Manitoba's political party leaders were disturbed by Free Press reports over the weekend about a neo-Nazi group's attempt to gain a foothold in Winnipeg, but had little to offer Monday to stamp out home-grown hate.
Asked about the stories Monday morning, Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister initially described The Base's campaign as "deplorable and an insult to the intelligence of thinking people."
"I would say we have laws against these things. When those laws are violated, people should be prosecuted. Otherwise, idiots expressing wrong-headed views — I don’t know, I’ve seen some attack ads recently that fit into that category rather nicely," he said.
At an afternoon campaign stop, Pallister clarified he shouldn't have linked public mischief and hate crimes so closely.
"I referred to existing laws that apply when people spout hate speech or violence towards people. And I said, otherwise it’s just information and misinformation for idiots. I believe that was the language I used," he said.
"Referring to them in the same sentence is probably not a good idea because I am saying they’re two different kinds of things. One is a mischief thing, like the NDP ads, and the other is a prosecutable crime."
Pallister said the PCs support the work of the RCMP and highlighted the $2.8-million investment his party would make to combat rural crime if re-elected, which he announced in Selkirk Monday. Part of that funding would go toward hiring new officers in Manitoba to target criminal organizations and street gangs trafficking drugs and guns.
"If (RCMP) find these types of incidents, if they see hate crimes in action, we encourage them to work effectively with one another and with other agencies where applicable, to address those situations," Pallister said.
"Safer streets against the actions of those who would break our laws includes making sure that anyone who is out there promoting hate needs to be aware that there are laws against that."
NDP Leader Wab Kinew spoke about his own past brushes with racism and how public figures need to help eradicate hate.
"Reflecting on my own life experience, I’m somebody who’s had to come to terms with my own internal biases and to work harder to be an ally for the two-spirit folks in our community and the LGBTQ community and who is always working harder to better understand how I can be an ally," he said.
"I would like to send a message that for those who are perhaps on the margins of being radicalized, those who are seeing YouTube videos that make you feel a certain kind of way, that it’s not too late.
"You still can rejoin our society. But at the same time it’s not going to be easy. You’ve got to put in the work, too."
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont and Green party Leader James Beddome acknowledged they hadn't read all of the Free Press reporting on The Base, but still provided some reaction.
"I'm extremely concerned. We have to recognize how extreme things are getting in our society. These are hate groups, but they’ve been fed and encouraged to some degree by a lot of political rhetoric that’s gotten very heated, and it’s genuinely dangerous," Lamont said.
Beddome also drew the line to divisive politics encouraging extremist views.
"I hope there’s consensus about this among all Manitoba political parties: there’s no place for hate in our society," he said. "The Green Party of Manitoba doesn’t support these types of groups and it’s really unfortunate that sort of Donald Trump-style politics is moving north."
— With files from Larry Kusch and Ben Waldman
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.