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Pierre Poilievre and the Politics of Intimidation

The Conservatives are emboldening violent extremists and undermining democracy.

Charlie Angus 10 May 2024The Tyee

Charlie Angus has been the NDP member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay since 2004.

The extremist fringe must feel over the moon. Thanks to recent actions by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, they have moved from the fringe to the very heart of political debate in Canada.

It began with a ringing endorsement of Poilievre’s leadership by the hate agitator Alex Jones.

This was followed by a blockade appearance where our would-be prime minister posed by a protest trailer adorned with defaced Canadian flags and the extremist Diagolon symbol.

There was a time when any decent Canadian politician would have gone out of their way to distance themselves from the likes of Alex Jones or Diagolon.

But Poilievre knows exactly what he is doing. The Conservatives are the one party to understand the powerful and distorting influence of the conspiracy fringe on the Canadian political scene. And they have put a lot of effort into exploiting its dark energy.

Call it the politics of intimidation, and it is playing an increasingly toxic role in Canadian political life.

When I called out Poilievre in Parliament over his refusal to distance himself from Alex Jones, photos of my daughters were immediately posted online with the locations of where they work. One of the online posters wrote: “Are you going to cry, Charlie? We told you what was going to happen if you made one more cowardly step.” Another anonymous anti-Trudeau site threatened to go after other members of my family. “You better get two hands on your holy shit handle, Charlie, because things are going to get a lot more rugged for you.”

Was this staggering escalation in intimidation tied to the fact that I called out Poilievre or because I dissed the notorious conspiracist Jones? Who can say? But anyone who has followed the metastasizing influence of online extremism will recognize that the lines between the marginal fringe and mainstream right-wing rhetoric are becoming increasingly blurred. And this is why it is crucial for leaders of all parties to find ways to tone down the rhetoric. But that’s not happening.

Take the Conservative “axe the tax” campaign where Poilievre has been encouraging his base to bring the protests directly to individual Liberal and NDP MPs. “Politics is not a spectator sport, it is a participation sport,” he told supporters in getting them to show up at MPs’ offices.

I know one MP who was confronted at a meeting with senior citizens by a group of men who wanted to physically fight him over the carbon tax. He then had his constituency office window smashed by an axe wielded by a group of “axe the tax” protesters. Another MP had his tires slashed and his garage set on fire. A young female MP was followed down the street by a man screaming at her over the carbon tax and her supposed war on the combustion engine.

A number of MPs are now reluctant to post their travel schedules or public appearances in advance. They just don’t want the risk. Veteran MP Pam Damoff has announced she won’t run again because she fears for her life.

Clearly the majority of the serious threats are coming from marginal and fringe sources, but MPs are now living in a world of constant harassment from those who are parroting the bumper sticker slogans of the Poilievre Conservatives.

In the face of the rising toxicity, MPs’ homes are being fitted with security cameras. Offices are being redesigned with protection of staff at the top of the list. MPs are being told that if they need to hire police it will come out of the central House of Commons budget.

Don’t let anyone tell you that this is simply a reflection of the frustration of “working class” people who feel they are being disregarded by entitled and out-of-touch “elites.”

In my 20 years of political service, I have engaged in all manner of tense and angry meetings and rallies. Never once did I think that I needed police protection or worry that I wouldn’t be able to find common ground.

The rage machine is an altogether different beast. The people behind it come from a unique sense of entitlement. They can impose their will because they didn’t like the results of the last election, and they are willing to go where no one would have gone before. Their favourite conspiracy bugaboos — the World Economic Forum, New World Order, the woke “communist” agenda — are regularly validated and amplified by the Conservative benches.

Which brings us back to Alex Jones. The Conservative war room knows how toxic Alex Jones is, but the last thing they want to risk is having the rage wind blow back on the party by denouncing these actors. It’s better to keep the pressure focused on Liberals and New Democrats. Hence the photo op with the Diagolon protesters. It’s about keeping them in the big toxic tent.

Participatory democracy is a fragile thing. When MP offices are forced to install barriers to limit access or when politicians need to hire police to keep us safe at public events, we become increasingly distant from our voters.

This growing distance between MP and voter will only bolster the arguments of the “Canada is broken” crew. They claim that politicians are out of touch and in it for themselves.

The politics of intimidation is about shutting down the casual engagements that once reminded electors that their MP was a local person and, whatever their party stripe, a decent person. When that engagement is blunted, the advantage swings dramatically to online war rooms, dumbed-down messaging and online rage campaigns.

I agree with the Conservative leader that politics should be rooted in “participation.” But he is wrong in claiming it is a sport. And it should never be considered a contact sport aided by goon play.

Restoring respectful civic engagement with the people of this country should be the No. 1 goal of all political parties and leaders.

Unfortunately, thanks to recent behaviour by the Conservative leader, the rage crew are only going to get bolder.  [Tyee]

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