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Political Gamesmanship with Italian Heritage Month

Political Gamesmanship with Italian Heritage Month

TORONTO – Slow and steady [sometimes] wins the race, if one is running a Marathon. Electoral exercises are, more often than not, in Canada, precisely that. It’s a mantra that the Federal Liberals will keep repeating, hoping that along the way they will be able to convince the public that there is really no alternative to their Leadership.

It’s an uphill battle, as the saying goes, but one they must fight. After having squandered goodwill and other political assets through a myriad of missteps culminating in the disastrous SNC Lavalin “scandal” (not over yet), Trudeau’s team is mounting a counter-offensive.

Currently, polls suggest it is still too early to measure successes. If there are any, the measurements are calculated in centimeters, failures in meters. In Ontario, the centimeters are earned every time the four-letter word is evoked – Ford, as in Ontario’s Premier. He has become as toxic to the Conservative brand as the relationship with SNC Lavalin was/is to Prime Minister Trudeau.

Judging by the virtually insignificant space given Ford at the Vaughan Mayor’s Gala on June 13, and the “noteven- close-to-tepid-response” by what should have been an eagerly enthusiastic group of development-oriented audience, it would appear that only polite, necessary, deference is being accorded the PC brand.

Negative business fallout accompanies a “lustier” expression of support.

Polls so far suggest that caution is a wise approach for the Conservatives. In the 905- belt, a short couple of weeks ago, only intimate friends and die-hard partisans would have given Liberal MPs in Vaughan (Deb Schulte and Francesco Sorbara) the proverbial “snowball’s chance in …” of surviving. It’s di.erent today.

Their ridings are home for two of the three heaviest concentrations of Italian Canadians in the country. As they go, so too at least 10 ridings in the GTHA alone. So, there is a newfound interest in the views of the Italian Canadian ethnic community. There are more than 1.5 million Canadians who self-identify as such, in the GTHA specifically and in Ontario more generally.

Not surprisingly, the Conservatives were first o.-the-mark at the beginning of the month. Soaring high in public opinion, they sought to capitalize, by association, on the goodwill they hoped would accrue to them on the occasion of the celebration of Italian Heritage Month and Italy’s Day of the Republic.

Except for the colorful display of para-military guards of honor and the singing of the national anthems by two elementary school girls, the event at Vaughan City Hall square was close to a total flop.

For reasons known only to Premier Ford, the local MPP, Steven Lecce, was somehow left o. the agenda by his caucus colleague who hosted the event. The latter took great pains to paint himself as the author of provincial legislation designating June as Italian Heritage Month.

But the messaging was purposeless and frankly patronizing, leaving the door wide open for more strategic thinkers. Moreover, the attendees were sparse in number – I am being generous – about as numerous as lost souls who had missed their scheduled bus ride to heaven. They did not include representatives from community or cultural associations in the City.

They did, however, include the MP who authored similar legislation nationally – Deb Schulte, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for National Revenue – and her colleague Francesco Sorbara, MP for Vaughan Woodbridge.

The latter two co-hosted their own event Friday. The venue? A Banquet Hall owned by a developer who, the day before, made a 40 million dollar contribution to the local hospital. He is not a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party, as far as I know.

The guest list included, Ministers Lametti (Montreal), Tassi (Hamilton), Hussen (Toronto), MPs Mendicino, Levitt, Sgro, several candidates, Prime Minister Trudeau, the Ambassador of Italy, Claudio Ta.uri, the Consul General of Toronto, Eugenio Sgro’ and about 300 other guests – not all of them partisan Liberals.

Differentiation – what distinguishes “us” from “them” – seems to have been the political purpose of the event. It was strong on intent, a little less so on timing and operationalization.

Prime Minister Trudeau repeated the nostrums of friendship with Italy. He re-announced Canada’s intention to re-open a Trade O¤ce in Milan (shut down when the Harper Government transferred all Consular services to the Embassy in Rome) and that we are “working with Italy” to improve our Youth Mobility program.

Okay … Then, he declared his government’s commitment to apologize for the internment of hundreds of Italian Canadians during World War II – just for being Italian. Mind you, the government of the day passed legislation making the internment legal. Anyway, governments since the time of Brian Mulroney have made the same type of commitment.

Whether he will be able to operationalize the commitment, given that the House of Commons will recess this week until after the election, is another matter.

Having delivered those brief messages, he left.

Too bad no one thought it would be a nice touch to acknowledge that huge contribution made by the owner of the banquet hall, Mario Cortellucci, even though he stood to one side of the Press Corps for the entire evening watching events unfold.

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