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It's time for the return of principled Conservatives

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With the defeat of Stephen Harper, it's time for principled federal Conservatives to take back their party, or abandon it as a lost cause.

I know, I know. Who am I, a left-of-centre progressive, to offer advice to those whose chosen party I'd almost certainly never vote for?

In my defence, I grew up in Nova Scotia with its tradition of principled Progressive Conservatives. While I can, did and do often disagree with the views of Robert Stanfield, Flora Macdonald, John Hamm or Jamie Baillie, I would never question their personal integrity.

I can't say the same for Stephen Harper. In the 2015 federal election campaign, Harper's Conservatives -- for that's what they are -- crossed a line. More than one. More than once. To deliberately demonize Muslim Canadians.

Start with the niqab, the face cover some Muslim women wear. Harper's former minister of immigration, Jason Kenney, claims the niqab "reflects a misogynistic view of women… grounded in medieval tribal culture."

I dare Kenney to make that argument face-to-niqab with Zunera Ishaq.

Ishaq is a thoughtful 29-year-old teacher from Pakistan who deliberately chose to wear a niqab even though "all my family," including her husband, opposed it. When Stephen Harper told her she couldn't be a Canadian if she wore her niqab to her citizenship ceremony, Ishaq courageously challenged him in court twice. And won.

So Harper doubled down, threatening a new law banning niqab-wearing public servants -- even though it was unclear there is even one such case in the federal service.

His minions rushed to "stand up for our values," promising an RCMP "tip line" so old-stock Canadians can rat out their Muslim neighbours for "barbaric cultural practices."

For good measure, the government announced it will strip several Canadian-born dual citizens convicted of terrorism of their citizenship, even though they have no connection to their other passport, and even if that will make it more difficult to monitor or control their activities.

None of this is about real public issues. It is a conscious, cavalier, poll-driven decision to pit citizen against citizen, to appeal to the worst of human nature in order to win votes. It is unworthy.

And it is time for principled Conservatives to stand up for their principles. And against what Stephen Harper's Conservatives have become.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

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