White supremacy isn't a problem just for conservatives — it's a problem for everyone
White nationalists are constantly trying to gain relevance by infiltrating political parties
There has been no shortage of attention lately to conservative parties in Canada and their apparent ties to white supremacists and neo-Nazis. While it's undeniable that some conservative politicians have found themselves in hot water over inappropriate statements, a disturbing trend is emerging: one that uses a broad brush to paint conservatives as racists— and racism as a form of conservatism — while ignoring the issue in other parties. This double standard is a political tactic with serious consequences.
A couple of weeks ago, Neil Macdonald wrote a column for this page in which he posited that conservative politics seems to be a "natural home" for white supremacists.
He asked: "Why is it that white supremacists, from the neo-Nazis who threw celebratory salutes the night of [Trump's] election, to former KKK leader David Duke, to the Charlottesville torchbearers, to the New Zealand murderer, or Cesar Sayoc, the Florida bodybuilder who sent explosives to Trump's critics in 2018, gravitate right, rather than left?"
The assumption that certain parties are "natural" places for racists and white supremacists, however, ignores the fact many people within these parties are actively fighting against these ideologies, making their spaces anything but a "natural home." What's more, it gives other parties a virtual pass, allowing racism festering there to go unchecked.
Loosely organized groups
When I was in high school, my brother's childhood friend was recruited by the white supremacist organization active on our campus. This high school was (and still is) an affluent, top-ranked public school in the city of Ottawa, located in one of the most staunchly Liberal ridings in the country. Local lore was that the father of one of the school's students was part of a neo-Nazi group and used his son to recruit other boys who might be sympathetic to their cause.
This is just one anecdote, and it certainly doesn't prove that neo-Nazism in Ottawa is a Liberal problem. My point, rather, is that white nationalism and white supremacy isn't one single thing. It is a network of organized or loosely organized groups who actively promote hate, while attempting to recruit vulnerable people to their cause.
Until about 60 years ago, white supremacy and white nationalism were mainstream in North American politics. Human rights legislation started to change that, along with the removal of racist immigration policies by leaders such as former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.
And so, over time, those who have advocated for a Canada dominated by white supremacy have been pushed to the margins. That means that white nationalists are constantly trying to gain relevance by playing with language and infiltrating political parties.
A recent investigation into the far-right in Canada published by The Globe and Mail shows how far white nationalists and white supremacists are willing to go in order to spread their message; they discussed targetting the Conservative party for recruitment by attending party events, as well as how they might push the limits of acceptable speech further to the right, so that their ideologies become more acceptable to the mainstream.
Because white nationalists specifically want to create a white ethnostate, successful recruiting is more likely to happen in political parties where some members are already apprehensive about immigration (some conservative parties) rather than other political parties (like the NDP) who want to rip up the Safe Third Country Agreement to allow more people to claim asylum here.
Inevitably, some white nationalists and white supremacists slip through the cracks, but that doesn't mean party members or politicians become complicit. Conservatives, myself included, spoke out when the party crossed the line, including with a crass ad about border-crossers, and over Conservative leader Andrew Scheer's appearance at the United We Roll rally in Ottawa.
And within caucus, Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Michael Chong has been one of the most outspoken politicians against white supremacy and white nationalism. He publicly disavowed Rebel Media for promoting anti-Semitism and white supremacy, and after the mosque shootings in New Zealand, Chong specifically named the problem of "white supremacists attacking minorities."
Scheer initially seemed reluctant to come out strongly against white supremacy and white nationalism, but he did finally denounce it as a threat to Canada after Conservative Senator Leo Housakos suggested it wasn't a threat (which the senator later corrected). Although arguably belated, this shows the party is beginning to take these issues more seriously (though it should be more proactive in the future, instead of waiting until it finds itself facing harsh criticism for tepid or non-responses).
Conservatives, however, are not the only ones who've had to contend with racist incidents. During the SNC-Lavalin affair, Liberals were accused of racism by many Indigenous peoples: the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs issued a statement over the party's treatment of former cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced harsh criticism for his dismissive attitude toward a Grassy Narrows protester. This is not the same as white nationalism, clearly, but it does show that racial issues are not unique to one party.
So why is it, then, that conservatives are painted with a broad brush, but other parties are not?
If the goal is really to end white supremacy and white nationalism — rather than score cheap political points — we should be applauding conservatives who speak out against white nationalism and white supremacy, and encouraging others to do the same.
Conservative parties are essentially being targetted by a group of loosely organized individuals who want to use these parties to spread hateful ideas and recruit new members to their racist cause. It would benefit the entire country to extend these parties support, rather than simply dismissing them as white nationalist and white supremacist-sympathizers.
This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.