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Inside the Conservatives’ identity crisis about identity

Evan Solomon on Kellie Leitch’s ‘values test’ for new immigrants, and what ‘Canadian values’ really even mean


 

“Your grandfather worked in a sweatshop sewing pockets, right up there,” my father said, pointing to a third-storey window in a renovated building on John Street in downtown Toronto. A far-away look came over his face. “I was 12, and he brought me down to have the other men make me a suit for my bar mitzvah.” This was a big occasion. My father was the youngest of eight kids in a poor, Jewish, immigrant family. It was 1944. “His heart was bad,” my father went on. “After we left the factory we walked home and he had to stop at every street light pole so he could catch his breath.” Less than a year later, his father died.

I started thinking of my family roots when the controversial issue of a “values test” for new immigrants flared up. Maybe everyone does that. The quintessentially Trumpian pitch has now ricocheted back to Canada with the leadership campaign of Conservative candidate Kellie Leitch. “Should the Canadian government screen potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values as part of its normal screening for refugees and landed immigrants?” her campaign asked in a survey. Michael Chong, another candidate, immediately declared this was “dog-whistle politics,” a return to the politics of division that had been so contentious in the last election, when Leitch was the spokesperson for the “barbaric practices” snitch line. Maxime Bernier, another candidate, declared a “values test” has no place in Canada. Leitch, however, doubled down, promising to raise the issue a lot more during the campaign.

And with that, a full-blown identity crisis engulfed the Conservative movement in Canada, pitting the protective, traditionalist side against the inclusive, progressive side. The strain threatens to pull apart the Conservative coalition Stephen Harper built. Caught in the middle are millions of Canadians, descendants of immigrants or immigrants themselves, all wondering: Would my family pass the test? What does a values test really mean?

MORE: Martin Patriquin on why ethnic nationalism makes for bad politics, too

“I don’t even know what it means,” Rona Ambrose, the interim leader of the Conservative party told me, before flatly rejecting the idea. She pointed out, rightly, that immigrants are already subject to criminal background checks and take a citizenship test, which includes studying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What else is needed? Where would Leitch draw the line between rule of law and freedom of belief? Would a Catholic who doesn’t believe in same-sex marriage be kept out? Would an Orthodox Jew who believes a woman must wear a wig be barred? I asked the Leitch campaign for details and all I got back was a circular answer, that this question was exactly why we need the discussion. That’s the first clue this is not about substance, this is all part of a campaign plan: the cold math of membership.

Kellie Leitch rises during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

Kellie Leitch rises during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

Here is the Leitch logic: The pool of voters in the leadership race is about 150,000. Of those, 65,000 are current CPC members, while 35,000 others have held a membership in the past five years: the so-called “pro-Harper” members. Add to that about 50,000 new members who are expected to be signed up by all the candidates combined. Leitch’s survey was clickbait, a tool to gather names of motivated Conservative voters—new and old, the kind who supported the Harper view on the niqab. Leitch is banking on the fact that the so-called “politically correct, Conservative elite leadership” are out of touch with the base. Her campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, told me over Twitter that he hopes the anti-Canadian values test becomes the “litmus test” for a Conservative leader. In other words, the survey was as much a way to get media exposure and redefine her candidacy as it was an exercise in data mining.

Debates about values are deeply divisive in Europe and the U.S., but how radioactive are they in Canada? One indication is a recent poll by Nanos Research, which found widespread support for targeted border screening. “The majority of Canadians support or somewhat support strengthening the screening process for potential immigrants from regions such as the Middle East,” Nik Nanos wrote. Still, there is a big difference between border screening and defining “anti-Canadian values.” Nanos told me that there is a market for Leitch’s rhetoric, but it’s small.

Still, Canadians do talk about values. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in China last week, he said his job was to “promote Canadian values.” But values change. When my grandfather came to Canada, there were quotas on Jews, blacks and many other immigrants. The Japanese were interned in camps. The tragedy of systematic abuse of Canada’s Aboriginal people has been widely documented. Our national story is not about immigrants who refuse to integrate, but of Canadians who refuse to welcome. Immigrants haven’t historically failed the values test, Canada has. Would my grandfather, from Russia, with his lack of English, lack of education and his Orthodox Jewish beliefs, pass the Leitch anti-Canadian values test? I will never know. But I don’t think he worked himself to death in a sweatshop to raise a family in a country that would close its borders to the next person arriving to take his place.


 

Inside the Conservatives’ identity crisis about identity

  1. Every country says this…..’we’re just protecting our values’…,and yet every countries values are the same.
    …and all citizens want pretty much the same for their families.

    There aren’t any ‘unique’ values that only one country has

    • Every countries values are the same? Really? How can you claim that? Countries in the Middle East don’t allow women to drive cars. They believe in genital mutilation so women won’t enjoy sexual intercourse.

      I am completely against this “values test” but I know not every countries values are the same. Some countries have the death penalty. Some believe sodomy is morally wrong. Values may not be unique to one country but they certainly are not generalized to all countries.

