada and what holds us together, must stop, MacGregor said.

Now, it’s not new that campaigns get raucous, with intolerance of opposing views coming from both left and right. Back in 1993, there were scuffles and arrests after close to 30 protesters waving signs with messages such as “hand in hand with the Ku Klux Klan” broke down a gate to disrupt a Preston Manning Reform Party rally at Royal Athletic Park.

And there’s always sign vandalism. In 2015, a Duncan man was charged after Conservative campaign signs on the Saanich Peninsula were burned down and defaced with anti-Harper messages. In 2019, sign theft got so bad that the Greens complained to the RCMP. A Victoria woman posted photos of a man not only tearing down her NDP sign, but trampling her vegetable garden.

But we have reached a new level of toxicity lately. Someone painted swastikas — a particularly offensive image — on Liberal signs in ­Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke and Courtenay-Alberni on the weekend. And the vitriol of the conspiracy-spouting, obscenity-spitting cranks dogging Trudeau has been off the charts.

The irony is that those people might give him the boost he badly needs. The prime minister has had a sincerity problem in this campaign, at times coming across as disingenuous. He’s much better when he’s straightforward, dropping the doe-eyed expression and the “I feel your pain” inflection from his voice.

His reaction to those whose threatening behaviour shut down a campaign stop Friday sounded authentic: “We all had a difficult year. Those folks out protesting, they had a difficult year, too. I know and I hear the anger and frustration, perhaps the fear…. We need to meet that anger with compassion, because that’s who we are as Canadians.”

It echoed his performance at a 2018 town hall meeting at a jam-packed Vancouver Island University gym in Nanaimo. People who arrived irked about issues from fish farms to the Trans Mountain pipeline ended up warming to Trudeau, thanks to his handling of a few noisy characters who were so unrelentingly obnoxious that I actually checked them out later to make sure they hadn’t been planted to earn him sympathy.

The crowd might have been overwhelmingly against the prime minister on the pipeline, but it was overwhelmingly with him on respectful discourse.

It’s not that politicians don’t butt heads. After the 2019 election, the Green Party’s Elizabeth May was pretty mad at the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh for what she saw as a nasty smear job on her during the campaign.

But for the most part, despite their differing beliefs and the blustery theatre of Question Period, members of Parliament are cordial. “I’ve got friends who are Conservative MPs and I’ve got friends who are Liberal MPs,” MacGregor says. “I get along with Elizabeth May, even some of the Bloc Québécois crowd.” They don’t vilify one another.

That’s as it should be. We don’t want to end up like the U.S., where Democrats and Republicans are like an angry old married couple who can’t remember what they ever had in common.

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