The niqab diversion
By Chad Ingram
The incredibly long 2015 federal election campaign is (thankfully) near its end and has turned into a shallow competition of which party’s propaganda is most captivating.
Well, perhaps it was always thus.
In either case, the cynical strategy behind Stephen Harper’s conversation about “Canadian values” centred on the niqab is proving quite successful. Or at least it’s taking up lots of airtime and filling plenty of column inches.
And that’s the whole point.
In the last few weeks, one of the major topics of the campaign has become whether a tiny number of women should be allowed to wear a religious face covering while taking the citizenship oath.
And by tiny number, I mean a handful. Actually, less than a handful, because as we’ve learned in the past couple of weeks, the actual number of women who have refused to take off their niqabs during citizen ceremonies is precisely . . . two.
That’s two out of 680,000 new immigrants to this country since 2011. That’s 0.0002 per cent.
It’s a complete and total non-issue, relevant to almost no Canadians.
So, why are we even talking about this?
Because it’s a diversion, and one that seems to be fulfilling its mandate.
Rewind seven or eight weeks toward the beginning of the campaign and, depending on which polls one consulted, Harper’s Conservatives were trailing the NDP and, in some polls, Trudeau’s Liberals as well, sitting at third place.
Fast forward to the present, the Conservatives are neck-and-neck with the Liberals or leading in most polls.
What’s changed in that time?
In early September, Harper retained the services of Lynton Crosby, a high-profile Australian political strategist considered one of the best in the world and with an interesting history.
Then suddenly the niqab, which 0.0002 per cent of immigrants have refused to remove during their citizenship oaths, is a subject for debate, one central to “Canadian values.”
Harper has called the niqab “anti-woman,” which is an interesting statement.
Could it not be argued that coercing a woman out of her niqab is just as brutish as coercing her into one?
It’s also interesting that while Harper seemingly has a problem with the niqab, he has no problem with a $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the worst women’s rights records on the planet.
What about refusing to launch an inquiry into 1,200 murdered and missing First Nations women?
Is that “anti-woman”?
The niqab issue has been interwoven with inflated rhetoric about ISIS and measures to revoke the citizenships of convicted “terrorists” to create a loosely Islamophobic campaign designed to appeal Canadians with an underlying suspicion of Muslims, or perhaps create that suspicion.
And in the meantime, nobody is talking about Mike Duffy anymore, are they?
Whoever forms government next month, may we put these ludicrous and, frankly, racist wedge politics aside and get back to having conversations that actually matter to Canadians, like fixing the lagging economy and mitigating the effects of climate change.
Oh, and decentralizing power in the PMO.