It’s time to judge NDP leader Andrea Horwath by the standards we expect of the next premier of Ontario, rather than as the perennial third-place finisher in provincial elections.
By that standard, Horwath failed miserably on Friday.
That happened after the Progressive Conservatives made two serious allegations against Scarborough-Agincourt NDP candidate Tasleem Riaz.
First, that Riaz posted a neo-Nazi meme with an “inspirational” quote from Adolf Hitler on her Facebook page on Oct. 18, 2013.
It showed a picture of Hitler standing in a car giving the Nazi salute to passing troops.
The accompanying text reads: “The Ruler said about Rule If you don’t like a Rule … Just Follow it .. Reach on the Top .. and Change the Rule — Adolf Hitler.”
Second, the PCs said in an April 15, 2011 posting on Facebook, Riaz described Canadian forces in Afghanistan as, “slaughtering … innocent Men, Women and Children”, and that voting for federal Conservatives or Liberals would result in, “our ballots turned in to bullets against our Muslim brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and Labia.”
In responding to these allegations in a written statement, Riaz only addressed the Hitler meme, saying:
“I am horrified that an inappropriate meme was on my Facebook page. I don’t recall sharing it in 2013 — and at no point in my life would I have done so intentionally.
“I am an interfaith advocate, and I have devoted my life to interfaith religious tolerance and freedom. I work closely with the Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Sikh and Muslim communities in my neighbourhood. In every way, I find Hitler, the hate he spewed and the genocide he committed to be abhorrent.”
“I live and work, day-to-day, to advocate for all people to love and respect others of all faiths. I can’t understand how this happened, and I’m devastated that it has.”
That raises more questions than it answers.
Riaz confirms the image appeared on her Facebook page but implies it was an accident while offering no explanation for how it happened. Is she claiming she was hacked? We don’t know.
As PC MPP Gila Martow said: “You don’t push this kind of thing by accident. You don’t openly push Nazi images on social media by mistake.”
When Horwath was asked about the PC allegation against Riaz regarding the Hitler meme, other than saying, “That’s not something that I would support,” and she’s asked her team “to look into” it, she repeatedly defended Riaz.
“I’ve know Tasleem for some time now,” Horwath said. “This woman is an activist in the interfaith community. She’s for over a decade an activist on interfaith issues. So I find it pretty unbelievable that she would be in any way implicated in anything at all that’s anti-Semitic.”
Horwath said the same thing four times without addressing the issue — how did a pro-Nazi meme unintentionally get on Riaz’s Facebook page?
Of Riaz’s 2011 posting that Canadian troops were slaughtering innocent men, women and children, Horwath’s response was even more casual.
“I don’t know the reference you’re particularly speaking about. But what I can tell you is this: There are many people who … are committed anti-war activists, for example, who are concerned about international issues and that’s not only New Democrats, that’s people all around the world.”
So, no big deal, apparently.
Horwath attacked the PCs for raising the issue, saying they “live in a little bit of a glass house” and “this is coming from a party whose leader is accused of cheating in nomination meetings, cheating in the democratic process.”
In fact, PC leader Doug Ford will be judged by what he’s done, including keeping London West candidate Andrew Lawton on his team after Lawton apologized for past homophobic, misogynistic and Islamophobic statements, just as Horwath will be judged on her response regarding Riaz.
Unless Horwath comes up with a reasonable explanation regarding Riaz’s postings, Warren Kinsella, who ran the Liberals’ war room in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 Ontario elections, has the right idea.
As he tweeted Friday, “An #ONDP candidate who approvingly quotes Hitler? Fire her now.”
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