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Liberals respond to Trudeau's self-inflicted brownface crisis with a classic counterattack

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Andrew Scheer. Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

Years ago, I worked with a union organizer who deployed an effective tactic when one of his unionization drives met resistance from an employer: launch a diversionary attack from an unexpected quarter.

This was the poor-man's version of the doctrine of both the Prussian officer corps and the United States Marines: turn toward flanking fire and advance until the guns fall silent.

Gunfire metaphors may be in bad odour nowadays, but they are an entirely appropriate way to discuss the Liberal Party of Canada's immediate response to the release of those excruciating photos of Justin Trudeau's brownface escapades two decades ago, roiling the governing party's re-election campaign.

Seeing the prime minister's past problematic behaviour exposed by media and effectively exploited by Andrew Scheer's Conservatives -- ironic considering how Conservatives are normally obsessed with assailing advocates of political correctness as ninnies -- it didn't take the Liberals even a day to pivot and attack one of the weakest points in the Conservative lines.

To wit: the gun advocates in their midst.

Yes, Liberals had been promising policy during the campaign to deal with the scourge of gun violence plaguing Canadian cities and widespread Canadian fears the U.S. epidemic of mass shootings may cross the 49th parallel, but it was likely to be timid and nuanced.

But facing an existential crisis of their feckless leader's own creation, the Liberals clearly moved the timing up, and probably stiffened the sinews, summoned up the blood to toughen the policy sufficiently to make it actually effective.

Or, to paraphrase Shakespeare a second time, it's nice to have a horse on hand when you need one -- or, in this case, a whole corral of horses' asses.

Canadian Conservatives, as is widely understood, are snuggled deeply into bed with the foreign-funded gun lobby and wild-eyed Canadian NRA wannabes who, notwithstanding the absence of a second amendment in our peaceable dominion's constitution, assert a constitutional right to introduce the conditions necessary for regular gun massacres to happen here too.

The Conservatives' constant invocation of the "law-abiding gun owner" is not very persuasive, but wasn't high on the radar for a lot of Canadians who were nevertheless favourably enough disposed toward sensible gun-control laws to distrust such rhetoric.

But the thing about the gun fanatics and their overwrought defence of assault rifles, almost-assault rifles and pistols for the peeps is this: they just can't shut up. (If you doubt this characterization, just watch the comments section below for the next few days!*)

Faced with a pivotal moment when the best thing they could do to help the party of their probable choice would be to shut the hell up, they're rushing into the breach screaming about their supposed right to practice their anti-social hobby and their need to have guns on hand to overthrow imagined future governments.

As an aside, what kind of democratic government in waiting, which Scheer's Conservatives are purported to be, would tolerate this kind of talk in their ranks?

So, while desperate times may call for desperate measures, the Liberals' desperation tactic puts the Conservatives in an interesting box.

If their pistol-packin' partisans won't shut up, and they certainly won't, Scheer has little choice but to keep repeating unconvincing bromides about the law-abidingness of gun owners. If he doesn't sound persuasive enough, he just might lose the gun-toters and their valuable votes to Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada.

This helps the Liberals establish the narrative that the Conservatives are not merely the party of unsavoury "old-stock" Canadians, but of dangerous Canadians too!

What's more, the louder the gun enthusiasts holler, the more the real trolls within their ranks will crawl out from under their rocks. I kid you not, they're already screeching on Twitter about how the black-helicopter boys from the United Nations are behind the plot to snatch their beloved AR-15s.

And the more the trolls dominate the discussion, the more Liberal proposals will start to make sense to a lot of voters in urban Canada.

Will this work? Too soon to say.

We're certainly about to see a bunch of polls, many of them tendentious and methodologically unsound, indicating Trudeau's embarrassment is driving supporters away from his Liberals. Whether this is a bump, a meaningful trend or wishful thinking remains to be seen.

But as my former colleague's strategy illustrated, nothing blunts an attack like an energetic counterattack.

Canada's gun advocates, standing ready to flood the internet and the airwaves with full-on hysteria tinged with paranoia, make an excellent target.

The gun "rights" mob certainly isn't going to help Andrew Scheer by yelling, "Break out the Winchesters!" But just try to shut them up!

*With any luck, this crack will act as a deterrent.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

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