Dorothy Dobbie
Issue in the News

If you have a dog, you will know that a dog whistle makes a high-pitched sound that only dogs can hear. If you are accused of issuing one, that is quite another matter.

Dog whistle has become a popular phrase, frequently uttered by activists, over the past few years. I recently decided to search out the precise meaning when a lefty friend of my daughter’s started accusing the Conservatives of using this verbal device to communicate any number of nefarious and outrageous messages.

Here is the formal definition: “In politics, a dog whistle is the use of coded or suggestive language in political messaging to garner support from a particular group without provoking opposition.”

My translation: a dog whistle is believed by some to be a secret coded language used to pass on ideas meaning the opposite of those being spoken. Labelling an opponent’s words a “dog whistle” is used to justify the opinion that the listener doesn’t trust or believe what is being stated.

In other words, it’s a convenient way to call someone a liar or to completely ignore what they tell you. If you don’t like what the other guy is saying you can simply dismiss their words by using your code language to call it a “dog whistle”. That way, you don’t have to believe anything you hear from someone you don’t like even if they reflect your own views. You just call the speaker a liar and attribute a list of motives to them without using that offensive and libelous word.

The irony is not lost on me. “Dog whistle” is coded language to accuse someone else of using coded language. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.

Now we come to how this is used. For example, in the branding of Pierre Poilievre how are people coming to believe a litany of nasty motives attributed to him? I thought there must be some reason, something I was missing, so I searched the Internet to find out where these were coming from, what I had overlooked, or what Pierre Poilievre was supposed to have said or done. I found nothing except reports attributing various motives to him, based on interpretations of what the writers called “dog whistles” – no quotes, no examples backed up by evidence. Here are a few of the terrible and reprehensible phrases he supposedly uses to mislead people from understanding his ulterior motives: common sense agenda, axe the tax, fiscal responsibility, parental rights, globalism. I am sure there are plenty of others just as “bad”.

Among the accusations is this one: Pierrie Poilievre posted a tweet expressing condolences for the families and colleagues of two police officers who were killed in the line of duty in Edmonton in March 2023. It was accompanied by a photograph of a thin blue line across a black and grey Maple Leaf to symbolize police solidarity to honour fallen officers. It is a symbol of the line officers walk between life and death while serving.

The symbol had apparently been abandoned over the past three or four years following the Black Lives Matter protests when the thin blue line became viewed by some as racist, purporting to represent division between black men and white (presumably) policemen. This morphed the thin blue line into a symbol of white supremacy. Therefore, according to the narrative, Poilievre’s condolences were a dog whistle sending a racist statement to his followers. REALLY?

It appears that no one questions the veracity of these statements, never mind their absurdity. It is stated, therefore it is true. 

Two slogans Poilievre has used in the past – “Reclaim what’s yours” and “Take Back Canada”– have been cited as dog whistling anti-immigrant messages, when he is just talking about less government interference in Canadian lives.

Pierre Poilievre. Photo by Humberland.

He has been accused by both Jewish and Muslim groups of dog whistling. He used the term “globalist elite” to describe the WEF when they were pushing some pretty far out ideas such as eating bugs for protein and was immediately brought down by those who see this as code for antisemitism. Poilievre commented with surprise, “I obviously was not talking about Jewish people. I would never engage in such slandering and stereotyping. I was simply talking about a large, shadowy cabal of sinister financiers and money lenders who secretly control the global economy.” He has backed that up by his staunch and consistent public support for Israel.

He has been accused of dog whistling to white supremacists for saying, “I speak clear, plain language that makes sense to people. I am a believer in using simple Anglo-Saxon words that strike right at the meaning of what I am trying to convey.” Presumably, having an Anglo-Saxon background makes you an automatic white supremacist.

Here is a quote from the Letters to the Editor of the Niagara Standard, a respected 130-year-old Southam paper in Ontario: the writer states, “By definition, a dog whistle is the use of code or suggestive language in political messaging. Poilievre is becoming a master at the art of using this tactic to garner support from particular groups. It is language that appears normal to the majority of people but communicates specific things to intended audiences. It is generally used to convey messages on controversial topics without attracting negative attention.” 

Stated in this matter-of-fact way by a local citizen, it must be the truth, right? Many otherwise sensible people believe so, even our own former Prime Minister, Kim Campbell. Wherever did she get her outlandish opinion as reported by the Toronto Star? It did not come from the record.

What are the facts? Check them out for yourself. Wikipedia is a pretty reliable source. So is Hansard. Indeed, Wikipedia has a thorough and well-balanced article about Mr. Poilievre, his family history, his opinions over time, and his voting record. But nowhere did I find any of the extreme views he is supposed to hold, or anything in his background that would indicate that he might hold such views. I have found nothing to support this nonsense in Hansard, either.

I have used Pierre Poilievre to illustrate this piece, but the real issue is the manipulation of public and private opinion using such a cheap and shoddy device. How can so many fall for it, irony and all? That Pierre Poilievre holds views opposed to those of the woke left is undeniable. Apparently, he shares those views with a very large and growing number of Canadians, and they can’t all be tuned into dog whistles.

And if he did not hold views contrary to the prevailing mantra, we would live in a pretty shoddy replica of the way Russia defines democracy – no dissent, no opposition, just fall into step with the self-appointed arbiters of what is “correct”.

This piece was also published in The Hub, Canada’s fastest growing digital news and commentary media outlet with over 200,000 users accessing its content every week.