03.20.2015 08:25 AM

Political foot-in-mouth disease: when is it an accident, and when is it deliberate?

Michael Harris in iPolitics:

The odd thing about about this re-run of the Right of the Living Dead in the CPC is that it represents something that Stephen Harper himself used to view with mortification and alarm. His original inspiration for muzzling MPs came from his days with Preston Manning.

Back then, a year’s worth of work before a party convention — not to mention the event itself — could be blown apart by one unhinged Reformer ranting at the media about an Asian Invasion or Young Earth Creationism. Who can forget when Warren Kinsella produced a purple Barney the Dinosaur doll on Canada AM, proclaiming he was the only member of his species who had ever shared the planet with humans?

Now it’s not really funny anymore. Harper has simply made the calculation thatif the way to give a chameleon a nervous breakdown is to put him down on plaid, the way to win an election in our disappearing democracy is to offer Canadians only two flavours — vanilla or chocolate.

That means hitting the hot buttons, over and over.

Now, I know Michael is not exactly neutral on the subject of Mr. Harper, but his column – which I caught in Google alert thing – raises an interesting question: are the the myriad recent backbench bimbo eruptions – by Messrs. Williamson, Miller, Kenney, et al. – actual, bona fide, mistakes? Or are they deliberate, and none-too-subtle attempts to throw a bone to the knuckle-draggers in the Reformatory grassroots?

Personally, I don’t see a grand conspiracy in any of this. Why would Harper have gone to all the trouble of casting out the Reform-Alliance-Conservative troglodytes (e.g., Myron Thompson, Bob Ringma, Dave Chatters, et al.), and dispensing with assorted Blue Book craziness (e.g., opposing reproductive choice, equal marriage and Mounties with turbans), only to abruptly turn hard right on the eve of what is to be a hard-fought election campaign in urban Canada?

Makes no sense to me. Oftentimes in politics, then, the simplest explanation is the best one: Harper has had a cluster of backbench bimbo eruptions, and I am told he is none too happy about it. (And God help, FYI, the next backbencher to say something intolerant.)

What thinkest thou, O Wise Reader? A bunch of rookie flubs, or a clever strategy? Comment away!


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    Rich says:

    After a hard winter, I think a few of the folks just came down with the “vapours”.

    Your assessment is the most logical one

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    eric weiss says:

    It’s a bunch of idiots saying stupid things at the wrong time. Doesn’t matter how much power the PMO has or how controlling Harper is, not everything is part of some Machiavellian master plan.

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    DonW says:

    I vote it is strategy, albeit ineptly delivered. This tactic (turning Hard Right) just worked like a charm for Netanyahu. Israel is not Canada, i know, i know, but the tactic is powerful and it got results big time, no?

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      !o! says:

      I unno.. ‘stay the hell where you came from’ doesn’t exactly put the nicest face on a party trying quite hard at the moment to look friendly.

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        !o! says:

        hit reply too soon— it’s more likely that MPs read a position statement to the effect of ‘we are opposed to people covering their faces during citizenship ceremonies’ and some of the crazies gleefully interpreted it top mean that, at last, they get to go on racist rants.

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    Al in Cranbrook says:

    Harris is so over the top in recent years, amazes me anyone would print his columns. I’ll take your sources and common sense over his borderline conspiracy theories every time.

    That said, in Miller’s defense, IMHO he merely vocalized what millions of Canadians are already thinking. Politically correct? No. But I don’t think the majority of voters loose much sleep about how much political incorrectness irks the chattering classes and the usual suspects in the MSM.

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      Gayle says:

      If this notion of Miller’s has such widespread support, why isn’t Harper campaigning on it? I find it interesting that this woman made it through the citizenship application process without objection. And now that she wants to wear a niqab while taking the oath she is suddenly unfit? Perhaps the government should stop focusing on the oath, and start focusing on immigration policies if this is so darned offensive to our country. Maybe Harper should campaign on “get the hell back to where you came from”. Let’s see how that goes.

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        Al in Cranbrook says:

        Who said she’s unfit? No, you can’t hide your face while swearing allegiance to your new country. Simple, reasonable rule here in Canada. A helluva lot more reasonable rules here than is likely the case from whence you came, right? Indeed, probably why you came here in the first place, right?

        This is about principles and values. Canadians have some, and are damned proud of them, and reflect as much in our rules and laws, written or not.

        Harper doesn’t have to take that argument to the electorate. He only has to been seen defending as much. Arguments to the contrary will fall on deaf ears of people all too tired of being told from on high what being Canadian is supposed to mean. They already know in their own hearts and minds the answer to that. And it has SFA to do with ideology, and everything to do with an innate sense of identity.

