Monday, April 26, 2010

Reformers, Snack Packers and the Price of Silence

"... the notion that some Reform members may have strong Anglo-Saxon nativist inclinations is supported by more than merely the background profiles of its leaders, members and supporters. It is supported also by the words of many of its ideological mentors who depict Canada as not only historically an Anglo-Saxon country but also part of a wider Anglo-Saxon culture that is in need of recognizing and re-establishing its heritage." (Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada. Author: Trevor Harrison Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995. ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6, Pg. 170)

From it's inception the Reform Party was seen as an all white, Christian fundamentalist party. (Or what the Toronto Sun referred to as "a ribald collection of dung-kicking rednecks.") Their anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism platform certainly appealed to anyone supporting a white Canada.

And despite the outrageous behaviour of Preston Manning's MPs, neither he nor his lieutenant, Stephen Harper, did much to stop them. At their opening assembly one of the motions presented was to round up all the immigrants and send them back where they came from. I guess that kind of set the tone.

That's not to say that they didn't have the odd enlightened member, including the very popular Jan Brown, who was becoming increasingly upset with having to constantly apologize for the actions of her colleagues. For example, Reform MP Dave Chatters suggested that schools should be allowed to fire gay teachers, MP Art Hangar planned a trip to Singapore to investigate 'caning' as a form of youth punishment, and MP Myron Thompson wanted to throw ten-year-olds in jail.

But things came to a head when MP Rob Ringma suggested that business owners should be allowed to demand that gays and ethnics move to the back of the store, if it meant that they could lose business otherwise. Brown had had enough and spoke out publicly against the rampant racism of what she referred to as the 'God squad' and the fact that Preston Manning refused to put an end to it.

During the next caucus meeting, Ringma got a standing ovation and Brown was given a suspension, but instead simply quit and sat as an independent. The next election she ran for the PCs, but was defeated.

That election took place in 1997, and to replace Jan Brown, the Reform Party plucked a young man from the Fraser Institute, by the name of Jason Kenney. Meanwhile, Stephen Harper had resigned his seat to head up the right-wing National Citizens Coalition, and another Fraser alumni, Rob Anders stepped in to replace him.

However, Manning knew that if he really wanted to gain support in the rest of Canada he was going to have to at least give the appearance of representing all Canadians, so they brought in their first non-white candidate, a young man from Uganda, Rahim Jaffer.

The small talk was telling among the young Reformers milling about prior to Jaffer's arrival. People complained, with a neo-con bravado that matched everyone's cowboy comportment, about how squishy some of their contemporaries were on issues. There was also a heavy-duty spew of racist humour and invective, something you'd never hear from most real-life cowboys. With the tacit approval of the others, two young Reformers held court with depraved jokes about all-white neighbour­hoods, the Ku Klux Klan and the appropriate usages of pit bulls.

That is, of course, until Rahim Jaffer showed up. Then the conver­sation changed, from whites-only humour to election strategy in a split second. Everyone acted cordial and laid back, as though someone's mom had arrived in the middle of a stag party. "I want to be judged for what I do and say, not what I look like," Jaffer said while campaigning in 1997. "I'm a real Reformer, not a token."

"Look at the demographics here," said Manning's legislative assistant, Ezra Levant, at a "Team Rahim" campaign event. "Have you ever seen so many interesting-looking people voting Reform?" (Slumming it at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada's Right-Wing Revolution, Gordon Laird, 1998, Douglas & McIntyre, ISBN: 1-55054 627-9, Pg. 103)
Bingo. They were no longer racist. However, maybe they should have been looking for more than just skin colour, but they had their priorities in order.

From then on, Jason Kenney, Rob Anders and Rahim Jaffer became known as the Snack Packers. (Globe and Mail, September 22, 1997) Something to do with their ages, I think. Ezra Levant rounded out the little group.

The First Sign of Trouble

In March of 2001, Jaffer agreed to a radio interview but then realized that he would be opening one of his coffee shops on the same day, so he convinced his aide to take his place. All was revealed when someone recognized the aide's voice.
Peter Warren, the show's host, says the hoax was eventually revealed, but not before both Johnston and Jaffer tried to cover it up. Warren says his producer asked Jaffer directly if they had talked to him on the air."She reached him at his cafe in Edmonton and said to him, 'Was that you on the interview with Peter Warren on the Corus Radio Network an hour ago?' and his answer was, 'Yes it was. I was happy to do the interview'. "Warren says they finally got an admission from Johnston and Jaffer when they asked them to put their version in writing.
But what didn't make the papers was how the whole thing came about. From Preston Manning.
"The story as told by Rahim in Ottawa, with the help of his friend Ezra [Levant], was that Matthew had acted entirely on his own."

Chuck Strahl, the House leader, first learned of all this from Jason Kenney at a strategy meeting at Stornoway. Chuck told Jason that Rahim's account had better be the whole truth, because the media would be looking for contradictions, and if they found any Rahim would be in even greater trouble. Jason [Kenney] then said "I wouldn't worry about that. $40,000.00 buys lot of silence."
(Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Politics, By: Preston Manning, pg 379-80)
Not Jason Kenney. Say it ain't so. The $ 40,000 was apparently the amount of 'severance' given to Matthew Johnston for keeping quiet. (Deb Grey also mentions this in her book )

Stephen Harper also looking for optics, added a few women to his roster in 2003, including Helena Guergis, a former administrative assistant in the Mike Harris government. Naturally he plunked her where she was visible, giving him the appearance of an enlightened male. (stop laughing, I said 'the appearance')

A Classic Love Story

So Helena and Rahim met in caucus, caused a fracas, but then ran out of luckus. Boy when they fell, they fell hard, didn't they? And Don Martin thought that Helena's only problem was that she was completely clueless.
...a second-term Tory over her head as a Cabinet member in the government's most sensitive portfolio. After double-checking with female parliamentarians and journalists to make sure this wasn't just a pale male pile-on, the verdict is clear: This 39-year-old Ontario MP should be removed before her amateur antics and strange behaviour trigger an international incident.
Of course, it was brilliant moving her to the Status of Women, where Harper can now claim that there is a reason why women have no status in his Canada. Two words: Helena Guergis.

And who'd have thought it would take a drunk driving, drug arrest to topple the Kingdom of Tokens? I mean Jaffer campaigned by suggesting that the NDP were soft on drugs. And Helena campaigned on ... I don't know .. I don't listen to her. I swear she'll suck the brain cells right out of you.

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