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Climate change silence and Jason Kenney's award: Signs of depressing state of our political discourse

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In the United States just about the first mention of global warming during this year's election campaign came when New York Mayor Bloomberg linked Hurricane Sandy to climate change. It was, Bloomberg said, the reason why he decided to endorse President Obama.

The Mayor believes Obama will take the global warming crisis more seriously than his Republican opponent -- although the President has not actually said anything during the campaign to justify that confidence.  

There are reasons for Obama's current silence on climate change and virtually every other environmental issue and they can all be summed up in one word: politics. 

In a revealing interview on the BBC, Democratic strategist Bob Shrum said bluntly: "Why should Obama campaign on an issue that will only lose him votes!"  

Shrum then assured his British interlocutor that Obama will do what he can about climate change, once re-elected. He just can't risk talking about it right now.

In the U.S., these days, as in Canada, it is the Right that has adopted an activist stance toward the environment. 

Harperites in Canada and Romneyites in the U.S. frame the issue as, on one side, the economy, still fragile and struggling after the shock of 2008, versus, on the other side, a gross caricature of "effete" and wrong-headed concern for such economically insignificant matters as the air we breathe, the water we drink and the parlous state of the planet's climate.

Daily, Canadian Conservatives attack the NDP’s so-called carbon tax -- the one that "kills jobs."  

As a rule, the NDP refrains from returning fire with a call to environmental responsibility. Instead, it points out that the Conservatives are not telling the truth about the Party’s policy, which promises cap-and-trade, not a carbon tax.

Meanwhile, in the land of the free, Romney’s folks have plastered the southeastern corner of Battleground Ohio with a lawn sign that reads: "Stop the war on coal. Fire Obama."

There was a time when mainstream politicians of all stripes believed they had to at least make some credible gesture of concern toward the environment. 

Brian Mulroney once even solemnly declared that environmental sustainability would be the litmus test for all of his government's policies. 

Now, the Right feels comfortable demagoguing the issue; while the other side is reluctant to too enthusiastically embrace a cause it seems to believe has lost support of that fabled "middle class."

Such is the depressing state of political discourse in this über-information age.  

As for the environment, so for immigration

 Immigration is another policy area where the sloganeers of simplistic nostrums have the upper hand.

Canada's Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, is a master at the game of turning complex policy issues into nasty bumper stickers. He is so good, in fact, that he has been nominated for a Best Cabinet Minister "award" by more than one Canadian newspaper. 

Kenney's genius has been his ability to successfully court ethnic communities the Liberals once considered their chasse-gardée, while, at the same time, taking a tough stand on "queue jumpers, cheaters and bogus refugees."

This approach is quite outside what was once a Canadian political consensus.

We have not had any government, of any stripe, in recent memory (going back to the 1960s, at least), that has chosen to adopt such a negative rhetorical tone on immigration. 

Rather than cloak his legislative initiatives in the garb of pragmatic necessity, Kenney likes to up the ante with harsh, confrontational and punitive language.

For instance, his most recent foray, Bill C-43, is, officially, an "Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act."

The Bill's stated principal purpose is "to limit the review mechanisms for certain foreign nationals and permanent residents who are inadmissible on such grounds as serious criminality."

But the Conservatives prefer to describe C-43 as: "The Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act."

Rather than frame the measure as an exercise in practical problem-solving, Kenney quite deliberately seeks to turn it into a hyped-up call to arms.

Such a black-and white approach puts the Opposition in a box. Who wants to risk being labeled as a friend of "foreign" criminals?

In fact, NDP MPs have made a point of saying they support measures to expeditiously remove bona fide dangerous foreign criminals from Canada. 

Official Opposition MPs have been careful to limit their concerns to the possibility that C-43 might cast too wide a net -- that it might take in some relatively harmless folks -- and to worrying about the degree of arbitrary power the Bill invests in the Minister.

The Official Opposition's main argument is that C-43 is a wrong-headed expenditure of political energy on a relatively a minor problem. 

The number of foreign criminals caught up in the Canadian immigration system is quite small, and current procedures -- with, perhaps, a bit of tweaking -- should be adequate to deal with those folks.  

Tough talk sells

 The NDP would like the Government to give more time and attention to the much bigger and more systemic issue of temporary foreign workers displacing immigrants in Canada.

