Erin O’Toole must crack down on the latest extremist in his camp – iPolitics.ca
One has to admire Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. Whenever he has the opportunity, he tells us he’s intent on making his party modern and progressive, and that he simply will not tolerate any form of extremism or fanaticism in its ranks. Problem is, the Conservative base in Canada contains a number of extremists and fanatics, and some have achieved fairly high office.
Controversial MP Derek Sloan was recently removed from the party caucus, after what O’Toole said was a “pattern of destructive behaviour.” But a colleague who’s been around a lot longer than Sloan is the latest to test her leader’s resolve. Cheryl Gallant has been the MP for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke for more than two decades, has a safe majority, and enjoys a great deal of support in the Tory heartlands. She’s also known for making the most bizarre and offensive comments.
Now, however, she’s gone beyond even what her loudest critics thought possible. In a deeply odd interview conducted online with the Queen’s University Conservative Association, she indulged in all sorts of conspiracy theories. She spoke of the “radical” ideologies of her opponents, and the “cultural Marxists who’ve taken over every university administration that I’m aware of.”
She continued: “The elites call it the ‘Great Reset,’ or ‘Build Back Better,’ or the ‘Green New Deal.’ The names change, but the goal remains the same: more power for the powerful and less freedom for everyone else.” She also claimed that the vast majority of the Liberal caucus wants “all illicit drugs to be legal.”
Then, in the most shocking accusation of all, she claimed of Liberals: “They want ‘anything goes’ in every aspect of life. They want to normalize sexual activity with children.” In other words, they believe in legalizing pedophilia.
All of this is directly out of the QAnon playbook, which we’ve seen lead to violence, riots, and even murder in the U.S. It has no basis in truth, of course, but is believed by the credulous and the unstable on the hard right. As such, it’s surely extreme enough for O’Toole to begin proceedings to have Gallant removed from the caucus. But no. Instead, he accused the Liberals of posting the video as a distraction, and said, “Canadians have other priorities, and so do I.” Well yes, they do. But we can walk and chew gum at the same time, as they say, and that this woman is allowed to remain within a party that claims to represent Canadian values is an insult to traditional conservatism, and to Canadian democracy.
Accusations of child abuse are becoming increasingly common from the hard right. South of the border, Trump supporters and their comrades have accused dozens of politicians, journalists, and public figures of advocating sex with children, and, back in 2016, a man walked into a pizzeria in Washington and opened fire with an assault rifle. It was pure chance that nobody was killed. He did so because he believed the grotesque conspiracy theory that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chair, John Podesta, ran a child-sex ring in the restaurant’s basement.
On a personal level, I’ve been accused on social media of being a child abuser several times by members of the extreme right. This is partly because I’m an ordained cleric, the assumption being that I must be like those appalling Roman Catholic priests who raped children. But it’s mainly because I’m a political progressive. Nor is it only unknown crazies who do this. A former Toronto school trustee posted on Twitter that, “I’m beginning to suspect Michael Coren may be a pedophile. … I believe he has all the classic characteristics of a kiddie diddler. I’ve observed him for some time.”
It’s libellous, of course, but bringing a libel suit is costly, and brings increased attention to the accuser. But imagine for a minute how such a statement affects my wife, my four children, my friends, and me.
I’m hardly important in all this, but politicians have acutely public lives, and conduct those lives according to trust. What Gallant has done in her dark crudity is to plant seeds of anger and hatred in people who may already be unstable and prone to violence. It’s such an incredibly irresponsible thing to do. She may be beyond reason at this point, but that doesn’t mean her party leader has to ignore the damage done. His party may lose her seat. He may be criticized by some of his fiercer supporters. But surely integrity, truth, and the dignity and safety of other MPs matter more. We’ll see.
Michael Coren is a columnist, broadcaster, and the author of 17 books, the latest being Reclaiming Faith: Inclusion, Grace and Tolerance. He is an ordained cleric in the Anglican Church of Canada.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.