If there’s one thing they teach you before you go into politics, it’s that any publicity is good publicity. It’s never bad to have your name mentioned on TV, on the radio, or in the newspaper. This is even truer for rookies and backbenchers than it is for Prime Ministers, because those less experienced seldom find themselves in the spotlight. Every moment counts. This weekend, Conservative MP John Williamson tested the proverb.
Who the hell is John Williamson? Exactly. That’s the point. If he hadn’t made an effort to make headlines, we would have never known about the no-name New Brunswicker. Realistically, there were several ways he might have grabbed some attention: he could have run across his province for a cause (perhaps in the name of those suffering from income splitting); he could have used federal funds to hold a huge party, hoping that a few big names would show up and snap photos with him; or he could have made racist comments about the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. After careful thought (we must assume), Williamson decided to go with racism.
Speaking about labour shortages at the Manning News Conference in Ottawa, Williamson reportedly said, “it makes no sense to pay ‘whities’ to stay home while we bring in brown people to work in these jobs.” Was that racist? Mainstream media outlets aren’t giving you the whole story, but we will. Williamson added a qualifier before making his claim. He said, “I’m going to put this in terms of colours, but it’s not meant to be about race.” That closes the book on any controversy.
Let me put this in terms of good and bad qualifiers. Williamson might think of good and bad as colours, but there is another way to view them. Simply put, one cannot excuse racism simply by saying, “this isn’t racist,” before saying something racist. It works for many other “—isms,” just not racism. For example: it’s okay to say, “this isn’t sexist, but I don’t trust women.” It’s also okay to say, “this isn’t homophobic, but gays are immoral.” Unfortunately, Williamson picked the one battle he couldn’t win. This isn’t about stupidity, but he was stupid.
Thankfully, Williamson apologized. On Saturday, he took to Twitter—where apologies go to die—and admitted that he used “offensive and inappropriate language” for which he “apologize[s] unreservedly.” He steered clear of saying that his comments were conceptually flawed, and he mentioned that different parts of the country still have different labour needs—we might infer that some need more whites than others—which he believes companies should fill with Canadians, not foreign workers. Still, he accepts that his language was unacceptable. He should have used different words for “whities” and “brown people,” perhaps “Caucasians (for Canadians, obviously)” and “everyone else” would have been better.
So who is John Williamson? It turns out he has a background in communications. In fact, he is a former Communications Director for Stephen Harper. That’s a laugh. On one hand, Harper picked this guy to communicate important information on his behalf. On the other hand, Harper picked this guy for something. Is any publicity good publicity? Is Stephen Harper a good judge of character?