National Security & Defense

Muslim Face-Veil Controversy Boosts Canada’s Conservatives

Vancouver, British Columbia — Canada holds national elections on October 19, and the race there has taken a surprising turn. The ruling Conservative party is making political hay over a court decision that killed its ban on women wearing the niqab — or face veil — while taking the oath of citizenship. The opposition left-wing Liberal and New Democratic parties have been pounded relentlessly for not opposing use of the niqab. Conservatives have moved from third place into first place in the polls and are currently the only party with a shot at winning a majority of seats in Parliament. A full 83 percent of voters back the Conservatives’ position on the Muslim face veil.

In the last debate among party leaders on Friday night, New Democratic party leader Tom Mulcair was clearly frustrated at the arrival of a cultural “wedge” issue in the middle of the campaign. He admitted that the face veil makes him “uncomfortable” but said that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s use of the issue was “a weapon of massive distraction.” In plain language, he’s upset that his party has lost ten points in one week in Quebec (the French-speaking province where a fifth of voters live), much of the loss due to the niqab issue. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, son of a former prime minister, also tried to change the subject by attacking Harper on abortion.

Harper stood his ground, saying: “We recognize that from time to time, we must not hide our identity. We do that for reasonable reasons, and it’s necessary to have legislation, it’s supported by the population, we want to encourage equality between men and women in Canada.” He also touted his government’s decision to cancel the citizenship of convicted terrorists, even those born in Canada, and to set up a police hotline to report forced marriages and other “barbaric cultural practices.”

The emergence of this issue, one that has both social and security components, during campaign season is driving Canada’s Left nuts. Michael Harris, the author of a bestseller about Harper’s time in office, claims that “there is something very Stalinesque about Harper” and that Harper “hates democracy.”

Tony Burman, a former editor-in-chief at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, wrote in the Toronto Star this month that Harper is a bigger threat than the Islamic State because his exaggerations of the terrorist threats “distract voters” from the more pressing issue of climate change. Barry Cooper of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says the Left is blinded by Harper Derangement Syndrome, defined as “an ideological hatred of Harper that is so acute, its sufferers’ ability to reason logically is impaired.”

What frustrates the Left is that many Canadians had developed “voter fatigue” with Harper — his nine years in power have been marked with scandals, and falling commodity prices have slowed the national economy. Harper, a stoic type, can’t compete in the charisma department with 43-year-old Justin Trudeau, or in the demagoguery department with Thomas Mulcair. But he has been effective in implementing conservative policies, to the chagrin of the Left. “Canada has quietly and politely become, well, more American than America,” columnist Stephen Green wrote last year.

As I reported from Canada last year:

Canada now has a higher per capita household income than the U.S., an unheard-of development that no one saw coming. It ranks eighth in the annual Economic Freedom of the World index (freetheworld.com) that the Fraser Institute compiles for over 150 countries, with especially strong marks in property rights and business freedom. By comparison, the U.S. ranks a pathetic 17th and is now categorized as only “mostly free.” . . . The consulting firm of KPMG looked at the tax costs of doing business in ten major nations. Setting the U.S. tax rate at a benchmark score of 100, it found that Canada’s costs were the lowest, 46.4 percentage points lower than the U.S. The United Kingdom, Mexico, and the Netherlands also beat out the U.S.

It looks as if Harper is now about to pull off another economic game-changer. “Stephen Harper strongly hinted that a deal is imminent in the blockbuster 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership that he says will be a huge boon to the Canadian economy,” the Canadian Press wire service reported Saturday. An agreement would open a market of almost 800 million people in the Asia-Pacific region to Canadian exports. The response from the New Democratic party’s Mulcair was an economically troglodyte promise to rip up any agreement that didn’t protect Canada’s dairy farmers and other special interests from foreign competition.

#share#For now, Harper’s opponents find themselves flummoxed. The latest economic figures show some modest growth, and on security questions, both Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair are on the wrong side of public opinion. The result is that the polls are breaking in Harper’s favor as voters learn more about the inexperience of Trudeau and the radicalism of Mulcair’s New Democrats. Like Barack Obama in the U.S., Stephen Harper has been blessed by the defects of his opponents, and he might just clean up at the political poker table for the fourth time in a row this month. 

— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for National Review Online.

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