For a long time, I’ve been known to have my roots in Canadian conservatism. But those roots were planted deeply in progressive conservatism, and as time has evolved, conservatism has become increasingly less progressive.
When Global Toronto anchor Farah Nasser asked me to tell her when I knew I could no longer be a supporter of today’s Conservative Party of Canada, it was easy — easy to remember but, clearly, very difficult to express. She asked me during Global News’ Decision Canada election coverage on Oct. 21.
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I began to struggle with the question within moments of trying to answer it. I have to credit Nasser for making it personal. Nobody has ever asked me to think about that moment where my heart turned. And reflecting on it 24 hours later, I realize that I had been blocking my feelings about this topic for years.
But Nasser, a superstar journalist, tore my protective wall down, and my eyes were flooded with tears as a grapefruit-sized lump formed in my throat. Despite half a century of experience as a public speaker, I seized up for what felt like an interminably long period of time on national TV. That’s happened to me once or twice in my worst nightmares. But not in real life.
Danielle Smith, the Alberta-based talk show host and a former political party leader, offered me a gentle hand of comfort, and eventually, I was able to tell the story. It was four years ago in the final days of the 2015 election campaign when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives announced the introduction of a “barbaric practices” hotline, a snitch line for Canadians to rat out people they felt might be abusing other people in the name of religion.
Nobody was in doubt about which religion was being targeted. And my conservative heart had no doubt, either. This was an attack on Muslim Canadians. I am not Muslim. But I think of all Canadians as my neighbours and brothers and sisters. This naked aggression against what I felt were members of my family was impossible to tolerate.
My moral compass was given to me by my grandmother. She believed in the equality of all human beings, and because she got a box seat to authoritarianism in a Second World War concentration camp, she was tutored on the subject of authoritarianism by the darkest of practitioners.
My grandmother told me that if ever I saw people being targeted or discriminated against, my duty was to speak out against it. If I stayed silent, she said, I was enabling authoritarianism. Why did I get choked up Monday night on national TV? Ultimately, it was because my grandmother would find it unforgivable for me to continue to support the Conservatives and not speak out against their barbaric practice in 2015 of stigmatizing Canadian Muslims.
We continue to wait for an apology from Harper, who chairs the International Democrat Union, an umbrella group of right-wing parties from around the world, many of whom joyously engage in the stigmatization of ethnic groups, especially Muslims.
Some conservatives will never understand why I favour progressive conservatism as opposed to what we have today. But I think Harper quietly does understand — and so does the young man he mentored, Andrew Scheer.
Charles Adler hosts Charles Adler Tonight on Global News Radio stations.