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          ben burd says:

          OK Al if this woman has to take off her “religious expression” surely the Sikhs should shave their beards and remove the Turbans. The Catholics should remove their Icons and the Jews remove their beards and yamulkahs – fair’s fair.

          Obviously silly and discriminatory and if Larry Miller is only expressing what you and he think then obviously you have told us all just what kind of people you are and you will be judged for it.

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            Al in Cranbrook says:

            Don’t be deliberately absurd and obtuse! Anyone of those you mention could be recognized immediately, and are hiding nothing.

            That women in too many parts of this world are forced to hide their faces in public, IMHO, is a disgrace in this day and age, and should not be given a pass in this country during the taking of an oath of allegiance to, not just Canada, but the values for which it traditionally stands…values that most certainly include equality and dignity for women.

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            doconnor says:

            Forced to hide their face. Forced to show their face. What’s the difference, eh?

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            DonW says:

            There is a unfounded meme abroad among us that says: “Muslim women who wear the burka or niqab are forced to do so by their husbands and families”. Facts matter in Canada, or at least they used to matter . The fact here is that many Muslim women choose to wear the burka or niqab in defiance of their husband’s wishes. These women wear these facial coverings for religious reasons. They value modesty and they do not wish to participate in the hyper-sexualized marketplace that passes for interpersonal relations in western culture. So can we set aside this notion that by objecting to the wearing of these facial coverings that we are somehow helping to liberate these oppressed women from their malicious captors? In this age of Katy Perry and Britney Spears, can we permit these Muslim women to choose modesty?

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            Joe says:

            The fact is that NO ONE is being forced to remove her face covering. She can live in Canada all the days of her life and NO ONE will ever force her to remove her face covering. BUT IF SHE wants to become a Canadian then she has to take off her face covering for the brief time of her taking the oath. The choice is entirely hers. Which is more important to her becoming a citizen or wearing a face covering. BTW I read an article today that in good old tolerant Sweden the emergency services (ambulances and fire fighters) are seeking military grade equipment for times when they are responding to calls in the ‘no go zones’. Something about us tolerants inviting intolerants to dwell amongst us just doesn’t work out the way we want it to.

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          Gayle says:

          That’s not a rule here.

          You are (deliberately?) missing the point. If it’s true this is super duper popular, Harper does not need to talk around the edges. He can openly declare he is running on this platform.

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    doconnor says:

    It’s probably because people are discussing a topic where their real opinions are not socially acceptable.

    If we where talking about the deficit and someone said something like, “Eliminating the deficit is the best thing we can do to create economic growth,” despite being just as ridiculous, it is socially acceptable.

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    Bill says:

    Harper, like any good fundamentalist preacher, has successfully put the “fear” into all the good people in the tent.

    These few misundertood folk who utter such things are simply under the spell of demons which will be cast out, presumably as part of the government’s economic action plan.

    Now, can we please all get back to freaking out over those few women who wear the Niqab, I’m really afraid to go outside!

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    Nathan says:

    I think the political climate is different now and Harper is trying to put Canada on a war footing. People have demonstrated quite a capacity for intolerance when they are afraid. He seems to be employing a classic strategy of dehumanizing the enemy and feeding fear of the other. One has to take this in the context of the official policies as well as the intolerant outbursts. Officially, the Niqab appeal, the C51 fear mongering and spying and the incendiary language around Islamist terrorists, coupled with the very real threats rising mean that his calculus is different than it was those years ago when he was trying to shake Preston Manning’s redneck image. He also had to consolidate power and avoid far right groups breaking ranks like Chuck Strahl et al. did to Stockwell Day. Clearing out the Reform Alliance so cons served a greater purpose than placating cosmopolitan urbanites. After so many years in office, Harper doesn’t have to worry about Canadians (urban or rural) being particularly afraid of him, because even if they are, he probably bets they’ll be more afraid of ISIS and its ilk. Also, consider that Jason Kenny was one of the people who made a “gaffe”;).

    He is also trying to buy off the angry military by giving out goodies to veterans every few weeks. I think this all lines up with his strategy to position himself as the realist father knows best figure who is willing to protect Canadians while casting his opponents as naive Pollyannas.

    While the Liberals are trying to re-run the 2004 US Presidential campaign, Harper’s strategy is to counter the Hope campaign with a cynical fear campaign. It might work.

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      cgh says:

      “…dehumanizing the enemy…”

      Please indicate what is particularly human about enslavement, kidnapping, suicide bombs, gunning down tourists in museums, religious genocide and public executions with knives. Oh yes, and plotting to blow up VIA trains just in case you imagine it’s only a problem far, far away.

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        doconnor says:

        People who have been dehumanized sometimes do that kind of thing. Its part of human nature.

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          cgh says:

          I see. So you’d rather blame the victim. And you’re saying the jihadis are not truly responsible for their actions?
          Maybe you might think again. Your reply was more disgusting than the original comment.

