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ESKENASI: Diversity is our weakness?

The Conservative desire to not play identity politics has resulted in their only identity being "not the Liberals."

Diversity is our strength. At least, that’s what Justin Trudeau keeps telling us. 

As a political slogan it works well. It’s brevity projects the feeling that Canada is a welcoming, and multicultural nation. A country where people from all over the world come to build a better life, where all are valued and where their different points of view benefit society at large. 

That’s saying a lot for only four words. When combined with the Prime Minister’s constant virtue signaling it’s easy to see how this type of trite political messaging has been used so effectively.

Contrast that with Erin O’Toole’s leadership slogan “Take Canada Back.” As a message, it lacks positive or hopeful connotations and begs the following questions: take Canada back to what? Take it back from whom precisely? Neither question is beneficial to the Conservatives.

The first implies a return to some supposed golden age that may have either never existed or was not “golden” for all Canadians. Going “backwards” is almost always viewed negatively and is the direct opposite of the Liberal’s 2015 and working 2020 slogans “Choose Forward” and “Build Back Better.” When compared to Donald Trump’s “Make American Great Again” — which shares the Conservative’s idea of returning back to something — only Trump’s projects easily understood positive messaging: America will be great again. 

The second, when held up against Trudeau —  a Prime Minister who describes himself as a staunch feminist and multiculturalist —  could easily be understood to imply taking it back to a time before feminism, multiculturalism and diversity. 

When looked at alongside the aforementioned “backward focus” it’s not hard to see why it feels out of touch if not intolerant —  perhaps even racist to some. 

So why have the Conservatives missed the mark when it comes to their political messaging? Because in so many arenas they’ve fallen into the trap of simply being the “Anti-Left.”

One of the areas this can most easily be seen is the party’s difficulty reaching out to minority groups. Their fear of being accused of virtue signaling or tokenism has created a blindspot in their thinking. Andrew Scheer’s 2017 leadership team was touted as “diverse.” The only problem was that diversity has a meaning in today’s political landscape, and it doesn’t mean “white men from different areas of Canada, with the occasional woman thrown in for good measure.”

This is not to say that the party should abandon any form of meritocracy or that it should engage in tokenism or virtue signaling simply because the Prime Minister does both of those things regularly. In fact, real diversity — that of experience, opinion and thought — can be a Conservative strength. 

The party is made up of Canadians — men and women — from many different religious, ethnic, racial and other groups who bring with them a wealth of knowledge. Yet there are vast numbers of Canadians who do not believe they have a home in the party simply because it has been unable to articulate to them why they are valued.

The Conservative desire to not play identity politics has resulted in their only identity being “not the Liberals.” Simply opposing Justin Trudeau’s Liberals does not make a party platform and the party must decide which policies it actually stands for so it can start playing offence, rather than just defence. 

These should include fiscal policies which explain what a Conservative government would do differently to help reduce red tape and provide support for businesses which have suffered during the pandemic. A well thought out immigration plan which addresses not only total numbers of immigrants but deals with the issue of open borders — something many new Canadians are unhappy about. 

Outreach to different groups can no longer be seen through the one-dimensional lens of photo-ops, but instead as connecting with voters from all walks of life with unique perspectives about how to move the country forward.

Canada IS a country of diversity, with more than 1 out of every 5 Canadians born elsewhere. How can a party which hopes to lead this country fail to take into account 20% of its voters? With the number of foreign-born Canadians upwards of 50% in the GTA, it’s no wonder the Conservatives struggle to win a seat in these ridings.

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