Leaders quiet about Cherry’s firing

Justin Trudeau has not said anything publicly about the firing of Don Cherry.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did not call Trudeau a “phoney” or a “fraud” when he sat down with the prime minister on Tuesday.

These displays of restraint, in the aftermath of the recent election, can be seen as progress.

While Cherry is no politician, his ejection from Hockey Night in Canada is as polarizing and political as the often-nasty campaign that Canadians just endured this fall.

Reaction to the Cherry firing is opening up some of the same fault lines plaguing our politics: How open we are to immigration; new versus old Canada, even how veterans — broadcasting and military — are regarded.

These are all issues ripe for political intervention, but days after the Cherry firing burst into the open, neither the prime minister nor the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition were showing any eagerness to jump into the fray.

For Trudeau, in particular, this clearly could be seen as an evolution. It’s not hard to imagine the pre-election version of him seizing on a prime opportunity to scold Cherry for anti-immigration remarks, especially on Remembrance Day.

This is the same Trudeau, Canadians will recall, who responded early to Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown with a tweet welcoming refugees to Canada (which Trudeau’s detractors have repeatedly cited as a cause of refugee overload at our borders in the years since.)

Post-election, however, there’s not a hint of “virtue signalling,” as the Liberal critics like to call it.

Similarly, it’s easy to imagine Scheer, on behalf of fans of hockey and Cherry, using the firing to speak out against the unforgiving culture of 21st-century political correctness — as Cherry himself and so many hockey fans have.

Scheer’s communications director has spoken out along these lines, in fact.

“Say whatever you want about Don Cherry — he’s ignorant, he’s a blowhard, he should have been off the air 10 years ago, but nobody, nobody has celebrated Canada’s military heroes as consistently and reverently as he has.

“Losing that voice on the national media stage is a significant loss,” Brock Harrison posted on his Facebook page under a “feeling angry” emoticon.

“Oh, and Sportsnet firing him on Remembrance Day for saying something orders of magnitude less offensive than other things he has said is a disgrace.”

It’s not known whether Scheer shares those views. I asked Harrison on Tuesday whether his leader wanted to speak on the subject and got no answer.

Trudeau, it should be said, hasn’t been absolutely silent either. He has retweeted a couple of posts from fellow Liberals that poke at Cherry’s remarks: One from Hull-Aylmer MP Greg Fergus about his Black grandfather’s military service, and another from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, speaking up for diverse communities’ contribution to the military.

One obvious reason for Trudeau’s restraint is the blackface/brownface controversy, which has kind of taken any sanctimonious edge off his penchant for calling out racism.

But even without that blast from Trudeau’s costumed past during the campaign, one does get the sense that the prime minister, now trying to cobble together a working minority government, is currently backing away from the kind of wedge politics that an event like Cherry’s firing provokes.

The new Parliament simply cannot operate as the last one did, not least because so many voters were telling the politicians during the campaign that they’d had enough of people yelling past each other.

Liberals do acknowledge, at least privately, that they paid some price at the polls for the lecturing style of the first mandate.

And while this isn’t a scientifically tested read of the electorate, the kind of people who like Don Cherry are probably not the kind of people who like Justin Trudeau. In the political world, they are polar opposites. Why rub that in?

There’s also the Trump factor to consider. Over the past three years, Trudeau has learned to keep his opinions to himself in the face of pompous, populist bombast — the type you can hear any day from the White House, but not so much from Hockey Night in Canada anymore.

Cherry is getting a taste of Trudeau’s acquired tact with the U.S. president.

And while Jagmeet Singh was the only federal party leader who made direct comments about Cherry’s “you people” remark — as well as posting a photo on Twitter of his great-grandfather, a veteran of two world wars — even he was restrained.

It is as if all the political leaders have decided to sit out this quasi-sequel to the polarizing 2019 election, opting to let others yell about Cherry while they get on with the business of trying to get past the divisiveness of the campaign.

And that is definitely progress.

Susan Delacourt is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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