Backsliding on campus

On Wednesday, between editing articles for this issue of the paper, I took a detour to Riddell Hall to get myself a coffee. On the way there, I was greeted by an unpleasant sight: a student had set up a table passing out merchandise for federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t belong to any political party. I’ve always lived by the old W.C. Fields adage that “I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.” But as far as distasteful federal politicians go, I’d be hardpressed to think of one I’d more eagerly vote against than Poilievre.

A career politician who’s spent his entire adult life working for one right-wing party or another, Poilievre certainly has no idea what it’s like to work a real job. That hasn’t stopped him from shamelessly aping the MAGA- style neo-fascism that’s taken over American politics.

The Tories are no strangers to repackaging stale Republican ideas to sell to Canadians exhausted by ineffectual Liberal leadership. It feels a little more nefarious when they’re repeating anti-queer dogwhistles or using carbon taxes as an excuse to enable Putin’s genocide in Ukraine.

But what troubled me more was how no one seemed to care that someone was hawking merch for a far-right Tory leader on the University of Winnipeg campus. It’s a troubling indication of a changing, backsliding culture at the U of W. Put aside just how square it is to stump for the leader of one of the major parties. (Didn’t we used to be cooler than this?)

When I began my studies at the U of W in 2009, it was a hotbed of progressive activism. I remember my friends who attended the University of Manitoba telling me about how they were regularly accosted by anti-choice protesters at school. “Not only would that not fly at U of W,” I would think, “those anti-abortion clowns wouldn’t be able to leave with their faces un-spat-upon.”

Maybe it’s not just the U of W that’s changing. Maybe society at large is getting comfortable with cronies quietly promoting the far-right elite in public. Personally, I’m nostalgic for honest-to-goodness angry, loud, in-public anti-fascism, even of the facespitting variety.

Published in Volume 78, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 18, 2024)

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