Racists, rednecks and the reform of Canada

With a poll imminent, reactionaries are out in force, writes Tim Cornwell

Vancouver - On his small square patch of Canada, surrounded by a nine-foot fence of English laurel, Reform Man is railing against the Frenchmen who run the bloody government, and dropping remarks about Chinese drivers.

"I admire a lot of those other cultures, but in their own country," said Sid Blanchett, a diesel engine mechanic. Mr Blanchett lives in north Vancouver, a hotly contested riding in the 2 June election. There are two signs outside his fence: one for the Reform Party, and another that says "No More Prime Ministers from Quebec". He's proud to be a racist and a redneck, he said, if that means defending his own culture, religion, and traditions.

Covering Reform can be like waking up in a Monty Python sketch, as one Vancouver journalist said this week. Old-fashioned caricatures pop up and say the most extraordinary things. Members belt out Oh Canada at party meetings, and while they drop clangers about blacks, gays, or Sikhs, the race they really detest is the French.

In 1993, Reform went from one seat in the Canadian parliament to 52, riding the back of the conservative collapse. Four years later, though the Liberals seem assured of re-election, it is Reform that dominates the political conversation, along with its leader, Preston Manning.

Anger against the conservatives put Reform in place: Mr Manning is now fanning the flames against Quebec to bring his voters back to the polls, accusing his opponents of pandering to French Canada.

The other party leaders - all Quebec politicians, as he has pointed out - turned on him for running the most divisive campaign in Canadian history, even fomenting civil war.

"They are constitutional arsonists," said Warren Kinsella, a former journalist and aide to the Liberal Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, challenging the Reform encumbent in North Vancouver. A Bible-toting prairie Christian, Mr Manning's political base is in Alberta, where his father was premier for 25 years and a radio preacher for nearly 50. At 54, Mr Manning recently had his teeth straightened, and dropped his clunky glasses after laser surgery on his eyes. But voters still seem uncomfortable with him personally - "a bit too odd for me" said one man, in the streets of "North Van".

His support is almost exclusively in the west, in Alberta and neighbouring British Columbia, where he won 24 of 32 BC seats. He would actually like Quebec to leave Canada, it is whispered, because without it Reform would have a shot at forming a government. His showing this time could determine whether Reform can overtake the stumbling Bloc Quebecois as the country's official opposition, or whether it will eventually fade like other upstart populist movements from the region. Reform is trying to push east into Ontario; at the same time it looks to lose several seats on home turf in British Columbia.

The party's platform is conservative, but with a populist edge that has made corporate donors slow to hop on board. It is for downsizing the federal government in favour of the provinces; longer jail sentences; limiting Indian and Eskimo land rights; keeping out all but skilled (read European) immigrants; referendums on abortion and the death penalty. It embraces tax cuts and rejects gun control and multi-culturalism, having led a parliamentary charge on the Mounties for allowing Sikh recruits to wear turbans.

Mr Manning once described homosexuality, condemned by his church, as "destructive to the individual and in the long run to the society", a remark he now says was misquoted.

Reform candidates stress their modernity with volunteers on rollerblades and handing out short home videos on the door step rather than canvassing directly. The Canadian press, however, has delighted in reporting a string of politically incorrect remarks by top party figures. Black or gay employees could fairly be sent to the back of a shop by the owner if a customer is "uncomfortable", one MP famously remarked last year. Another quoted Adolf Hitler in Parliament.

Reform's sudden victory undoubtedly attracted a lot of unsavoury types, and put a few in Parliament. But Western Canadians, even leftists who loathe him personally, are irritated at being cast as political neanderthals by the eastern-dominated media. Vancouver intellectuals say Mr Manning has touched the west's genuine grievances over years of being short-changed by Ottawa, as the east has claimed the lion's share of the government pie, from ship-building and military contracts, to cabinet posts and even arts funding.

Vancouver is demanding more attention as Canada's fastest-growing, hippest city, and a magnet for Pacific trade and culture. "We are under-represented in every way, and the Reform Party has caught on to that," said Peter Newman, Canada's best known political writer, a former editor of Macleans magazine.

The establishment "hate and fear" Preston Manning, said Alan Twigg, editor of BC Book World, a quarterly books magazine.

"Reform don't represent me, but they do represent a lot of people. All he's really doing is expressing the alienation of people in the western half of Canada. They don't get a fair shake."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

**Primary Teachers Needed Urgently in Southport**

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London