New Brunswick

Green MLA uses Nazi reference to call out People's Alliance rhetoric on language rights

The leader of the People's Alliance says he was shocked to hear a Green Party MLA compare his rhetoric to Nazi propaganda during a speech in the legislature last Friday.

Kevin Arseneau says Austin's rhetoric is a disguised bid to undermine francophone rights

Green MLA Kevin Arseneau has been critical of People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin's use of the phrase "common sense," suggesting it disguises an agenda to undermine francophone rights. (CBC)

The leader of the People's Alliance says he was shocked to hear a Green Party MLA compare his rhetoric to Nazi propaganda during a speech in the legislature last Friday.

Kent North's Kevin Arseneau drew a parallel between Kris Austin's frequent use of the phrase "common sense" and a famous quotation by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda.

He suggested Austin has been invoking "common sense" to disguise an agenda to undermine francophone rights.

The Goebbels quotation says that with "sufficient repetition," people can be convinced "that a square is in fact a circle." It continues: "They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise."

Arseneau added: "What exactly does 'common sense' mean? The people of New Brunswick, be you francophone, anglophone, First Nations or newcomer, deserve a straight and honest answer."

"I'll tell you, I was shocked," Austin said Monday. "It's certainly some radical viewpoints coming from his way of thinking, no doubt about that."

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he's discussing with his caucus whether to ask the Speaker of the legislature to order Arseneau to apologize for the comment. (James West/Canadian Press)

Austin said he's discussing with his caucus whether to ask the Speaker of the legislature to order Arseneau to apologize.

"It was so far out there and so out in left field, I don't even know how to respond to it," Austin said.

'I wouldn't say it's a comparison'

Arseneau said he wasn't suggesting a parallel between Nazis and the Alliance.

"I wouldn't say it's a comparison," he said. "I would say it's an invitation to the parties to explain themselves, to provide clarity on the words 'common sense.'"

He said "some political discourse" in the province "is trying to make big, complex problems look like really easy stuff to fix by attacking minorities. It wasn't a comparison to what happened at all, but it was a strong quote."

Arseneau made the comments during the debate on the Progressive Conservative government's throne speech, which will be put to a vote this Friday.

Threats made against Arseneau

He posted on social media Monday that two threats had been made against him, and he told CBC News they may have been connected to the speech.

"I can't say that that was what the people were referring to but definitely everything happened after that," he said. One threat was on social media and the other was shouted by someone in a passing car.

He said he received many comments on social media about the speech. Some disagreed with him but were civil, "some were less civil but non-threatening," but two were definitely threats of assault, he said.

He posted Monday that any threats "will be treated seriously" and said the RCMP are investigating.

'Dangerous and totally unacceptable'

In his speech Friday, the first-term Green MLA referred to last week's ambulance announcement by the new Higgs government, where Austin was given a speaking spot at the lectern.

"While we must respect the right of both francophone and anglophone citizens to receive service in their language of choice," Austin said at the event, "we must not allow unnecessary language requirements to supersede common sense and the health and safety of all New Brunswickers."

Kris Austin, leader of the People's Alliance, spoke during a government announcement on Ambulance New Brunswick on Nov. 19. (Jacques Poitras)

Arseneau said it was "dangerous and totally unacceptable" that the leader of what he called "a populist right-wing party" was able to talk about overriding some rights at a government press conference.

Austin said Arseneau, a former student leader at the University of Moncton and a former president of the Acadian Society of New Brunswick, has been "a radical most of his life."

"They keep pointing the finger to us on the language tension, but you hear comments like this, official comments on the floor of the house. At the end of the day, who's inflaming the tensions here?"

But Arseneau said Austin's suggestion that bilingualism shouldn't be a job requirement for paramedics is what's inflammatory. "It's very radical to say we should not follow the Constitution," he said.

Throne speech calls for tolerance

The Alliance and the Greens each won three seats in September's election, giving both parties pivotal roles in passing legislation in the legislature. But they're diametrically opposed on many issues.

Arseneau (middle) said he would like Austin to define what he means by "common sense" when speaking about language issues. (James West/Canadian Press)

Last week's Progressive Conservative throne speech called on all MLAs to compromise and "accept the discomfort of diverse opinions" in order to make the legislature work without any party holding a majority of seats.

Austin said Arseneau's speech will make that more difficult.

"Comments like that will only further isolate Mr. Arseneau from a lot of the decision-making within the workings of government. I don't know what his strategy was. I don't know what he was looking to accomplish, if he was just trying to drum up his base."

Arseneau called on Austin to clarify what he means by "common sense."

"I think what his supporters are saying is that we shouldn't be paying for anything for francophones, we shouldn't be paying to help minorities to live their lives," he said.

"If that's the route they want to go down, that should be clarified, instead of hiding behind this general thing called 'common sense.'"

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