This week, a right-wing populist delivered fiery speeches in North America, inveighing against political correctness, globalization and the threat of radical Islam. The politician, who could even be elected president one day, said the powers-that-be were not taking the Muslim peril seriously and warned of the dangers of letting in Syrian refugees.
“Whoever condemns Islamic fundamentalism is accused of Islamophobia,” the leader told reporters.
No, it wasn’t Donald Trump. It was Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, a political party in the ascendancy on the back of increasing fears about immigration and terrorism in Europe.
Le Pen has already drawn myriad comparisons to Trump — or, rather, Trump has been frequently likened to Le Pen, who has a more established political track record. The National Front, which peddles a right-wing, anti-immigration and anti-E.U. nationalism, has struggled to free itself of the stigma of fascism, racism and neo-Nazism.
In December, after Trump announced his controversial proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, the New Yorker swiftly labeled him “America’s Marine Le Pen.”
France’s Le Pen was in Canada this week on a six-day tour in the French-speaking province of Quebec, a popular destination for French vacationers from the other side of the Atlantic. She was on a political mission — aiming to whip up anger against the policies of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom she branded a “false humanist,” while appealing to the greater French nationalism of Quebecers.
“I thought it was my responsibility to pay tribute to the ideals and values of the Francophonie by outlining my doctrine regarding the great value of the Francophonie for France as well as the entire Francophone world,” Le Pen wrote on her website.
But things did not go as planned. Le Pen’s trip was widely cast as a blunder, with the far-right leader hounded by small groups of anti-fascist, leftist protesters and given the cold shoulder by the Canadian political establishment. She made appearances on a number of prominent Quebec media outlets, warning that “a multicultural society is a conflicted society,” yet her message was clearly unwelcome.
The final speech in Montreal on Tuesday was ignominiously relocated from its scheduled location in a hotel to a sports bar after Le Pen’s original hosts figured they could do without the headache of staging her event. Le Pen, who was in Canada in her official capacity as a member of the European Parliament, was not met by any significant Canadian politician — she was given “the proverbial 10-foot pole” treatment, as CBC put it.
Quebec, more than other parts of Canada, has had a particularly charged conversation surrounding Islam and Muslim immigration. Quebec lawmakers have in the past pushed for measures that would curb traditional Islamic garb.
Although aware that Le Pen’s message may appeal to a current of Quebec nationalism, officials from the province’s main sovereigntist parties did their best to distance themselves from her visit. “They represent no one but themselves,” Parti Quebecois leader Pierre Karl Péladeau said, reacting to reports that Le Pen had met some youth members of his party. “The doctrine, history and propositions [of the National Front] are diametrically opposed to Parti Quebecois values.”
Bernard Drainville, the main proponent of a failed “charter of values” in the province that would have mimicked elements of France’s own rigid secularism, had little sympathy for Le Pen. “She should really just go home. Frankly, she can just get back on the plane,” he said, though Le Pen had praised his proposed legislation.
Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders offered this blunt assessment:
This is what to do when extremist like Le Pen visits your country. Don’t ban them. Just give zero attention or time.
An editorial in the Montreal Gazette celebrated the fact that, while figures such as Trump and Le Pen were gaining traction in their respective countries, their brand of politics was not effective in Canada.
“If Quebec’s political leaders had little time for Le Pen, ordinary Quebecers were no more interested in the foreign visitor’s opinion,” wrote the newspaper. It added: “Thankfully, things are different here. Our federal government has faith in Canadians’ generosity toward refugees and understanding of the economic importance of immigration.”