COLUMN: Motherhood issues no sign of virtue

The methods of the demagogue are easy to flag; the distortions as easy to see as the unadjusted widescreens in a restaurant or bar.

The methods of the demagogue are easy to flag; the distortions as easy to see as the unadjusted widescreens in restaurant or bar that squish newsreaders, celebrities and sports heroes alike into a series of uniformly short, very broad people.

Just as with these ubiquitous screens, though we see the distortion, few of us seem willing to say or do anything about it.

The demagogue, too, has a handy strategy for squishing people – and silencing debate at the same time. All you have to do is wrap yourself and your policies in a mantle of Motherhood issues, then denounce anyone who disagrees with you as being against Motherhood.

It’s a technique we associate with repressive regimes, yet it’s what we’re hearing lately from Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority on Parliament Hill.

When MP Russ Hiebert’s private member’s bill (C-377) – aimed at increasing public disclosure of labour unions’ financial affairs – was being debated in the House of Commons earlier this month, fellow Conservative, Saint Boniface MP Shelly Glover, parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, offered a blunt defense.

After underlining claims the bill was about improving transparency, fairness and accessibility she went for the jugular against NDP and Liberal critics of the bill.

“Anyone on that side of the House who is against transparency and fairness should explain what the heck they’re doing in the House of Commons,” she said.

Less than two weeks later, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews took a similar tack when defending Bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act – which, as proposed, would have allowed police broad-sweeping powers to access personal information on subscribers, without warrant, from Internet service providers.

After Opposition MPs were quick to attack the legislation as going too far, Toews said they were either aligned with the Conservatives on the bill, or, in his scathing words, “with the child pornographers.”

We should all be concerned that, in insulting our intelligence with such “if you’re not with us, you’re agin’ us” rhetoric, Canada’s Parliament is part of a disturbing return to demagoguery – and the demonizing of dissent – in North American politics.

The laws proposed are couched in the most altruistic terms – who would argue with transparency, fairness and protecting children, after all? But both have disturbing implications beyond their avowed intent, which critics claim could be used to attack basic rights of privacy, association and freedom of speech.

With all due respect to Hiebert, it would be naive to assume that a bill which could divert the resources of labour unions and spell out their political strategies to potential opponents –  including the federal government – is motivated solely by an apolitical desire for transparency.

It’s significant that only two days after Toews’ comments – after a public outcry – the Conservatives were forced to back down on the wording of C-30. Even some Tory MPs were saying the bill, as written, is too intrusive into the privacy of ordinary Canadians who have come to rely on the Internet for banking, business, personal communication and entertainment – people who would never dream of preying on children.

We should not forget that espousing Motherhood issues is no guarantee of virtue. Appeals to national pride, the need to provide economic stability and fight against crime, a return to family values, protecting children from predators, respect for seniors, the encouragement of marriage, even motherhood itself, were also the stock in trade of some propagandists of the 1930s.

Reasoned debate is not shouting down opponents, or using the transparent ploys of demagogues.

We certainly deserve better from our elected representatives – and, as taxpayers, we’re shelling out for better, too.

Alex Browne is a Peace Arch News reporter.