Harper’s utterance an attempt to classify
One of the most talked of points since last week’s leaders debate was the uttering of the phrase “old-stock Canadians” by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Prime Minister used the term in connection with the topic of health care for refugees, stating, “We do not offer them a better healthcare plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive, and I think that’s something most new and existing and old stock Canadians agree with.”
Questions and accusations immediately flew around following the 56-year-old Prime Minister’s remark.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, as reported by the National Post on Sept. 18, said the old-stock comment demonstrated Harper uses “the politics of division” and doesn’t believe that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair returned with the point that he did not like to divide people into categories and that, as reported in The Star and other media outlets, adding “we’re all Canadians.”
It was a moment both party leaders used to seize on a well-worn accusation of the current administration, that it seeks to categorize and divide the national populace.
Harper did attempt an explanation the following day as reported by the CBC News on Sept. 18, that he was referring to “Canadians who have been the descendants of immigrants for one or more generations.”
Whether a loose definition of “old-stock” or not, the Prime Minister’s history and political entourage speak to another objective, that of separating and so appealing to The Conservative’s traditional base.
Harper retained the services of Lynton Crosby, an Australian political strategist critics claim to be a propagandist and practitioner of dog-whistle politics, which is the art of targeting messages to a specific segment of the voting public through coded or subtle language.
It would seem a strange coincidence then that the Prime Minister would decide to use such a term on a nationally televised debate without having previously, or in that moment, considered what the use of the phrase could drum up.
The subject of refugees, which the government has been battered on as of recent given the crises in Europe, is an area Harper would more likely than not have brushed up on, specifically for the debate.
There had to have been some forethought on the type of response to present in lieu of a question on refugees in Canada. It would be ill-prepared not to have.
Jennifer Ditchburn of the Canadian Press, wrote, “Crosby has also been linked to tactics that have rallied voters fearful of immigration and crime behind the campaigns he advises.”
It’s not out of the question Harper and his advisors calculated the likelihood of “new Canadians” finding fault with the term and saw the advantage of playing to their traditional base as outweighing any political fallout.
While 2011’s census data showed 20.6 per cent of the population of Canada was foreign-born, which is about 6.77 million citizens, who “new Canadians” will vote for, let alone how much of this base will even head to the polls Oct. 19, is difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint — and political parties know this.
Harper’s reign over government communications has also been well documented, most notably in Lawrence’s Martin’s 2010 book Harperland: The Politics of Control.
And as reported by the CBC in June 2010, one former Harper-era Privy Council Official stated, “We discussed every single issue and micromanaged every news release — everything.”
That’s the method Harper used to secure his first majority in 2011, why, then, would the seasoned leader change the modus operandi that got his party 166 seats in the House? He, in all likelihood, wouldn’t.
Harper’s history of message control in concert with the hiring of Crosby thus makes it difficult to believe that the Prime Minister was speaking off-hand in last Thursday’s debate or that he miscommunicated the response he intended to give.
The use of the term “old-stock Canadians” presents itself as a dog-whistle to the Conservative’s traditional base, albeit via not so subtle execution.
If the intention is to be all-inclusive, it strikes as counter-intuitive to typify Canadians or place them into distinctive categories in a national debate.
Harper’s utterance felt like a delineation, and he actively, by way of his speech structure, placed Canadians into clear-cut groups.
Now whether that should matter is up to voters themselves to decide.