Multiple recent incidents on the election trail show how Canadian media and civil society struggle with how to deal with politicians and bad actors on the far-right.
Earlier this week, the debate over whether to deplatform such figures intensified when the Toronto Star’s editorial board’s invited People’s Party of Canada (PPC) Leader Maxime Bernier in for a live chat. The paper has a tradition of inviting the main party leaders to discuss their politics before endorsing one ahead of an election. The PPC is currently polling nationally at about 3.1 per cent.
The invitation split the newsroom, according to Star columnist Shree Paradkar, who said the invitation helped “legitimize” and amplify Bernier’s far-right ideas, which include eliminating “official” multiculturalism in Canada and stopping immigration from being used to “forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada.”
In a column in the Star, Paradkar said Bernier’s ideas don’t qualify for civil discussion because they imply exclusion and even violence for people of colour.
“Bernier’s ideologies are not abstract level ideas for us, not mere disagreements that can be debated in a civilized fashion. They have real-world consequences,” she wrote. Several journalists of colour also protested the decision by boycotting the discussion.
A number of PPC candidates and supporters have also been outed for having a history of racist or sexist posts on social media. Evan Balgord of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAN), which tracks far-right hate in Canada, said his group has “lost count” of how many PPC candidates have displayed racist or sexist behaviour on and offline.
Initially, Bernier was barred from nationally televised all-leaders debates by the Leaders' Debates Commission, which then reversed that decision. Debate commissioner David Johnston said that, after reviewing a number of polls and the amount of media coverage the PPC has gotten, Bernier was eventually included in the debates because his party has a “legitimate chance” of electing more than one candidate next month. Bernier is also expected to make an appearance on the CBC next week.
The Star’s Andrew Phillips, who edits the paper’s editorial pages and sits on its editorial board, defended the decision to “platform” Bernier because voters “need to understand what he’s up to, even if, indeed especially if, the point is to oppose him.”