“Both sides become frustrated and less rational, and invariably the argument will include a Nazi or Adolf Hitler comparison. At that point, the discussion is over; the one using the analogy has lost, for the argument has become irrational.”
Let’s get this out of the way – Jim McDonell is a Conservative; I’m a Liberal. If you believe that all’s fair in war and politics, you now have sufficient justification to dismiss this piece as a partisan attack. Based on that assumption, you might also believe that McDonell did nothing wrong in invoking Godwin’s law in the Legislature. You could even go so far as to tell yourself I’m being unfair by bringing this up after the matter was settled; maybe I’m the one that should be reprimanded for being so callous.
My goal here is to prove why this really is a serious, non-partisan issue and make clear why it is so important McDonell offer a real apology for his comments.
Let’s start with the exact words McDonell used and have caused such a firestorm:
As one of my colleagues was saying, it’s 73 years ago today that Canada declared war on another tyrant, and that’s what we’re seeing here. The people of Nazi Germany didn’t know what was going on, and over my time here I find it hard to believe how hard it is to find out what’s going on and how easy it is for the government to hide things.
There can be no misrepresenting this statement. “Canada declared war on a tyrant – that’s what we’re seeing here.” “The people of Nazi Germany didn’t know what was going on” which is what McDonell says he’s experiencing in Ontario. Jim McDonell, the Member of Provincial Parliament for Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry, is making an unequivocal comparison between the democratically elected Premier of Ontario (one who just passed legislation with the support of the Progressive Conservatives, including McDonell himself) to Adolf Hitler, the man responsible for the Holocaust.
It’s a sad but true reality that offensive rhetoric and elementary-school level taunts get passed back and forth all the time in the Legislature; heckling is the political equivalent to “your momma” jokes. Perhaps McDonell thought he was being clever and cheeky and would get high fives all around from his caucus colleagues. See what I did there? McGuinty = Hitler. Ooh, burn! Props for a good dig!
But that wasn’t the case, was it?
One of McDonell’s own caucus colleagues was so mortified by what McDonell said, he felt compelled to apologize on the SDSG MPP’s behalf via Twitter:
my colleague’s offensive and insensitive comment.
McDonell clearly didn’t think his Nazi analogy was such a big deal. Why would Peter Shurman feel the need to tweet an apology over it?
Peter Shurman is the PC MPP for Thornhill. He also happens to be Jewish. I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise to Jim McDonell, but about 6 million Jewish civilians were killed by the Nazis. They were evicted from their homes, separated from their families, sent to Concentration Camps, tortured, shot, gassed and burned in ovens. What might shock McDonell is the fact that this wasn’t some sort of covert military operation by the Nazi government that the German people didn’t know about. German civilians participated in Kristallnacht. They played Juden Raus at home. They even competed, in capitalist fashion, for the business of building the crematoriums.
Whatever our political differences, Shurman and I have something in common which, to my knowledge, McDonell doesn’t – we both have loved ones that suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of the Nazis. To us, making light of the Holocaust is like making drinking and driving jokes to someone whose family was killed by a drunk driver, except about 6 million times less funny. We’re not alone in this; McDonell’s thoughtless quip has elicited a strong response from across theprovincial news spectrum. Not only were his words not amusing, they were actively hurtful. The right thing to do here would be for McDonell to apologize and promise never to make such an ill-conceived and ignorant comment again.
But he did offer an apology, you might say. All’s said and done, it’s water under the bridge. Move on. Let’s look at what that apology entailed:
I certainly withdraw the comment if it offended the other side. There was no intention to it. It was more to highlight this important event in Canadian history, one of the more important events in the 20th century, as I understood it hadn’t been brought up yesterday. I apologize if it was misinterpreted in any way, but that was the intent.
So, if we’re to buy into McDonell’s spin, his initial comment was just his own way of commemorating a World War II related anniversary as his colleague was saying/because it hadn’t been brought up. There was nothing blatantly offensive in his wording, but you know, if a couple people misinterpreted his comparing the Ontario government to the Nazis, he’ll withdraw to be nice.
Sorry, Jim, but that’s not good enough.
