Friday, May 07, 2004

HARPER'S DIVISIVE TONE

Yesterday John Ibbitson and today the Toronto Star editorial board commented on a statement made by Stephen Harper in 2001 regarding immigrants to Western Canada. The statement in question is this:

"You've got to remember that west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from Eastern Canada, people who live in ghettos and who are not integrated into Western Canadian society."

The statement was in response to a question about why the Alliance does well electorally in the West and converslely the Liberals less so. The first clause of the statement, I imagine, is factually correct and a reasonable answer. Recent immigrants to the West, both from foriegn countries and Eastern Canada, are probably more likely to vote Liberal. However, Harper then went on to pejoratively characterize Liberal voters as living in 'ghettos' and being 'not integrated.'

Both Ibbitson and The Star say this requires an explanation and they are right. It is one thing to use factually based reasoning to explain electoral outcomes and comment on future electoral strategy. It is another to jump to conclusions and characterize people the way Harper has. Both Ibbitson and The Star argue the problem with Harper's comment is its inherrent tone of divisiveness. Ibbitson writes:

he really needs to tell us all what he believes about this country. He needs to talk openly, not defensively or dismissively, about the things he has said in the past. He needs to explain how he has changed, if at all, and how his beliefs would help unify rather than divide Canadians.

The Star, a tad more hyperbolic, chimes in:

Does Harper really mean to suggest, as he so bluntly put it, that there are two classes of Western Canadians: the true or pur laine class of born and bred Westerners who share a parochial, conservative perspective, and the outsiders, with their regionally and ethnically tainted liberal views?

The poblem is not that Harper pointed out that immigrants tend to vote Liberal. The problem is the divisive tone of the characterization coming from a man who needs to be able to represent all Canadians regardless of how they vote. As Ibbitson says, "he really needs to tell us what he believes about this country."

Posted by Matthew @ 12:45 PM