Would it be extreme to claim that our current NB Conservative government and its leader, Blaine Higgs, are complicit in fostering and encouraging the emergence of fascist extremists in the province?
I do not think so.
Last week was Homecoming at Mt. A and the consistently excellent Sackville Fall Fair, wrapped into one day. To most, this is a day for celebration and relaxation. It is a time to bring out the family and see familiar faces. It is an opportunity to feel connected to your community and share the love by finding joy in the fun fall events.
Unfortunately for others, they decided this day was an opportunity to grapple with a captive town audience and spread hate and division. Early in the afternoon, 15 to 20 fascists, far-right conspiracy theorists, and right-wing libertarians were identifiable from their brash flags that are an eye-sore if you stare for too long. There was the classic “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, which has been ever so graciously adopted by right-wing libertarians. I saw flags with slogans such as “Hold the Line” and “Liberty and Oath,” which obviously flirted with the idea of ultranationalism. Then, there was a flag with the slogan “We are One” under a tree graphic, which most likely alludes to the fascist symbol of a bundle of sticks. They looked like the kind of crowd who watched a slightly historically revised movie on the History Channel about Mussolini and thought he was a genius.
They slithered their way into Bill Johnstone Memorial Park, located in the heart of the town for all to see, and reared their ugly heads. To them, invading the town on its special day was an opportunity to publicly protest problems they made up, like the supposed “indoctrination” of children in schools (fears stoked by the Conservative government’s choice to revise Policy- 713) and a myriad of other irrelevant, fear stoking complaints that are the usual talking points within far-right circles.
When I was there, they were primarily quiet and mumbling incoherent nonsense. One demonstrator proposed to another that they should “take the gazebo,” he got a shrug in response. It seemed like what they expected to be a glorious crusade against minorities, and the government turned out to be a dud. The town was lucky that this particular court of fools acted calmer than what their ideologies professed. The reason for this pacification, I give credit to the dozens more counter-protestors who, before the dreaded arrival of blood and soil harlequins, beautified the park with rainbows and pride flags that made you feel like you walked into a dreamy colour palette.
So what does this have to do with the Higgs regime? That protest was part of a more significant nationwide demonstration against LGBTQ+ rights, mainly under the same banner called the “1 Million March 4 Children”. This movement has gained traction primarily through the abhorrent policy actions of Republicans in the United States. Canadian politicians like Blaine Higgs have been capitalizing on this negative energy to galvanize his base of right-wing Christian fundamentalists who are hell-bent on making this country an oppressive theocracy straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale. He has done this by making up fake complaints regarding a niche policy intended to protect a particularly vulnerable sect of children in schools and then acting on these so-called complaints by changing the procedure so that these children lose legislated protections for their privacy. He is fighting under the “parental rights” banner, which is arguably just coded homophobia that endangers children.
During the nationwide expression of hatred, many homophobes and reactionaries huddled at the NB legislature. Predictably, Higgs joined their side and shook hands with many of the “concerned citizens.” From introducing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation to publicly siding with homophobes, Higgs says this rhetoric is OK. It is OK to invade the rights of vulnerable children. It is OK to be openly homophobic and hateful. It is OK to reveal your dangerous and oppressive fascist ideologies and openly display them in person to the general public.
Do not bore me with the liberal moralist position that this is simply “freedom of expression! We are not a democracy without it!” The fact that these hateful ideas are normalized and expressed at will in the public sphere is dangerous for the safety and well-being of many in our society. This is not about “parental rights” but seizing power over younger people and enforcing a highly oppressive heteronormative hierarchy that Conservatives thrive on. Conservatives believe in a natural order and that someone should always be at the bottom. For Higgs’, those at the bottom are queer kids, and scarily for many, this is cause for open celebration.