Canada’s politics has become a thicket of double standards.
As usual on Nov. 11, Remembrance Day, the prime minister lays a wreath at the National War Memorial in Ottawa in honour of the soldiers who have lost their lives, limbs and life prospects in Canada’s wars.
But there was something off colour about the ceremony this year. That’s because it reeked of hypocrisy. The current government has been waging its own little war against injured veterans to save money so it can boast about balancing the budget in the 2015 federal election.
Returning veterans are being frogmarched into doing their duty once more, this time to reduce the deficit. They are returning from Afghanistan to find not just their bodies and, in many cases their minds, damaged, but their benefits cut, their transition allowances reduced, veterans’ offices closed and finally, being discharged just as their pensions are about to start.
As the final insult, the government is even challenging veterans in court, although many of them already find themselves, broken in mind and body, living on welfare or on the street.
Simultaneously, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pursuing his “tough on crime” agenda and continuously rewriting Canada’s Criminal Code to impose a seemingly inexhaustible – and ever more punitive – list of new and ever longer prison sentences: mandatory minimums for drugs and drug trafficking and prison for natural life for murder to name but two.
Yet he now has to square that with the panoply of drug dealers and murderers with whom his friend, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, has apparently been consorting. The prime minister, the mayor and “Ford Nation,” the segment of Toronto’s population whose loyalty only grows with every new Bozo Eruption, are living examples of the double standard.
Put simply, the double standard states “ I can do it but you can’t because…” followed by a lengthy list of inequalities: because I’m better than you; because I’m older than you; because I’m smarter than you; because I’m richer than you; because I have more power than you; because I’m a man and you’re a woman;…because, because, because.
The double standard holds different people more, less, or not at all accountable for their actions according to different – and unequal – standards. The list of those standards is a roadmap to most of humanity’s ugliest traits, from discrimination against and persecution of those who are different or have the temerity to disagree with the power elite to outright social, gender-based, religious or ethnic discrimination to a desire to “stamp out the rot.”
Overall, it exhibits the desire for social control and hierarchical enforcement.
John Dean, legal counsel to disgraced former U.S. President Richard Nixon and author of the book “Conservatives Without Conscience,” identifies the double standard as one of twelve features of Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA), a concept first identified and developed by University of Manitoba psychologist Bob Altemeyer, for which he won the American Association for the Advancement of Science Prize for Behavioural Science Research.
Altemeyer has studied and written extensively on right-wing authoritarianism and the mind-set and beliefs of right-wing authoritarians.
In his book Enemies of Freedom-Understanding Right Wing Authoritarianism, Altemeyer defines it as “the combination of three attitudinal clusters: authoritarian submission – a high degree of submission to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives; authoritarian aggression – a general aggressiveness, directed against various persons, that is perceived to be sanctioned by established authorities; and conventionalism – a high degree of adherence to the social conventions that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities.”
People with high RWA scores tend to be more accepting of government injustices such as illegal wiretaps, letter openings, searches without warrants and arresting citizens protesting peacefully against government policies. People with high RWA scores also are more accepting of the view that “laws are laws and meant to be obeyed’ than non-authoritarians who are more likely to decide on the basis of “individual principles of conscience.”
When it comes to lawbreakers, it’s not surprising authoritarians want to impose long prison sentences, especially if the criminal is “unsavoury” and, obviously, lacking connections in high places.
High RWAs generally believe crimes are more serious than non-authoritarians. They also believe more strongly in the efficacy of punishment. They tend to see criminals as repulsive and disgusting and admit to feeling satisfaction and pleasure at being able to punish wrongdoers.
Significantly, Altemeyer also found that high RWAs can, however, be very selective if the criminal or wrongdoer in question is an authority figure. Hence, the rock-solid and perhaps even growing support still being granted to Ford even as his troubles with the law and close connections to criminals and criminal behaviour grow.
Writes Altemeyer, “…High RWAs did not want to punish Richard Nixon as much as non-authoritarians did, nor were they more punitive towards some other authorities who had aggressed against unsavoury targets, such as a police officer who beat up a demonstrator.”
This, Altemeyer says, shows the authoritarian’s own submissiveness towards officials and/or aggressive impulses towards “deviants” and “troublemakers.”
He defines three RWA attitudinal and behavioural clusters that correlate together:
“Authoritarian submission” demonstrates a high degree of submissiveness to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate.
“Authoritarian aggression” displays a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgoups and other people who are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.
And finally, “conventionalism” exhibits a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms perceived to be endorsed by society and established authorities, and a belief that others in society should also be required to adhere to these norms.
Canada – and Toronto – are in the grip of governance by high RWA individuals. It’s something both electorates should keep top of mind in the next federal and Toronto civic elections.
Frances Russell was born in Winnipeg and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science. A journalist since 1962, she has covered and commented on politics in Manitoba, Ontario, B.C. and Ottawa, working for The Winnipeg Tribune, United Press International, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Winnipeg Free Press as well as freelanced for The Toronto Star, The Edmonton Journal, CBC Radio and TV and Time Magazine.
She is the author of two award-winning books on Manitoba history: Mistehay Sakahegan – The Great Lake: The Beauty and the Treachery of Lake Winnipeg and The Canadian Crucible – Manitoba’s Role in Canada’s Great Divide. Both won the Manitoba Historical Society Award for popular history.
She is married with one son and two grandsons and lives in Winnipeg.