The politics of division reflects poorly on Conservatives

The problem with the politics of divisiveness, which we’ve seen played out during this federal election campaign, is that it centers out segments of the population and is cruel and damaging to our Canadian vertical social mosaic. This topic is no doubt meant to act as a distraction by the party playing the “you’re not really a Canadian if…” card, at least until a real issue comes up.

In fact, the problem is worse than that.

The Conservative government, even in its present “caretaker” role during the election campaign, has stated it will not allow women who normally cover their faces when out in public to do so when they are taking the oath of allegiance as part of the process of transitioning to Canadian citizenship and becoming “new Canadians,” as we say.

This particular election trick has found much favour nationally and has been much commented on in the national media so there is not a great deal this commentary can add to the topic.

Except to say that creating multi-media events out of something this trivial in the scheme of things is unflattering to Mr. Harper and to the Conservative cause in general.

Worse than this, the Conservatives’ targeting of the tiny class of niqabed women who happen to be going through the citizenship process at any given time is such a small subset of the population that it is, on its face, inconsequential to anything at all.

But there it was last week, everywhere.

And even worse than the triviality of the topic is the fact that the prime minister and his party have blown up the issue far beyond its relevance to anything that affects Canadians’ day-to-day lives. As a consequence they have given permission to some Canadians (who may have been looking for some excuse to do so anyway) to distrust, dislike, even hate these women whose customs tell them to cover their faces in public. Some young men in Quebec took advantage of the publicity last week and beat up a pregnant woman whose face was covered. A similar nasty incident happened in Toronto.

Mr. Harper’s campaign has gone on consistently about his being Canada’s best leader in comparison to others seeking the role.

In fact, on this file, Mr. Harper is setting an example for the schoolyard bully who lies in wait for someone different enough from most of the kids in the playground so that he can taunt that person. Such bullies anticipate that the majority of other kids around him will join in the “fun” of terrifying someone different from themselves.

If the niqab issue is important at all it is because it demonstrates what kind of leadership the prime minister is capable of in order to win an election, and he comes up wanting.

It’s interesting to note that 50 and 60 years ago adult North America women routinely did not consider themselves properly dressed to go out in public unless they were wearing a hat and part of their hats was often a veil that covered some or all of their faces.

Can we remember photos and newsreels of the late Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis at her slain husband’s funeral in 1963? She was wearing a black veil and her face was invisible.

Some girls in the Roman Catholic tradition making their First Communion as part of their formal dress for this important public event (a parallel one in every respect to taking an oath of allegiance to Canada and the Crown) still feature a white veil as part of their dress when they are presented to their Bishop. We deem them to be cute.

Do we view the late Ms. Kennedy-Onassis’ choice of face covering for JFK’s funeral or that of some young girls taking a major step in their lives in their church as embodying a “mediaeval tradition” designed to subjugate their gender? This is what Mr. Harper and his former Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney, have been stating over and over regarding the niqab issue.

Of course we don’t, nor should we award any political points to the Conservatives for setting in motion such a major fuss over a notably unimportant issue and thus creating an environment where a tiny number of women could easily be made to feel unwanted in this country in the process.

This is not leadership. It is plain and simple nasty stuff and it does not look good at all on the man who wants the prime minister’s job in a fourth straight government and who claims he is best suited for yet another term.