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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

O'Toole signals right, fast

The newly minted Conservative leader comes out of the gate attacking a program for workers and dog-whistling about statues.

Photo via Facebook

Erin O'Toole, the unknown featherweight who ascended to the throne of the Conservative Party over perennial sad sap and also-ran Peter McKay, seems to want to establish a profile, any profile, fast. Perhaps thinking that there is never a second chance to make a bad first impression, O'Toole has signaled right with stances attacking the CERB and dog-whistling about statues.

To kick things off, on August 30 O'Toole stated that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) should never have been given to workers but, instead, should have gone directly to their bosses.

This is inline with a relentless campaign that business groups and their talking heads have waged against the CERB that I looked at in a July piece CERB exposes business reliance on poverty wages, and is in spite of the fact that the CERB was only necessary due to the generational failings and gutting of Employment Insurance. Even so, the stance runs totally counter to his attempts to project himself as an "average middle-class family guy" given that the CERB, for all its faults, is enormously popular with Canadians as it prevented many of them from facing immediate destitution. It is also a rather silly line since the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) already exists to let businesses feed at the trough.

O'Toole simply can't help but Bay St. and let his corporate lawyer pedigree slide out. In the end his sense that the only money that government should be distributing is to big corporations and the wealthy triumphs over good political sense.

When it comes to dog-whistling over toppled statues, O'Toole is looking more to Trump for inspiration than to corporate Canada. Hence this Facebook meme posted on his official page referencing a statue of Canada's first Prime Minister in genocide, John A. Macdonald, being pulled down in Montreal on August 30:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also spoken out against this alleged act of vandalism in typically liberal tones, but O'Toole reaches for the heights of idiocy and alarmist inanity.

The "violence" he is referring to was, of course, done to an inanimate object and thus was not actual violence like that committed by, say, Macdonald back-in-the-day or police in the here-and-now. The "mob" were people exercising their right to protest at one of several rallies "held across Canada organized by a coalition of Black and Indigenous activists". This makes his choice of the words "violence" and "mob" rather telling.

One might also note that stating with Great Man certainty that "Canada wouldn't exist" without Macdonald is almost certainly historically false, and that tearing down statues does not "deface the past" nor does it prevent the building of "a better future" as any number of countries that have brought down statues along with dictatorships can attest.

The only reason to defend statues of historical figures remaining in place is if you believe in the vision of the past that the statues are meant to project here in the present. Statues are not about history at all. They are entirely about the version of history societies and governments want the people to buy into today.

When O'Toole talks of politicians growing "a backbone" against the backdrop of what is going on in the United States one can only think he is echoing the "law-and-order" rhetoric of the US President. A very dangerous game indeed.

It is obvious what type of base Conservative voter he is seeking to inflame and motivate here. Whether such a strategy can appeal more broadly to a substantial section of the Canadian electorate is hard to say, but if this is the approach out of the gate the intended finish line is a nasty one.



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