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By Sid Ryan

You can always tell when the right wing in Canada is losing control of the agenda by the sharp increase in name-calling and demonization of their opponents. In the past number of months, the Conservatives and their supporters have resorted to labeling their critics as terrorists at worst and terrorist supporters at the very least.

This tactic has the stench of McCarthyism about it. It smears the government’s opponents and undermines the principles of democracy and free speech. 

Recently, I was in Quebec City attending the federal NDP convention where 1,500 delegates debated two resolutions dealing with the Middle East. The first spoke to Israel’s “drastically disproportionate” bombing of Lebanon in response to the kidnapping of two soldiers.

The second resolution dealt with Israel’s barrier wall, which was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice, as well as issues related to the Palestinian right of return . Both resolutions were framed by a condemnation of violence by all sides and a call for Canada to play a more constructive and balanced role in the Middle East.

Neither of these resolutions breaks new ground in the long-standing debate about the Middle East. Yet, Alan Baker, the Israeli ambassador to Canada, launched into a vicious attack on NDP leader Jack Layton, alleging that the NDP was “aligning itself with terrorists.” Layton rightfully put the ambassador in his place with a polite suggestion that he butt out of Canadian politics.

Personally, I think the ambassador should be given a one-way ticket back to Israel for his mischievous interference in the politics of a sovereign nation.

However, the real issue here is an attempt to shut down debate and discussion on the Middle East by labeling opponents as terrorists or terrorist supporters. Baker is not the only one to do it.

Bnai Brith’s Frank Dimant constantly peppers the airwaves with press releases accusing all and sundry of supporting terrorists. His list of so-called terrorists is beginning to rival the Toronto telephone directory.

Even the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary Jason Kenney got in on the act when he alluded to NDP MP Peggy Nash and Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj as terrorist supporters following their fact-finding mission to Lebanon.

In typical over-the-top rhetoric, the mercurial Kenney trotted out Nazi comparisons and implied that Nash and Wrzesnewskyj were possibly anti-Semitic for daring to suggest   holding talks with Hezbollah.

In a delicious irony, Kenny was hoisted on his own petard the very next day when the Toronto Star ran a photograph of him addressing an Iranian group that’s currently named on Canada’s list of terrorist organizations.

In a similar vein, Alan Clarke, a member of the Conservative Party in Oshawa, alleged I have terrorist links because I was photographed at a charitable fundraising event in Toronto with the former Lord Mayor of Belfast (and Sinn Fein member of Parliament). It was further alleged in a leaflet distributed to thousands of Oshawa residents that I was partially responsible for the murder of 2,500 Irish citizens. 

Incidentally, the Friends of Sinn Fein website has a photograph of the above-mentioned Jason Kenney shaking hands with a visiting member of Sinn Fein.

The charges from the Israeli Ambassador, Bnai Brith, Conservative Party members et al are contributing to a serious decline in the political discourse of our country.  It is a disservice to Canadians to have healthy dialogue and discussion shut down by the banal rantings of a handful of ideologues.

A public opinion poll released this week by the Strategic Counsel found 49 per cent of Canadians disagreed with sending our troops to Afghanistan while 42 per cent supported the decision. In a parliamentary democracy like Canada’s, the loyal opposition has a responsibility and moral obligation to provide an alternative point of view.

It should be beneath the dignity of parliamentarians and members of any country’s diplomatic corps to sink into the cesspool of cheap shots and sleazy McCarthy-like politics in order to stifle vigorous debate. It’s interesting to note that Stephen Harper has a tight leash on all public commentary made by Conservative MPs except, that is, when they are labeling opponents as terrorists.