Many people seem to believe that the Vic Toews' controversy of last week was a lesson to the government about using inflamed rhetoric -- that we won't see Conservatives demonizing their opponents again as allies of pornographers, pedophiles and the Taliban. I'm afraid I'm not so sure.
First, a confession. I barely blinked last week when Toews made his now-infamous remark about child pornographers. Why? Because this is kind of business as usual around Ottawa in recent years. All week, I was constantly reminded of that part in Casablanca when the police chief pronounces himself "shocked, shocked" to find there was gambling going on in Rick's Cafe. Yet to listen to the tut-tutting on Cross-Country Checkup on the weekend -- in which there was virtual unanimity on the beyond-the-pale nature of Toews' remarks -- you'd think it was the first time a cabinet minister made an outrageous slur like this against disssenters on the opposition benches. Unfortunately it's not. And my bet is that it won't be the last one. How sure am I of this? Well, let's look at what the Prime Minister himself said the day after Mr. Toews made the odious comparison.
Actually, I'd invite folks to go to the openparliament.ca website and do their own searches of words such as "pornographer" or "pedophiles." (I know, I know. That's almost begging for some online surveillance, isn't it?) Note how those words have been casually tossed back and forth across the aisles.
The difference this time, it seemed to me, was that Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson, my co-panelist on CTV's Power Play, wrote up a stern little missive after Toews' remarks last Monday. Yes, that's right: the modern-day Internet pile-on was prompted, at least in large part, by traditional media. Now, I'm not saying that people didn't get the information elsewhere -- the Canadian Press was also quick off the mark in reporting Toews' slur after he said it. But was Toews straying off tried-and-true methods of political rhetoric these days? No, he was not. He must be baffled why he's getting all the flak for a communications strategy that has obviously enjoyed the seal of approval from PMO for quite some time now. Shocked? Welcome to the club. (And please don't mistake that as any sympathy or support for Mr. Toews' brand of smear. I just think he shouldn't be the only one held responsible.)
I've been doing a lot of reading/research into political marketing these past few weeks while I'm doing this book. And while I hate to be the one to dim any optimism about teachable moments in politics, I'd like to draw your attention to some remarks made in November, 2010, in the Commons, a good six months before the election last year that gave the Conservatives their majority and saw this particular Bloc MP lose his seat. Newly scandalized observers of Canadian politics might want to take note of Mr. St. Cyr's particular objections to how dissent was being handled. (Emphasis is mine.)
.....we think the government is taking us in exactly the wrong direction for political marketing reasons.
Earlier today, the question of bill titles arose. The Conservative minister made fun of the fact that the opposition members were complaining about the ridiculous titles of the bills that the government introduces and he said it was frankly not a very important issue. If it is not important, then, why does the government insist on giving its bills stupid titles?
This happens not just in the justice area but everywhere. They talk about cracking down on crooked consultants or protecting Canadians against something or other when the bill does not even do that. They talk about ending early release for dangerous criminals when this does not exist. These titles are complete lies. So why does the government do it if it thinks it is unimportant?
The fact is the government does it for political marketing reasons. It does not really believe in the content of its bills itself. It simply inflicts these ridiculous titles on us. Today we have the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act. That is a completely gratuitous statement devoid of any basis in reality. First, talk about protecting Canadians has no place in the bill. It is just an opinion. Some people, including the Conservatives, say they believe it will protect Canadians. The experts, though, tend to think it will not have any preventive or dissuasive effect. So the title is untrue. There are no sentence discounts for multiple murders. As the law now stands, the minimum sentence for first degree murder, for example, is life in prison. There is no discount. What the bill addresses is the cumulative nature of the parole system. The title has nothing to do with the actual bill.
Once again, some members will say that the title itself is not really important. The title does not make the bill, but what that means—and this is what I want to say to the people who are watching today—is that the government is lying right to their faces. Obviously, the people at home are not going to get a copy of the bill and look at the changes it makes to the Criminal Code. They have obligations and work to do. They are very busy with families, children, jobs and homes. I understand that we cannot all study this country's laws. So what will the average person rely on to try to form an opinion? The average person will rely on what he is told the bill does. If he is told the bill protects people against murderers, he will say it is a good bill. Who is opposed to protecting people against murderers? The answer is obvious. But the public is being deceived and fooled by the government. I think that is insulting to the public.
I have the opportunity to talk with people in my riding, as we all do, and sometimes some of them tell me they do not agree with our positions. They have seen the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice on the news, saying that the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of pedophiles. He is very good at that. Someone who hears that calls my office and asks whether the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of pedophiles. Come on. As though any member of this House gets up in the morning and thinks about what he or she could do to help pedophiles. It is completely crazy to even suggest that to the public.
The bill the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice was referring to at the time had to do with the trafficking of minors. The word “trafficking” appeared nowhere in the bill, apart from the title. So the bill's title referred to the trafficking of minors, but the substance of the bill had nothing to do with that. We can see that the government wants to deceive and fool the public.
I tell people to beware of politicians who take them for idiots and think they are incapable of reasoning for themselves.
Again, Mr. St. Cyr lost his seat in the last election. I'm sure, watching this from afar, that he's not all that shocked by what he heard last week in the Commons.