Apparently infected by the decline of political discourse in the United States, the Canadian right is increasingly moving toward defining the use of facts that run counter to its narrative as conspiracy and policy disagreement criminality.
If you doubt this, consider recent Tweets by the likes of Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who accused the Trudeau government and the media of being in a conspiracy to use facts to challenge conservative orthodoxy.
The Canadian Press "Baloney Meter" a regular fact-checking feature by the national news agency, the Calgary-Nose Hill Conservative MP complained in a now notorious Twitter rant, is scheming with the Prime Minister's Office to spin the news to the Liberal government's advantage.
"Their baloney meter is a spin tool for the Trudeau PMO," she Tweeted last week. "Just look at Trudeau's top henchman's Twitter feed useage of it. It's that sort of editorialization disguised as journalism that degrades journalism writ large. Sad."
What was the Conservative immigration critic objecting to, asked The Sprawl, an online Calgary news and opinion site? The Canadian Press reporter "cited migration data, put the recent migration numbers in context and called three experts for insight." Joan Bryden, one of Ottawa's most experienced reporters, then dismissed Conservative claims there's a "border crisis" as "completely inaccurate."
Once upon a time in Canada, Rempel's kind of rhetorical excess would have seemed bizarre. Alas, here in Alberta we are increasingly habituated to such commentary by members and supporters of the United Conservative Party Opposition who regularly equate opposition in British Columbia to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project with criminality, even terrorism.
Rick Orman, a former Alberta energy minister and two-time candidate to lead Alberta's Conservatives, famously called anti-pipeline protesters -- of whom there are plenty on B.C.'s West Coast -- "eco-terrorists." This kind of rhetoric not only undermines democracy and the rule of law, it is likely intended to do so.
In this, of course, these Canadian Conservatives are mimicking Donald Trump, the Twitter-obsessed President of the United States, who regularly equates the publication of inconvenient facts with "fake news," right down to the ejaculative "sad."
I don't think an elected Canadian Con has yet called journalists as a class "enemies of the people," but we can assume that's coming soon too, at least if Trump's social media strategy continues to appear to work for him.
Then again, perhaps this is phenomenon that moves both directions across the world's longest undefended border. After all, just yesterday Trump's legal counsel, Rudy Giuliani, expressed the view "truth isn't truth" when you're a president who has to deal with an FBI investigation.
Who knows? Maybe the former New York mayor has been reading Rempel's Twitter feed for inspiration!
Media accounts of Rempel's outbursts on Twitter -- where she has developed a reputation as the Queen of the Blockers in her effort to mute the voices of anyone who dares to challenge her extremism, another Trump technique -- have made much of the fact she used to describe herself as a "centrist."
But as extremism becomes more mainstream within the Conservative Party of Canada -- Tory Twitterist Maxime Bernier, c'mon on down! -- there's a case to be made Rempel actually remains a centrist.
A centrist, at least, in the context of the increasingly Republicanized Canadian conservative movement -- which is no longer really conservative in any meaningful sense of the word, but increasingly defines economic "freedom" as trumping the fundamental freedoms defined in the Charter of Rights.
Evidence of this tendency on both sides of the Medicine Line continues to accumulate.
Consider Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs' recent outburst, wherein she Tweeted her outrage that a defence lawyer who ably represented a client she disapproved of was made a judge -- a proposition that seems insane if you happen to believe in the rule of law.
Or consider U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who last week claimed "environmental terrorist groups" -- not climate change -- created the conditions that have led to California's vicious forest fires.
NBC explained Zinke's assertion, made in an interview with the neo-Naziish Breitbart News, thusly: "… that environmental extremists were preventing the government from properly managing forests -- leaving excessive fuel on the ground for the deadly blazes."
In fact, there has long been a controversy in forestry circles about how best to manage fire risk, and it is generally conceded that aggressive fire suppression as demanded by the public, forestry companies, recreationalists and government agencies like the U.S. Forest Service may contribute to fire load over time.
But suggesting the USFS and public policy makers are doing the bidding of "environmental terrorist groups" is just another example of a right-wing politician equating opposition to commercial exploitation of forest resources with criminality.
We are bound to hear similar nonsense in Canada as a federal election looms in 2019 because this tendency on the right, like the fires themselves, is growing in intensity.
That's the gloomy view. The upbeat interpretation is that Twitter is a terrible swift sword -- perhaps devised by the Almighty to be deployed by Silicon Valley, or the other way 'round -- on which North American movement conservatism can impale itself.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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