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            doconnor says:

            By victim do you mean the random people that they kill? I certainly don’t blame them.

            Those that indulge in racism or dehumanization by statement or implication share some of the blame.

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            cgh says:

            You are blaming the people they inflict atrocities on.
            Worse, if these so-called “dehumanized” are not to blame then the victims have no right of redress.
            You’re also making excuses for them by implying they’re not responsible for their actions.
            And finally you really should explain just how it is that so many of these “dehumanized” come from affluent western nations.

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    doconnor says:

    The NDP took a surprising step the other day call the Conservatives racist.

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      smelter rat says:

      If the shoe fits…….

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    wsam says:

    Conspiracies do exist and people do act and say things in order to advance a strategic goal and those same conspiracies do unravel and the strategies they are built upon backfire. You cannot control, or fool, all the people all the time. It’s the crooked timber of humanity. Or as the Catholics would have it, a consequence of Original Sin and man’s imperfect nature.

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    Andy Maton says:

    The trogs (not to be confused with The Troggs, who were a great band for a minute) are erupting because of their sense of entitlement which comes from a sense of majority power which comes from a sense of ego which made them want to run for office in the first place. These are not people with a traditional sense of civil service. They are speaking their own truths and don’t think for a moment about any possible NEGATIVE effect. They are all, “The Boss”…not to be confused with The Boss who runs a band called E-Street.

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    Ryan M says:

    Maybe not *part* of the master plan, but in a “when life gives you lemons” kind of way, I haven’t seen much on the struggling economy or oil over the past week….

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    Barry B says:

    Michael Harris is scary sick about Harper! That aside, I too suspect that the meme seeds are being planted in the minds of Con party faithful well ahead of the election because the general population will not remember anything said now, only what is said 2 weeks before election day. Good example is Netanyahu’s no Palestinian state days before Israeli elections.

    Memes that stick are those like “not fit to govern” or “angry”, and they have been planted early so they can fester and cause deep doubt. Lib and Dip memes are being scattered about Harper but they seem to be ineffective and sliding off teflon PM Harper.

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      Irene says:

      Michael Harris has authored many books. The last one I believe is called “Harper Party of One” Before you all call Harris down, perhaps you should read that book.

      He talks about Harper and the Republican party of the USA and how the republicans nurtured Harper, funded him and are still controlling him as I speak.

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    JamesF says:

    Flubs. I think Harper has largely avoided being a culture warrior in the manner of frothing RW talk radio types but when he weighed in on the niqab it loosened the lips on those in his caucus that want to be one.

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      terence quinn says:

      One thing the bozo eruptions by the CPC can do is weaken their argument about JT’s so called eruptions. The conbots have far surpassed any of JT’s comments. At least his were just loose comments while theirs are racist and hate filled.

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    smelter rat says:

    I think it these bozo eruptions reflect the quality (or lack thereof) of candidates within the CPC, as well as that of their supporters who tend to re-elect them time after time.

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      Africon says:

      People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, Tom.

      NDP has their share of nutter MP’s

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        smelter rat says:

        I don’t know who Tom is, but please let us all know who, in the NDP are climate change deniers, racists, evangelical christian nut jobs and/or anti vax’ers.

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          Africon says:

          You, my dear chap mouth the Mulcair line most of the time and come across in the same angry manner and perhaps need a joint to mellow out once in a while.

          Nutters come in all shapes and sizes so if you cannot “see” any in NDP ranks, well then bless you for living in such a black and white world with zero room for any grey.

          I am as anti-organized religion as anyone, anti racism of any kind or those opposed to vaccinations regardless of their political choices. Although my own cousin – a die hard lefty from BC was paralyzed for several weeks after receiving a vaccination so I do make some allowance that perhaps there is room for improvement on that item.

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    Steven says:

    The HarperCon strategy:

    In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Harper already has enough problems with errant senators and party organizers. The last thing he needs is people shooting inward rather than out of the tent.

    Sure, he can blow a gasket but that’s basically it. It would mean serious trouble if he did not sign some nomination papers.

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    Gayle says:

    This is not a direct quote, but on “At Issue” a few weeks ago Andrew Coyne said something like “Harper and the CPC are not racist, but they won’t say no to votes from people who are”. I tend to agree with this, except I suggest there is some bigotry in the CPC caucus.

    In my opinion, whether it’s deliberate or not, Harper is responsible. He opened the door with his comments linking terrorism to the niqab. Why wouldn’t his caucus think their comments are acceptable?

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      Africon says:

      Good grief, do you really mean to tell me that there are no “racists” supporting every political party in the country?

