August 17, 2017 12:41 pm
Updated: August 17, 2017 9:20 pm

COMMENTARY: Scheer has a choice to make on the alt-right

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press
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In the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Va. it should be clear to all of us what emboldening the most deplorable elements of society could look like.

The GOP was not hoodwinked into nominating a guy who was bolstering white nationalists.

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They knew exactly whom they were getting when they nominated Trump, and have in fact been either active or tacit in soliciting support from the alt-right. One conservative American commentator has referred to this as the “win at all costs” strategy.

READ MORE: 6 steps Canadians can take when they spot hate speech online

The Conservative Party of Canada seems to be taking an analogous route in appealing to the more nativist elements of their base.

As others and myself have noted in the past, the Tories have demonstrated their willingness to exploit xenophobic sentiment for potential political gain.

Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., on August 11, 2017.

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The party’s willingness to engage – and widespread refusal to condemn – the Canadian website that has given a platform to the alt-right and conspiracy theorists known as The Rebel is just another example.

As my colleague Sean Craig has noted for Global News, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, as well as several other Conservative leadership contenders have appeared on The Rebel: “Scheer has given at least three one-on-one interviews with The Rebel since November 2016. Many other leadership candidates besides Scheer and Alexander, including Kellie Leitch, Brad Trost, Pierre Lemieux, Erin O’Toole, Kevin O’Leary, Tony Clement, Rick Peterson, Andrew Saxton, Steven Blaney and Maxime Bernier, have variously appeared on Rebel properties or at Rebel events.”

WATCH: 

Politicians of all stripes are obviously all within their right to choose whichever media outlet they grant interviews to, that’s not really the issue.

It’s the cowardly silence coming from the Conservatives that is worth noticing.

After all, if they think The Rebel is merely a conservative outlet that provides a place for right-leaning analysis and opinion, they should say so and stand by their choice. But as of yet, none have come forward to defend The Rebel generally, or their choice to sit down with the controversial outlet specifically.

Left-leaning website Press Progress has found that a quarter of the Conservative caucus has appeared on The Rebel and have catalogued a mere three Conservative MPs – Michael Chong, Michelle Rempel, and Peter Kent – who have been willing to state in plain terms their denunciation of the outlet that sympathizes with white nationalism and openly promotes hateful rhetoric towards Muslims.

READ MORE: Hate crime in Canada: do our laws allow a white nationalist rally?

VICE News’ Justin Ling reports that a statement distancing the Conservative Party from The Rebel has been delivered to Scheer: “Two different sources in the party confirmed to VICE News that meetings had been held in Scheer’s office to discuss what to do about the increasingly toxic website. One spokesperson, in Scheer’s office, said on Monday that a statement had been drafted that would make the party’s position clear, and was merely awaiting sign-off from Scheer himself.”

And while Scheer has apparently told reporters that he will no longer be doing interviews with The Rebel in the future should the site maintain its editorial direction, he has yet to condemn their past rhetoric and tactics.

Canadians deserve their Opposition to be resolute in the condemnation of the alt-right and white nationalist movement in Canada.

Remaining silent or unclear implies that the Conservatives would rather placate some of the worst factions of their voting bloc instead of taking the more principled route.

READ MORE: KKK’s new PR spin: we aren’t white supremacists but rather ‘white separatists’

Canada needs a healthy Conservative Party.

What Canada doesn’t need is a right-leaning populist party that openly courts racists and xenophobes.

This ensures the stagnation of the Conservative Party and its inability to draw more people, especially millennials who will comprise the largest voting bloc in the next election, into the Conservative tent.

Abacus Data pollster David Colletto has noted the impetus for the Tories to be able to appeal to millennials and states what needs to be done in stark terms: “It can recognize that social conservatism, anti-climate change positions, and perceived intolerance for diversity are alienating the largest groups of voters in the electorate and make a concerted effort to appeal to my generation.”

READ MORE: White nationalist groups on the rise in Canada, planning more rallies

Donald Trump is a bigot. His administration is full of them. Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party are certainly not the same as Trump and his White House, so why aren’t they doing a better job of differentiating themselves from the Trumpian conservatives to the south?

Scheer has a choice to make.

Ordering his caucus on which media outlets they can engage with is bad optics for a guy who ran on the policy of defunding universities for not upholding free speech. But Scheer can let all Canadians know that he regrets appearing on the site in the past, and will no longer appear on the site in the future.

He can condemn the alt-right in Canada and emphatically state that those who promote intolerance have no place in the Conservative Party.

Supriya Dwivedi is host of The Morning Show on Toronto’s Talk Radio AM640 and a columnist for Global News.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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