Last week, the Political Science and Pre-Law Association (PSLA) hosted a local all-candidates debate at UTM. The debate featured candidates from all four major parties in this year’s federal election, with the exception of the Conservative candidate, and the inclusion of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate. To say I was surprised when I found this out would be an understatement. Not only was I surprised that a riding such as Mississauga-Erin Mills had a candidate for the populist People’s Party, but I was more shocked that a party with a history of extreme far-right views and hateful rhetoric was invited in the first place.
After all, not only is this a party which incites hate, it’s also a party that has a regressive policy platform and polls at only 2.2 per cent in Ontario. This not only renders the PPC irrelevant to most constituents in Mississauga, but it also allows the party space to spread its dangerous ideas and harmful policy proposals, which I found very irresponsible of the PSLA to allow.
Now to some, this might seem as if I am advocating for undue censorship and the limitation of free speech. However, I would reply that there is a clear line between free speech, which is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and hate speech, as outlined in the Canadian Criminal Code. The difference is that hate speech is defined under section 319(1) of the Criminal Code as the communication of statements in public places which incites hatred towards any identifiable group. Ever since its founding in 2018, the PPC has engaged in stoking fear and hatred against identifiable groups such as Muslims and Sikhs, immigrants and refugees, as well as other people of colour.
The most recent example being a tweet that two separate PPC candidates shared of a cartoon that depicted NDP leader Jagmeet Singh wearing a turban with a bomb on it. The PPC has also supported Quebec’s attempts to limit religious freedoms through Bill 21, and its goal to eliminate what it calls “extreme multiculturalism” is a product of the hateful rhetoric and ideas the party champions. Not to mention the violence that has broken out at the rallies the PPC has hosted, such as last week’s Mohawk College clash in Hamilton. Thus, having the PPC at the debate demonstrated the PSLA’s lack of regard for the various communities that make up UTM and Mississauga, and the hurt that might result from such rhetoric.
Aside from the rhetoric that the party engages in, the PPC’s policy platform is also quite regressive when it comes to key issues that are affecting UTM students. The most obvious one being the party’s denial that climate change is an urgent national and global threat. The climate strikes which occurred just a few weeks ago demonstrate that students are demanding effective policies to be implemented in order to reduce climate change. Yet the PPC is calling those students “alarmists,” and its leader was bullying 16-year-old Greta Thunberg on Twitter. Other dangerous policy proposals include the Trump-inspired wall to stop refugees at the border, and the implementation of a “societal norms” policy that is similar to the previously proposed “Canadian values” test for hopeful immigrants. These policies are not based on fact, and they stem from the same nationalistic root as Donald Trump’s policies. This reduces the effectiveness of the debate as it creates a space where the issues being debated are based more on fiction than fact and contributes to the distortion of reality that so many people today are misled by.
These ideas and beliefs that the PPC champion are harmful to the social, environmental, and political fabric of Canada. Yet, the PPC has the ability in Canada to go around and spew their ideology—and that’s fine. However, it is no longer fine when they are allowed to participate in a debate because they are then given a direct audience to speak to. Such an opportunity allows the candidate to build a connection with the community, and in turn, has the community build familiarity with the party.
Essentially, it normalizes the party and its populistic, far-right views. Normalization leads to acceptance, and the acceptance of these extreme views which run antithetical to the identities and realities of so many UTM students is unacceptable. That is why it is irresponsible for the PSLA to have included the PPC candidate in the debate. It is also why student organizations across the country and here at UTM need to evaluate the impact that the inclusion of such parties or groups will have on the community and the larger public discourse.