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MP Wai Young's lines were flubbed, but nevertheless they sound like a cynical Harper government talking point

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Candidate Wai Young Campaigning in Vancouver South, April 15, 2011.

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It seems likely Vancouver South MP Wai Young fumbled a cynical Harper Government talking point when she claimed last month that Air India Flight 182 and the 329 innocent people aboard would have been saved in 1985 if only Bill C-51 had been in effect.

This possibility seems to have been ignored amid the general hilarity prompted by revelation of a digital recording of Ms. Young's remarks to the Harvest City Church in Vancouver, in which she could clearly be heard arguing that Jesus would have approved of the unconstitutional bill the Conservatives claim is designed to prevent terrorism in Canada.

The recording, made with almost supernatural clarity, was given to the Broadbent Institute's Press Progress online publication, which published it on Tuesday. Press Progress is quickly becoming Canada's go-to site for the republication of such unauthorized recordings.

"Jesus served, he saved, but he acted, as well," Ms. Young can be heard explaining in the recording. You know, just as Prime Minister Stephen Harper acted when he cooked up C-51 as an exercise in wedge politics to activate the Conservative Party of Canada's base and put the opposition between a rock and a hard place, a strategy that in the event worked only with the third-party Liberals rather to the advantage of the Opposition NDP.

Ms. Young's bizarre theologizing sparked a day of Harper Government opponents Tweeting scriptural references twisted to parody the Conservative Party of Canada's (market) fundamentalist dogma using the hashtag #CPCJesus, a development that was greeted rapturously by the media.

This was highly entertaining, but it tended to obscure some of the more serious issues underlying the debate about the so-called Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015, to which Ms. Young was trying to contribute.

Commenters on social media focused on such questions as whether, if he were to return any time soon, Jesus would be deported under Bill C-51 for being a religious troublemaker from the Middle East.

In the recording, Ms. Young tells Harvest City parishioners that "if Bill C-51 had been in place 30 years ago, Air India would never have happened. Those some 400 lives would have been saved."

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, she stated, "knew, or heard, that there was a bomb on board this plane, but because of the strict laws that government departments have they cannot share information between departments. … Because they couldn't share that information with the RCMP, the RCMP could not act to take that bomb off that plane."

Needless to say, if that explanation had any truth to it, it would be a national story and a major scandal for CSIS and any other law enforcement or security agencies involved.

So yesterday, in the wake of the recording's publication, Ms. Young quickly recanted, saying she "misspoke" when she made that particular comment. Presumably, however, she stood by her interpretations of Christian doctrine.

But while Ms. Young presumably fumbled her delivery of the claim something like Bill C-51 could have prevented the Air India disaster 30 years ago, the basic idea seems not very far removed from one of the key talking points that emerged earlier this week in the Senate's interim report on preventing terrorism.

The Conservative senators on the Upper Chamber's Standing Committee on National Security and Defence who produced the interim report relied very heavily on the deadly Air India attack to justify questionable conclusions about jihadi terrorism -- even though the 1985 disaster stemmed from a fight over political separatism between the government of India and a group of radical followers of the Sikh religion.

Arguably, the purpose of the poorly researched, often illogical and seemingly hurriedly written Senate report had more to do with arousing fears of terrorism to strengthen the Harper Government's waning electoral position than to actually guard against the real threat of terrorism at home and abroad.

This seems especially likely since there's an expert consensus developing that recommendations and omissions alike in the report -- for example, its strange lack of emphasis on community outreach to young people vulnerable to extremist recruitment -- would actually make terror attacks in Canada more likely.

Faced with the reality there have not been very many examples of jihadi terrorism in Canada -- and those few may in fact have been the work of mentally ill individuals acting on their own -- the senators turned to a case of genuine terrorism 30 years ago, reasonably confident in the assumption many Conservative supporters wouldn't know or care about the differences between religions not part of their own experience.

Ms. Young's sermonizing sounds like it had its start in the same playbook, and only went awry when she flubbed her lines.

Even then, all would likely have been well for the Harper Conservatives were it not for the small miracle of effective digital recording devices packaged in tiny telephones carried everywhere by almost everyone, which gave rise to the #CPCJesus meme:

"#CPCJesus broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said 'this is my tax break, given for you, so that scandal may be forgiven'," Tweeted one wag. "Judge not, lest you declare all of our legislation unconstitutional," Twittered another among the scores of twisted scriptures mocking the Conservatives' policy eschatology.

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall be redirected to a polling station somewhere in Guelph," said yet another.

Interestingly, Ms. Young also told the congregation that she believes Mr. Harper's party, just like Jesus, tries to "always do the right thing, not the most popular thing." (Emphasis added.)

This may suggest that the End Times are nigh for the Conservatives, as the excuse that "showing courage," doing the right thing and not merely doing what voters want is invariably the last cry of a government that's on the way out because it's stopped listening to its constituents. Who can forget Brian Mulroney making the same excuse just before he was decisively cast out of the garden?

If there is a universal takeaway from this, it's that nowadays digital recording devices are always with us, and all politicians, regardless of their party, need to conduct themselves accordingly.

However, that a Conservative Party of Canada MP would back away from any statement, no matter how ill informed or preposterous, may in itself be a small miracle, perhaps the first that can be ascribed to #CPCJesus.

Thus endeth the lesson.

CORRECTION & CLARIFICATION: I had it wrong when I wrote that Wai Young’s speech to the Harvest City Church was leaked to Press Progress by someone with one of those ubiquitous digital recording devices. In fact, it turns out the church posted an audio recording to the Internet itself. Mea culpa. If I’d followed all of the story’s links I would have seen that. That said, it doesn’t really change my conclusions about the need for politicians to take care in the digital age, or my belief that Ms. Young tailored her remarks for an evangelical audience on the assumption that her words would be heard by no one else, or the fun we’ve all been having with #CPCJesus. Indeed, I might add the conclusion that if you’re going to post recordings of speakers at your events, you should ask the speaker’s permission. So I’m not going to try to hammer the story into a new shape at this late hour to pretend I always get everything right, which of course I don’t. I’ll leave that pretence to the mainstream media. DJC This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: YouTube/CdnElection2011


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