By Sally Barnes
To consider recent vandalism at my two local schools as childish pranks is like whistling past the graveyard.
When will we acknowledge that some very dark forces are at play in our society, infecting our communities and threatening our values and democratic institutions?
It’s more than coincidence that the targets of both acts of vandalism were dedicated to the principles of recognizing, fostering and celebrating diversity in our society.
Destroyed were a rainbow walkway recognizing the LGBTQ2+ community and a medicine garden dedicated to teaching students about the traditions and history of our Indigenous people.
Whether the vandals were misguided kids or vengeful adults, the message they delivered is the same: hate, anger, intolerance and bigotry.
Perpetrators who seek an even more extreme public display of their hatred choose methods like swastika flags and tattoos, spreading theories about diluting the white race, burning and defacing places of worship and genocidal attacks on various minority groups.
Around the world, we are witnessing increased support for extreme right-wing causes and an escalation of human rights abuses based on race, culture, religion, and sexual orientation.
We would be fools to disregard increasing social unrest and to think we are somehow immune to its causes and disastrous effects. It’s here folks—right here in our own backyard—and, despite the best efforts of many, circumstances at home and abroad are conspiring to increase its acceptance and distribution.
Extremism was on full display during the so-called Freedom Convoy of truckers who descended upon our nation’s capital last winter and held hostage residents of the downtown core for weeks. What began as a peaceful movement by truckers protesting vaccine mandates that restricted their access to the U.S., became a hate-filled episode when its leadership was taken over by extremists who preached violence and breaking laws. Several were arrested and are awaiting trial on serious charges.
In today’s environment, I can’t remember when so many members of the public appear so frustrated and riled up about so much. Sadly, history shows that widespread public discontent leads to anger and anger begets hatred.
Many have lost faith and confidence in our political leaders and our institutions.
The pandemic lingers and threatens additional waves in coming months. In addition to the thousands of deaths left in its wake, public confidence has been replaced by contempt for our leaders and democratic institutions, health care, government services, supply chains and the free market, public safety, and financial security.
Communities like mine struggle with homelessness, lack of affordable housing and municipal councils’ inability or unwillingness to deal with the proliferation of encampments that take over our public spaces.
Provincial politicians do battle over a health care system ravaged by the pandemic and the shortage of healthcare workers and backlogs for treatment and diagnosis. Everyone seems to have a story about lack of access to a family doctor or substandard hospital care.
At the federal level, horror stories abound about government departments dealing with immigration, passports, air travel and veterans affairs and our once-great reputation on the world stage has taken a beating.
A generation of young people seems especially cynical about their chances and it is hard to find an economist who doesn’t believe things will get worse before they get better.
It is a real challenge to remain positive about political leadership as we look south of the border and see the mess in which the U.S. finds itself as right-wing extremists in the Republican Party bring a once proud nation to its knees.
We follow the U.S. lead on so many fronts but do we have to repeat their insanity in how they run the country and choose their political leaders?
Anger, violence and hate flow through the streets of America and who—if anyone—can turn the tide is a giant puzzle.
Sadly, where public life was once seen as a proud and honourable calling—the highest form of public engagement— many politicians are picking up their marbles and going home and prospective recruits are staying out of the game.
It is well documented that in North America those serving in public office —and in some cases their families as well— experience an escalating rate of abuse, intolerance and even threats and acts of violence.
In the leadup to this year’s Ontario election, there was a rash of announcements by incumbent MPPs that they would not seek re-election. Voters reflected the same apathy with only 43% bothering to cast ballots.
This October, Ontario municipal voters will go to the polls and in some communities, it appears there may be fewer candidates than usual. With less choice for voters, this means some incumbents will experience easy re-election and some newcomers will be less than stellar representatives when it comes to making critical decisions like tax rates, housing, infrastructure, public safety and social services.
This new batch of municipal councillors will face tough demands for services at a time when money is tight, and councils will be forced to cut services to avoid tax increases that would only add to financial pressures on their residents.
At the federal level, I believe we are at a crossroads: We either choose to protect our lifestyle and our civility, respect, and care for each other, or give in to the angry and authoritarian demands of the extremists among us.
Do we support candidates who offer vision and hope for the future or hand over power to those who feed off anger and despair, widen the gap among us and further polarize various groups and regions, attack our institutions and play to our darker instincts?
The more than 650,000 Conservative Party of Canada members, whose new leader will be announced on Sept.6, have a particularly big responsibility in choosing the best person to help steer the country in rough water.
There are two exceptionally fine candidates who reflect the moderate views of mainstream Canadians—former Quebec premier Jean Charest and current Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison.
The apparent front runner, however, is Ottawa MP Pierre Poilievre—he’s of the mean and hungry forces who woo and welcome the social conservatives to gain power and impose their values on our country.
Poilievre is too Trumpish for my liking and I’m hopeful Conservatives will see the danger of heading down a hard right path that will make life a whole lot tougher for those already struggling to get along.
The Canada I love has much at stake as the Conservative Party charts its course in the coming weeks.
Will it choose someone who will protect and enhance the values and opportunities Canada has to offer? Or will it snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by handing over power to those who would destroy the civility, security, and potential that has made us great for so long?
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.