opinion

Sloan and Conservative party: a right good fit

At least one party leader in Canada is taking some delight in Derek Sloan’s exploding political career in the Conservative party – and no, we’re not talking about Justin Trudeau.

Maxime Bernier, head of the People’s Party of Canada, is positively upbeat about yet another former Conservative leadership candidate on the outs with the party he also once aspired to lead.

“Is anyone still wondering why I left?” Bernier tweeted in response to news that Sloan was going to be ousted for accepting a donation from a white supremacist.

“This is getting fun,” Bernier exulted when Sloan argued that the Conservative party had taken a 10 per cent cut of the donation.

Bernier did not leave the Conservatives under a shadow of racism and intolerance, but in his new life as head of the People’s Party, he’s been making up for lost time, regularly railing against immigration, “radical multiculturalism” and the “cult of diversity.”

If Sloan is looking for a new political base of operations when the Conservatives are done with him, one gets the sense he’d be quite at home in the People’s Party.

In their first huddle, Bernier and Sloan could commiserate over the rude shock of finding that the Conservative party was not as open to their views as they presumed.

They are right to be surprised. For too long, but especially since they were knocked into opposition in 2015, the federal Conservatives have given too many indications that they were willing to dance with the darker forces of intolerance in this country.

Actually, you could trace it back slightly farther, to the anti-niqab campaign they ran in 2015, and the now notorious proposal for a snitch line to report “barbaric cultural practices.”

The two main proponents of that ugly scheme were MPs Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander, who turned around and ran for the leadership of the Conservative party after Stephen Harper left in defeat.

Far from disavowing their role in that debacle, the two doubled down during the leadership race, appearing with two other leadership candidates at a big Toronto rally in February 2017 to denounce an anti-Islamophobia motion making its way through the Commons at the time.

Hosted by Rebel Media, it was a hateful free-for-all against “political correctness,” held at Canada Christian College (which is enjoying new legitimacy under Premier Doug Ford, incidentally.)

News reports of that 2017 event are still chilling to read, especially in the wake of this month’s Capitol Hill rampage. People were wearing red “Make Canada Great Again” caps without a trace of irony, railing against accommodation of minorities.

Still, Leitch told the crowd that it was good to get together with “severely normal” people and Alexander declared: “the number one threat in the world today is Islamic jihadist terrorism.” This was right after Trump’s ban on Muslim travel – which new president Joe Biden is poised to repeal as soon as he takes power this week.

Bernier, though also a candidate, didn’t attend this disgraceful event, but he can be forgiven for hearing reports of it and feeling that folks such as this had a home in the Conservative party – at least in 2017.

Casting forward to more recent developments, it’s not like Sloan’s support from white supremacists should have come as a surprise to new Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

As Press Progress exhaustively detailed in the report that broke the news of the donation, Paul Fromm – the well-known neo-Nazi – has been hiding in plain sight, repeatedly posting approval of Sloan’s views on social media. He seemed particularly chuffed with Sloan’s views on limiting immigration.

Meanwhile, Sloan pointed out in a Facebook Live video on Monday night that Fromm was a registered party member, which is, well, awkward.

We do know that all Conservatives are not racist and many of them have a lot of trouble with intolerance in their midst. Sloan did not have any caucus support – not one MP – in his bid for the leadership.

But it is more than a coincidence, and a disturbing one, that flirtation with racism hasn’t become a career-killing problem until very recently.

In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory four years ago, it was even deemed politically prudent for leadership candidates to show up at Rebel’s ridiculous mimicry of Trump-style rallies. In January 2021, with Trump on the way out and that kind of rallying exposed for what it is – a mob – not so much.

So is all this outrage over Sloan just fashionable, or a principled retreat?

Maxime Bernier and Derek Sloan may well now belong to a select club – former Conservative leadership candidates who didn’t fit with a party shedding itself of Trump-style intolerance.

But how is it that they thought they belonged there in the first place?

Susan Delacourt is a National Affairs writer.

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