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Stephen Harper knee-qabs the opposition

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I know there's a whole group of people…who talk about civil liberties and about the freedom of having the right to pretty much choose to do what you like. Folks, that's not the country we live in. ~Ron Liepert, Conservative candidate for Calgary-Signal Hill

Feminist Stephen Harper is going to liberate those tent-wearing females no matter how much they claim that their attire is their choice. Good to know that women can count on men to ensure their freedom by forcing them to disrobe.

Harper's Australian advisor, Lynton Crosby, has earned his money and is probably due a sizeable bonus as well. Finding a useful scapegoat to divert the people is nothing new, of course: it's a well-worn strategy employed to the maximum by a fellow with a funny moustache just last century. But Crosby is more scientific about it, using polls and focus groups to find the surest, quickest and widest channel to the electorate's dark side. He's almost certainly in the thick of this electoral crusade: you can tell the lizard by his paw-prints.

The Crosby strategy is wedge politics at its most refined. And it's working a treat. The Conservatives are rising in the polls, at the expense of the NDP, which, despite its powerful base in Quebec, has refused to dance around the issue, even though one NDP candidate openly called for the Constitution to be reopened to ban the niqab. (Unlike critics of Israel, however, he has been permitted to keep his candidacy.)

Don't forget the wider immigration issue, more particularly the Syrian crisis. The latter seems to have flared and died in a matter of days. In Australia, Crosby masterminded an anti-immigration strategy for John Howard during the 2001 federal election that featured lying about sea-faring migrants throwing their children overboard to gain admission to Australia, and use of the slogan "We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come."

Sound familiar?

But best of all, a perfect scapegoat has been isolated and targeted.

Scapegoats need to possess two qualities: they must stand out from the rest of the population as an Other, and they must be a relatively easy target. Choosing the tiny handful of niqabis in Canada was a master-stroke. Even though one brave niqabi has fought this and won at the federal court, the matter will not be finally decided until the federal election is over, so that fear, hatred and other dank emotions can be deployed by the Conservatives to their advantage. If they get back in, it has been suggested, they will use the notwithstanding clause to sidestep the Charter of Rights and force their will upon the women involved.

Only at citizenship ceremonies? France and Belgium have both banned the niqab and the burqa in public places. Now those women are effectively under house arrest. And the European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban.

Can't happen here? Won't happen here if the Conservatives get back in? Dream on.

How do you keep your xenophobic base festering and inflamed? By adding new restrictions, new humiliations, new public shaming -- sado-political amusement for both the government and the governed. The Conservatives are in permanent campaign mode: having derailed the current election campaign, shielding themselves from their ghastly record of mis-governance behind a veil of their own, they can be counted upon to employ a winning strategy in the years ahead. They already have, it seems, a solid foundation to build on.

Never mind the sober conservative media, suddenly awake to the abyss before us. Harper has, almost certainly with Crosby's expert assistance, reached his target. 82 per cent of Canadians support the ban: 15 per cent are opposed. Quebec, aflame with xenophobia, leads the howling pack, with 93 per cent in favour.

This sort of thing has been happening at the ground level. Niqab? Hijab? Our Minister of Citizenship and Immigration doesn't even know the difference. But why should he care? The niqab, after all, is just synedoche for the Muslim presence in Canada. In the service of hatred and fear, articles of ethnic clothing are completely interchangeable.

The electorate has become a mob. And how easy it was.

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