      There are people of every cultural, religious, tribal and political stripe that are extreme racists – they live, play, marry and speak entirely within their own race their whole lives ie they live racists lives and they support the local Caste or class system of whatever country they live in.

      What an uninformed statement.

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    Wayne says:

    I think it is simply complacency.

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    patrick says:

    Noam Chomsky suspected that many of Bush’s malapropisms were intentional because all the outrage by the “smarter classes” offended much of the Bush base and galvanized them to get out and vote.

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      Bill says:


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      !o! says:

      I thought about that as well, but the situations are pretty different: People attacked Bush, a single target, and a proxy symbol of his party for saying stuff that sounded dumb, this reinforces the narrative of the Democratic party as the out of touch party of the elite: ‘see how the elite look down on this salt-of-the-earth man of the people! Everyone, even you and I, goof up when they talk, especially about complicated stuff.’

      These CPC eruptions don’t sound like things most people would say or most people would sympathize with, and they only feed into a narrative of the CPC as being racist and out of touch– in contrast to criticizing someone for mis-speaking, criticizing a person for telling prospective citizens to ‘stay the hell where they came from’, or for lamenting ‘brownies’ taking ‘whitie’ jobs is something most Canadians would probably see themselves as doing. They might galvanize some of the extreme right, but I can’t see the numbers as being significant, and I certainly can’t see the benefit outweighing the cost.

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    Elisabeth Lindsay says:

    Michael Harris……really???

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      terence quinn says:

      Yep, same guy who exposed Mount Cashel sexual abuse and stayed with it until people went to jail ins site of coverups and delays in justice prevailing.

      he has the legitimate credits as well. He is also very well received and has more peaking engagements than he can handle. His book was/is a best seller and very factual to the point that the Harpercons made no efforts to try and shut him down. He made some bruising accusations against Harper and his muppets.

      He is not anti Harper for the sake of it. He sees the truth for what it is…. a serious lessening of the democratic process and is fighting to help restore it with Harper being the architect of it all.

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        smelter rat says:

        Exactly. Too bad Elisabeth is so far gone that she can’t see reason.

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    Rich says:

    Article outlining the latest Global polling regarding the ‘niqab wearing at the citizenship oath taking’ is at the link below.
    Despite Global’s inability to use a spell-check , and refusal to use reasonable grammar and complete disregard for describing their own polls properly, the results are interesting and might affect the views of some of those who have already posted here
    Let’s hear from Canadians again.

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    Africon says:

    I mostly agree with the Warren take on this subject but also think that there are a few other current factors beyond any SH strategy.

    EG- Islamists in many countries are in fact engaging in brutal behavior, RIGHT NOW and it is simply not new new – Musselmen or Muslims have engaged in and generally support ( though perhaps unwillingly for some) slavery, misogyny, kidnapping and torture for 1,400 years.
    Unlike every single terrified Jew of the 1930’s today’s Muslim immigrants are not so easily identifiable as either the victim or as pro or anti IS or Sharia Law, Fatwa’s or racism ( intermarriage or anti Palestinian) or any number of common and well known distasteful ( to westerners) Muslim traits.

    Last point is this one – while there is a huge difference between a Hijab ( similar to numerous practices worldwide including the west) and the Niqab which can only be compared to either a bank robber, ISIS thug or Klu Klux Klan nimrod – all highly negative.

    Imagine if all of our MP’s wore a Niqab in the HOC would you be OK with that and should you be considered a “racist” if you weren’t? The issue here is not religious or cultural it is simply the matter of being unidentifiable on the street, at work or at play.

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    MgS says:


    I will suggest that you are somewhat tone-deaf to the Harper dog-whistle on this one. Since day one, Harper has been periodically throwing bones and the odd slab of red meat to his extremist base.

    This is no “sudden turn” on Harper’s part, it’s consistent with an ongoing pattern. Do you really think those BS “pro life” bills from his backbench “Pro-Life” caucus really were tabled without PMO consent? Hardly likely when we are talking about the most tightly controlled caucus in parliamentary history. (not to mention the fact that some of those bills survived a lot longer than they had any right to. You don’t so much as fart in Harper’s caucus without PMO permission – it’s that simple.

    Kenney, in particular, is no “bozo eruption”. His recent outbursts were aimed at a particular audience and intended to stir them up. Kenney is no “bozo” – he doesn’t say squat unless it’s to his political advantage. Some of the others are relatively obscure, but Kenney?

    No, Harper’s busy trying to stir up his “base” of far right extremists, and hoping that enough of his opponents will stay at home and not vote again.

    Is Harper making a “sudden turn” to the hard right? No – he’s always been on a hard right track. The only thing that differentiates him from the slavering wingnut base is that Harper knows he has to tread carefully because he still needs a certain percentage of the rest of Canada behind him (at least until he has finished tearing our democracy apart)

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