It was late into the evening of Oct. 21, 2019, election night in Canada, and voters were handing the federal Conservative Party a defeat for the second election in a row. Although I’ve been known as a conservative talk show host for three decades, I didn’t vote for the Conservative Party of Canada in either of those two elections.
While sitting on a Global TV media panel commenting on why Canadians had voted the way they did, our panel’s anchor, Farah Nasser, asked me a personal political question about that time in my life. She wanted to know what my “come to the centre moment” was. She wanted to know when my heart moved closer to the political centre.
The question took me for a ride, a rather unpleasant one. I have never seen my heart as having departed from mainstream conservatism, the kind I imbibed when I first moved from Montreal to Toronto and started voting for the Bill Davis Conservatives. Bill Davis was the premier of Ontario, one of the most decent human beings I had ever met. He happened to be a politician. He happened to be the Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario. His brand of conservatism was a great fit for how I saw my country. He was fiscally responsible and socially moderate. That’s who I am. That’s who I’ve always been.
Hopelessly egalitarian, I’ve always supported the tree of human rights and all its branches— women’s rights, civil rights and LGBTQ rights. I’ve enthusiastically supported the right of women to make their reproductive choices without government interference. I’ve enthusiastically supported equal marriage, the right of LGBTQ to marry. While any and all of these issues fit comfortably with Conservatives who are socially progressive, Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada became a home for many social conservatives who were polar opposites of what I cherished most about Canada.
So as I tried to answer Nasser’s question, I was in physical pain. A lump formed in my throat, tears began to flow. After several seconds of dead air — my biggest nightmare as a broadcaster — I was finally able to form words. I told our host that it happened in the final weeks of the 2015 campaign, when Harper’s campaign was pledging to establish a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline. I told her this felt like an attack on my neighbours, my brothers and sisters. I told her this was asking me to politically travel to the dark side of the moon. And I wasn’t going there.
When did my heart move to the political centre? Truth is, it’s always been there.
I am a child of Holocaust survivors. The person who taught me how to be human was my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth, who learned what it was to be inhuman while being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Her crime was being a Jew. Her grandson will never support the criminalization or stigmatization of any group. By orders of my beloved Grandma Elizabeth, I honour all my fellow Canadians by treating them as equals. And if any of them come under political attack my instructions are to defend them.
She was the one who taught me that silence is the authoritarian’s most valuable weapon. Her set of human values made me treasure the word of the German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller. “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
When did my heart move to the political centre? Truth is, it’s always been there. It’s the Conservative Party of Canada that moved far to the right of the centre — tolerance of people inside the party who are xenophobic, the Conservatives in the house of commons speaking out against even having a discussion about Islamophobia. They left me in the dust. But to me, if I had been given the choice of having the respect of this bastardized version of conservatism or that of my blessed grandmother, the choice is painfully easy.
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