Writer and political commentator Jeet Heer says Andrew Scheer, the leader of the Conservatives and the MP for Regina-Qu'Appelle, needs to go even further in condemning The Rebel, an ultra-conservative online Canadian media outlet.
Scheer has said he will no longer grant any interviews to The Rebel following its coverage of last week's protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville, Va.
Heer, a senior editor of The New Republic who splits his time between Toronto and Regina, spoke to CBC Saskatchewan Thursday about how Scheer's distancing himself from ultra-conservative ranks contrasts with U.S. President Donald Trump — and whether Scheer has gone far enough.
This interview has been edited for length, clarity and context.
How difficult is it for you to keep tabs on what Trump is saying or what he's doing, given that it seems to change by the hour?
JH: I feel like my job is in the circus where you're following the elephant and he keeps dropping little turdlets, or as we call them, tweets, every day. And there's always something to clean up.
What was your analysis of his press this week where he addressed Charlottesville?
JH: It was a very terrifying moment in American history. Here you had a president who was talking about an openly white nationalist rally which had Klansmen, which had Nazis, and he was saying, 'Well there were fine people there. And they were just trying to preserve statues of Robert E. Lee and they had a permit' — equating these white nationalists with the people who were protesting against them.
There's two ways to look at it. One is either he's sort of spiralling out of control. The other, more disturbing possibility is that there's actually like a sort of strategy or plan here. That he's this president who's in crisis, there's talks of impeachment and he's going to try to rally the most hardcore and create a kind of... make the cost of his impeachment as high as possible.
There seems to be a tweet battle every day, with Trump saying something, and high-ranking Conservatives saying something else. What's the tipping point?
JH: I think the tipping point would have to be if the Mueller investigation finds sort of a criminal cause against Trump. I think that might change people.
On the other hand it's really hard to know because the Republican party has a problem, which is that Trump is very unpopular with the country at large but very popular with the Republican base. And that base is shrinking but it's still here. The Republicans can't go against Trump without causing a civil war within their own party.
What should people in Canada take away from what's happening down there? A lot of people say this isn't an issue in Canada, that this may not happen here.
HR: I think racism and sort of fetishistic politics exist in any society. I think one big lesson is the responsibility of Conservative elites. That the failure here is of the Republican party, which allowed Trump to rise to being their leader. They could have stopped that.
In Canada, we're seeing something similar play out, actually with this news of The Rebel, this kind of alt-right channel which a lot of conservatives like Andrew Scheer have been associated with, and are not disassociating themselves because [The Rebel was] praising some of the people in Virginia. So I think it's very important that we have conservative elites that act as gatekeepers and keep this stuff in check.
Did Scheer, who's also an MP in this area, come out strongly enough?
JH: I think he has said that he will no longer appear on The Rebel, which I think is good. I think he actually has to make a stronger statement. The Rebel has done a lot of Islamophobic stuff, a lot of very racist stuff. I think he really owes an accounting to Canadians as to why he appeared on that channel and then forthrightly condemn it.