"Instead of treating the immigration system as a source of cheap labour, the Conservatives must implement an immigration plan that will strengthen our country and our economy," Jinny Sims, the NDP’s immigration critic argues.

But tough talk sells better than well-reasoned policy.

Witness Kenney's approach to his showpiece refugee legislation, now passed into law: Bill C-31, the reform of the refugee system. 

After having passed an earlier refugee Bill, with all-party agreement, in the minority Parliament, Kenney returned to the charge with this harder and harsher version after the Conservatives won a majority.

The new law bundles together a basket of provisions concerning Canada's refugee system. A few of those provisions -- such as the creation of a new Refugee Appeal Division -- have received almost universal praise. 

But a big part of Kenney's sales job for C-31 focused on what he called "bogus refugees" who come to Canada to take advantage of our generous welfare. At the outset, last winter, the Minister was vague about whom he was referring to. 

But the Minister quickly dropped the mask and made clear that he meant the central European Roma, who have been coming to Canada as refugees since the 1990s.

Kenney ignored evidence in his characterization of Roma

 Germany belatedly recognized the Roma as bona fide victims of the Holocaust in 1982. Late last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel dedicated a monument in Berlin to the half a million Roma murdered by the Nazis.

Earlier this year the Council Of Europe’s departing Human Rights commissioner, Thomas Hammerberg, issued a scathing valedictory report on the persecution, violence and discrimination the 8 to 12 million Roma suffer almost everywhere in Europe. 

That report echoed many others by such groups as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

In Hungary, in particular, Roma are in a dire situation. 

The fastest rising political force in that country -- the far-right Jobbik Party, which garnered 17 per cent of the vote in the last elections, and stands to improve its standing next time -- is openly and, at times, violently racist toward Hungary's 800,000 Roma as well as Hungary's large Jewish population.

Many elements of Hungary's governing small-c "conservative" and nationalist Fidesz party are, in effect, "fellow travelers" to Jobbik's more open and virulent form of hatred. 

The film Never Come Back (produced by the author of this article) and a recent series by Rick Westhead in the Toronto Star document all of this in fairly great detail.

But Kenney has been almost entirely deaf to all of this information. 

Instead, he appears to have bought the near-universal European contempt for the Roma minority -- a contempt too often shared even by so-called "progressive" Europeans.

From a Minister's stereotypes to open hate-speech

 The Immigration Minister’s loose stereotyping of all Roma as welfare-seeking fraudsters and worse has given "permission" to the thousands of Canadians of European origin who, sadly, seem to have brought their deep-seated racist attitudes with them. One only has to read the comments section on any story on the Roma in the mainstream press to get a sense of this.

Kenney also prepared the ground for so-called broadcaster Ezra Levant's now-infamous, openly hateful screed against the "Gypsies," broadcast by SUN TV in September.

That particular episode was even too much for SUN, which apologized on air. It said that the Levant piece was inappropriate and should not have been aired. 

The Toronto Police are now actively considering whether or not to lay hate crimes charges against Levant. 

Neither Kenney nor any other member of this Conservative Government has seen fit to denounce Levant's hate screed. Prominent members of the Canadian Jewish community, including former chief executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber, have done so, however, in clear and certain terms.

On Sunday, November 4th, Farber and Levant may both be in attendance at Toronto's Royal York Hotel when the University of Haifa bestows an honourary degree on the Canadian Immigration Minister. 

The event will be fundraising dinner organized by the Canadian Friends of Haifa University. One of the members of the Friends' committee that recommended the honour for Kenney is none other than Ezra Levant!

A "Jason Kenney Holocaust Education Fund" will be launched at this dinner.

While some members of the Canadian Jewish community will temporarily put aside their disagreement with Kenney over the Roma and other aspects of his immigration policy and take part in the event, others will be out on Front Street, joining Toronto’s Roma, and some other groups, in protest. 

In their protests, the Roma and others have good company.  A number of Haifa University faculty members have vigorously criticized the decision to honour Canada's Immigration Minister. 

The Haifa University professors, like the Canadian protest groups, consider it more than ironic that a Canadian politician who has so carelessly trafficked in loose stereotypes about a group that was a prime target for Nazi persecution should be associated with, of all things, Holocaust education!

They think Kenny could use a little Holocaust education himself. 

 

 

 

 

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