You’re original intent was pretty damned clear, if not well thought-out; “Canada declared war on another tyrant and that’s what we’re seeing here.” Nobody has misinterpreted anything; you directly compared Dalton McGuinty to Hitler. You can’t retroactively reframe your words to make the problem you started go away; Hansard has an unforgiving memory.
It’s not just me who is duly unimpressed with this milquetoast non-apology. Here’s B’nai Brith Canada’s response to McDonell’s withdrawal:
Again, you might ask why the big deal? Isn’t this all just a tempest in a teapot?
There are two ways you can interpret the SDSG MPP’s comments as offensive – one, he’s insulting our democracy by comparing our Premier to Hitler. Do you think it would be appropriate to compare, say, Stephen Harper to Osama bin Laden? Both ordered planes onto perceived enemy territory, right? No, that wouldn’t be appropriate – in fact, it would be irresponsible. It is likewise asinine to compare Harper to Hitler; I have taken a few people to task for doing just that. Hitler ordered the murder of millions of civilians and sparked a war that marks a low point in human history. Any analogy that invokes Hitler is like comparing an apple to an atom bomb.
But it’s the second level of offensiveness that is most egregious. In making a flippant comparison between Nazi Germany and Ontario – and doing so in the official record of the Ontario Legislature – McDonell is undermining the memory of the Holocaust. Worse, he’s doing so at a time when we really need to be reflecting on the lessons of World War II.
Despite what Jason Kenney seems to think, ethnic violence is on the rise in Europe. Minority groups like Jews and Sinti Roma are once again being blamed forsociety’s woes and being compared to parasites. In Hungary, Jewish memorials have been desecrated; in Greece, the unabashedly Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party isgaining in popularity. There is genuine concern about where this renewal of the politics of hate in Europe could lead. One of the best defenses we have against a repeat of widespread ethnic killing is the reminder of what happened the last time we didn’t take these kinds of warning signs seriously.
This is precisely why so many hate groups are trying to convince us the Holocaust was a pro-Zionist plot that was either made up or at least severely exaggerated. It’s the same rationale behind the Nazi book burnings – if you can erase knowledge of past atrocities, it becomes a lot easier to repeat them. Today’s purveyors of hate are trying to convince us that Hitler has been misrepresented to history by ethnic partisans with an axe to burn. Not only does this message revictimize those who suffered the Holocaust, but it puts us that much closer to repeating history.
We all know how spin works – you cherry-pick the statements that support your arguments and disregard the rest. If those statements come from elected officials, so much the better. Picture what a Holocaust denier could do with a statement like McDonell’s: “Even elected officials in Canada don’t think Hitler was all that bad, they’re comparing him to a sitting Premier.”
Clearly none of this crossed McDonell’s mind when he compared McGuinty to Hitler. That’s the problem; for all the reasons stated above, it should have. This is why his “I’m sorry if people misrepresented my intent” is just not good enough; he needs to make it clear to the world that, as an elected official representing constituents in Ontario, he understands that it is absolutely wrong to belittle the Holocaust in any shape or form. He owes it to the people who voted for him to take ownership for his statement and apologize for it.
He can still save face over this, if he acts quickly. Were I in his shoes, or those of his staff, I would be setting up a formal apology in the Legislature, followed by a visit to the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre to learn a bit more about just how bad the Holocaust was and why glib analogies are so hurtful. McDonell could then read a Statement in the Legislature sharing what he has learned.
Of course, it’s McDonell himself who must make the choice to take ownership of his statement and remedy his mistake appropriately. Nobody’s going to put a gun to his head and force him. Should he choose not to, it will be his constituents and Party leader, in that order, that he will have to answer to – not a firing squad.
Responsibility; that’s one of the benefits – and duties – of living in a democratic society like Ontario. We’d all do well to remember that.
Craig Carter Edwards
Born and raised in Cornwall, Craig has lived in or travelled to nearly 30 countries and currently resides in North York with his wife and son. A political veteran, Craig brings a wealth of government, private and not-for-profit sectors experience to his current role as strategy consultant for the social entrepreneurship sector.
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