Scheer should have removed Cooper as party’s deputy justice critic too

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The decision of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to keep Michael Cooper in his caucus will cost him dearly.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on June 10, 2019.

OTTAWA—In politics, and in life, we are judged by the company we keep.

The decision of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to keep Michael Cooper in his caucus will cost him dearly.

Scheer says the case is closed because Cooper apologized and was removed from the House Justice Committee.

But in an inexplicable display of bad judgment, Scheer kept Cooper on as the deputy justice critic in the House of Commons.

That kind of responsibility is usually conferred on a Member of Parliament when the leader believes he or she has the makings of a minister.

Cooper’s potential ministerial aspirations should serve as a red flag to thousands of visible minority Canadians who wonder about the Conservatives’ real commitment to diversity.

The intention of a shadow cabinet is to showcase those who might eventually hold ministerial positions if the official opposition forms the government.

By keeping Cooper as deputy critic, Scheer sends the wrong signal.

Cooper’s recent public meltdown on the House Justice Committee made it painfully clear that he possesses neither the temperament nor the judgment to be considered ministerial material.

His posted apology read as though it had been written while he was under house arrest. One wonders whether Cooper actually believed his own words.

His attack was not just an off-the-cuff retort to an inflammatory committee witness. The Alberta MP came to the committee loaded for bear.

Cooper knew the question of alt-right internet commentators would likely be the subject of discussion for a parliamentary committee review of online hate crimes.

He calculated and accepted the risk when he deliberately highlighted a manifesto from a hate-motivated maniac who had one wish—to murder Muslims.

Keeping Cooper in caucus can only damage the leader.

Only two weeks ago, in launching his immigration policy, Scheer claimed that he would show the door to any member of his party who put one religion ahead of another.

His tough words left no room for interpretation: “I would like to be absolutely crystal clear. There is absolutely no room in a peaceful and free country like Canada for intolerance, racism, and extremism of any kind … if there’s anyone here who disagrees with that, you’re not welcome here. There’s the door.”

Yet when he had clear evidence of intolerance with Cooper’s parliamentary attack on a Muslim leader from his own home province, Scheer refused to act.

What Faisal Khan Suri, the president of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, said to provoke the outlash was all provable.

When speaking of the Québec City Muslim murder rampage, Suri said “The evidence from Bissonette’s computer showed he repeatedly sought content about anti-immigrant, alt-right and conservative commentators, mass murderers, U.S. President Donald Trump, and about Muslims, immigrants living in Quebec.”

Cooper disagreed; using the New Zealand-banned manifesto to buttress his assessment that murderous incitement comes primarily from communists, not conservatives.

His claim was reminiscent of United States President Donald Trump’s reaction to the racist march of pro-Nazi torchbearers, in Charlottesville, North Carolina. Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.”

In Cooper’s apology, he said he was sorry because he “quoted the words of a white supremacist anti-Muslim mass murderer in an ill-advised attempt to demonstrate that such acts are not linked to conservatism.”

Using the words of a mass murderer to support his viewpoint shows incredibly bad judgment. But the usage also needs to be subjected to a reality check. On the Internet, it is mostly the conservative alt right promoting interracial hate.

There aren’t too many communists speaking out, but there certainly are huge numbers of yellow-vested, Nazi-loving groups fomenting racism.

The fact that Cooper believes the problem is caused by communists makes one wonder how he could ever be considered for any position of authority in the justice field, if Scheer were to win the election.

Likewise, Scheer abandoned his promise to show the door to anyone promoting religious hate, when he claimed it was up to the caucus, not him, to fire Cooper.

Scheer says that as leader, he has no authority over membership in caucus.

But the leader is required by election law to approve the nomination of every single Conservative candidate. Having enlisted Cooper in the first place, he has every right to fire him with the same alacrity.

If Scheer does not believe Cooper committed a firing offence, he should say so.

Otherwise, he needs to revisit his “show the door” promise.

An attack on a Muslim witness has no place in Parliament.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.