By: Julia Aguiar
Canada breathed a palpable sigh of relief when it was declared that the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader, Maxime Bernier, lost his riding of Beauce, Quebec. The public was quick to call the time of death on the PPC. Far too quick. If Canada writes off the PPC as a frivolous political experiment, then it fails to critically deconstruct the type of racism that the PPC made public. If we are to take the PPC’s resounding failure as a repudiation of the racism of right wing populism as has been suggested, then we fail to recognize the racism that the PPC propagated and indeed exacerbated, as a Canadian problem. A type of racism that is so acutely Canadian, so embedded in our institutions, yet constantly sidestepped.
For far too long, Canada has failed to acknowledge not only the place of racism in this country but its deeply structural nature. To be clear, this type of structural racism has existed in Canada for as long as Canada has been pursuing its fraught colonial project. For many Canadians, it is a lived experience.
As is typical with populist parties, the PPC was founded by breaking away from the established Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). There was a certain disillusionment with the way the CPC was perceived to be betraying its ring wing ideals. A similar genesis story can be seen in the formation of populist party Vox in Spain which had its roots in Spain’s more mainstream People’s Party. It is tempting to consider the PPC in a vacuum for the way that the party is more radical than that of the other four federal parties that made the national debate stage. However, this would be to discount the long established presence of populism in the country. Populism can be co-opted by parties that fall on both the left and right ends of the political spectrum. Canada has seen the populism of the Social Credit Party, the Reform Party of Canada, and the Canadian Alliance. All this to say, populism in Canada is not a new phenomena.
The PPC has been rightly condemned for its overt racism. But then again, the PPC was hardly the only political party that revealed itself to be racist during the federal election campaign. In many ways, throughout the election campaign structural racism in Canada was made explicit yet simultaneously pushed aside. The conversations around racism throughout the election were abysmal and deeply unsettling. Mr. Scheer frequently, and often nonsensically, deployed the language of racism to undermine the platform of Mr. Trudeau. Mr. Singh unfairly shouldered the burden of being the only candidate of colour often being the subject of deeply personal questions that his counterparts did not face. Moreover, Mr. Singh frequently had to steer the conversation away from himself and towards his platform. Mr. Trudeau continued to reveal to Canadians that he is not nearly as progressive as we were made to believe as photos of him donned in brownface and blackface emerged. Though, for how many times he did this, Mr. Trudeau is uncertain.
The way that racism has been spoken about in terms of individuals or in the more radical politics of the PPC rather than as a national problem further points to the failing of Canada to critically engage and dismantle structural racism. As much as Canada likes to think of itself as a haven for marginalized peoples, in actuality, it is something quite different. Moreover, the pronouncement of the PPC as irrelevant without deconstructing the hate they propagated against marginalized peoples should be taken as a profound failing on the part of journalists, political theorists, and Canadians writ large.
The violence and genocide of racism was woven into the fabric of Canada from the outset of its settler-colonial project. Structural racism in Canada was cemented with the building of the transcontinental railroad and continues to endure as Canadians put it off as something that happens down south.
As we are conditioned to see the racism of the PPC as an anomaly, and even un-Canadian, we must remember that these are not the issues of a populist party alone.
To dismantle systems of racism, Canada first has to acknowledge and interrogate them. In doing so, Canada will have to leave abstractions of Canadian niceties and goodness at the door.
Canadians said no to the PPC, but they still have yet to say no to structural racism.