During the 20th century era of national socialist and communist dictatorships, the deplatforming of political opponents was a straightforward process. It usually took the form of prolonged torture, a bullet to the back of the head or long incarceration in a concentratio
Today, in the West, deplatforming is a much more sanitary process. State executions or long incarcerations are frowned on, even for convicted felons. In the present era deplatforming has increasingly come to be understood as a therapeutic intervention into the body politic.
Generally speaking, the technique worked effectively for the commanding elites of totalitarian regimes. That’s why there are relatively few writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Vladimir Bukovsky on 21st century bookshelves. This vicious approach toward political adversaries permitted leftist establishments to silence some of the most brilliant and accomplished voices of reason in our times. It still does in countries like China and North Korea.
Although organizations like Antifa still like the old-school methods, we no longer rely solely on thuggish behaviour to discourage dissident voices. We can usually depend on more civilized forces to do that work; such as: school and university administrators, the establishment media, the judiciary, government bureaucrats, academics, entertainers, tech company executives and countless others who are woke to the conventional wisdom of our times.
This is the hostile zeitgeist in which Maxime Bernier, leader of the recently formed People’s Party of Canada, finds himself in the lead-up to our forthcoming October 21st federal election.
Bernier has all the prerequisite experience and qualifications necessary for high office in Canada. He is a bilingual, fifty something, French Canadian businessman, lawyer and politician who has served as Member of Parliament for the riding of Beauce since 2006. Prior to entering politics he held professional positions in the fields of law, finance and banking. In the Harper government he served as Minister of Industry, Minister of Foreign affairs and Minister of State for Small Business, Tourism and Agriculture. Following the Conservative defeat in 2015 he remained in place as opposition critic for Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
In the 2017 Conservative Party leadership contest he led the race for 12 rounds; finally coming in a close second to current party leader, Andrew Scheer. Following disagreements over Scheer’s leadership and Bernier’s perception of a drift back to the “progressive” side of the former Harper/McKay conservative alliance, he resigned from the Conservative Party to form the Peoples Party of Canada. Echoing the late Ronald Reagan, he contended: “I didn’t leave the Conservative party – the Conservative party left me”.
Bernier asserts that his political convictions are based on principles of “freedom, responsibility, fairness and respect” and he is ready to have an open national conversation about how these principles apply to: the role of government, free market economic development, the production of energy, environmental issues, Canadian sovereignty, cultural affairs, immigration policy and other important issues that are often left off the table when establishment politicians collaborate among themselves.
The left says he doesn’t qualify
But not so fast; say spokespeople for Canada’s progressive Laurentian elites. Writing in the Toronto Star, under the headline “Bernier wants to sneak into TV debates” columnist, Heather Mallick insists that Bernier “doesn’t qualify” to have a place on the national stage. She and other like-minded journalists, say the debate participation question is a matter to be decided under Canadian “rule of law”. Conveniently for Heather Mallick, and everyone else who thinks the way she does about Maxime Bernier, there are a set of guidelines developed by Canada’s new “Leaders’ Debates Commission” formed last fall by our “Minister of Democratic Institutions”. Readers are forgiven should they think that all of this is beginning to sound a little Orwellian. We now have ironclad common law traditions that go back months.
The fact is, however, there was never all-party consent for the formation of the Leaders Debate Commission in the first place. In March of 2018, CBC News reported that the Conservative opposition found it to be a “de facto nationalization of the debates, with the state deciding how and when they are held and which leaders are invited to participate”. It was clear then, as it is now, that this would create unfair and unnecessary constitutional challenges for newly formed parties.
The Leaders Debate Commission created three specific criteria for participation in our national leaders’ debates and participants must satisfy two of the three criteria. The first calls for a participant’s party to be currently represented in the House by an MP who was “elected as a member of that party”. According to strict application it can be argued that Bernier doesn’t fully satisfy this criteria; since he was elected in the Beauce as a Conservative and support for the newly formed PPC has yet to tested in an election.
The second criteria calls for the newly formed party to endorse candidates in at least 90 per cent of Canada’s federal ridings. The PPC is well underway to accomplishing this. In fact, as of last week, according to Andre Valiquette, PCC Candidate for NDG-Westmount, his party was ahead of the Liberals and the NDP on this score.
The third criteria is a little more nebulous. The first part of it calls for the contenders party to have received at least 4 per cent of the vote in recent elections. This of course rules out new parties altogether. The second part of this criteria gives the Debates Commissioner, David Johnston, Former Harvard Hall of Fame athlete, law professor, President of McGill University and Governor General of Canada, some leeway to make a decision based on the contending party’s performance in recent political polls – not always the best predictors of electoral success in recent times.
Deplatform or debate?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that these criteria are stacked in favour of the political status-quo. Taken together they present enormous obstacles for a new party to compete in the national public square.
As Donald Trump is fond of saying: “We’ll see what happens”. Are Canadians headed back in the direction of the Chateau Clique or forward in the direction of a more open and inclusive democracy; one that includes differences of opinion as well as differences in identity?
To deplatform or permit debate? Only the Right Honourable David Johnston can answer that question.
William Brooks is a Montreal writer and editor at Discourseonline.ca