  2. The conservative party has too many factions of fringe groups in their party on the fringe, and now they are all starting to become unhinged, From Patrick Brown to Kellie Lietch, they have all stepped outside the box of the reality of this nation, and they may never ever get back inside. When Justin Trudeau ran in last years election, he brought the party together and made it clear what his tenure would be all about, women’s rights, abortion, and the right to allow adult Canadians to think for themselves about choices, what to wear, and no snitch lines because a women choose to wear what makes them happy. Canada is a nation of open society, we don’t need to go back to the days of when dinosaurs ruled the world. Say no to oppression, and stop these dictatorial parties from running our country. Be very carful Ontario, you have a pigeon in the waiting, a spawn of the Harper Jurassic Park, Patrick Brown, I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.

    • There have always been far right “fringe” members and far left “fringe” members of every party (leap manifesto anyone?). Until Harper went off the deep end with the Niqab, he keep the far right fringe well managed because he refused to address abortion or gay marriage while he was leader and that is what next successful leader will do. The party has already passed gay marriage in their constitution. That shows that they there aren’t enough far right fringe members to make a difference and Rona Ambrose knows it. So do others who are smart. They won’t touch abortion or values BS. All they have to go after is the economy and the economy and then the economy. Even the Syrian refugees will be voting for them because so few of them have gotten English classes as they were promised and most will be on welfare once the 12 months are up due to broken promises by the Libs.

  3. Question to prospective immigrant; “Would you be concerned if, starting next year, the Canadian government introduced Sharia laws, exclusively?’

  4. Well put Evan. Divide and conquor tactics at play here. That is the typical right wing way. I sincerely hope Leitch comes in dead last in the leadership race. That would restore a little bit of the faith I and many other well balanced Canadians have left since the dark sorrowful Harper years.

  5. Kelly Leitch as a politician, is free to espouse whatever she wants. Even if many, like myself, do not like Kelly for what she is saying. It is purposefully inflammatory and divisive. Not very civil. But that is another story. After all, as Trump has shown and Rob Ford before him and Patrick Brown just recently has shown….”tell em what they want to hear”. Keep the details purposefully hazy and let those who respond to the “dog whistle” define what it means. (Kouvalis, the marketer, does get around doesn’t he?) Because the name of the political game is to WIN and to win at all costs. Maybe like Patrick Brown, she will recant if the “numbers” aren’t there, or will recant when she realizes the sub group of support she actually gets is not the one she wants to represent.

  6. A screening test is stupid. More education about Canada and perhaps an enhanced citizenship test is not.

    Immigrants should be exposed in a more thorough way to what Canadian values are. Women, who are immigrants, should be more thoroughly educated about what their rights are in Canada.

    Education, not screening.

    • I doubt that YOU could pass our citizenship test.

    • Absolutely. Starting with “it is against the law for a man to beat his wife or sexually assault a women in Canada and the police will come and arrest him if he does so.” However, the problem the Libs are up against is that they make a lot of promises, like we will give you English or French education classes and then they don’t follow through as we are finding with the Syrian refugees. This makes it very difficult for them to get a job.

  7. Wonder of wonders!
    This is the first time since last fall’s Oct.19, 2015 Federal Election that the daily menu of Maclean’s stories does NOT include a story about PM Justin Trudeau.!!!
    Thus, another day, Sept.7 2016, that will forever live in the annals of infamy!

    • Actually I thought we were being drowned in Harper/Conn stories…..a constant lament for the departed so to speak.

      • Of course, you believe in resurrection of the dead, Emilyone.
        Hope springs eternal in the human heart.

        • You can’t possibly believe I want any resurrection of the Cons. LOL

  8. ‘Values’ is an interesting proposition … this term is generally lumped with ‘beliefs’ as in ‘values and beliefs’ i.e. values are a personal statement. As Canadians we have rights and the rule of law which should be sufficient to arbitrate a fair and just democracy. 40% of Cons consider heterosexual monogamy a value. As we know, all immigrants are subject to a screening process and serious breaches of law and even suspicion are cause for exclusion and/or deportation; Ms Leitch somehow wants us to believe that Canada’s various agencies and police forces responsible for security are somehow not doing their job and that apparatchiks could somehow do a better one. She further presumes that her beliefs comprise the totality of Canadian values. As the article points out and as Mr Trudeau recently reminded us, when it comes to rights and freedoms, we’ve collectively got a way to go. It’s time we accepted that there is no room for selective treatment of individuals (aka bigotry) – this merely diminishes the concept of rights and freedoms on which we depend; even within that limited scope, we have not yet perfected fairness and justice for all. Ms Leitch’s comments give the false impression that conservative means backward.

    • If only deportation actually meant Deportation, instead of a 5-year appeal process.

  9. Thanks, Evan, your grandfather sounds like a very strong and resilient man. I’m often astounded at Canadian’s lack of knowledge about their own cultural histories and immigration. Will we outlaw First Nations’ head dresses? Hutterite women’s head scarves?

  10. Values, shmalues.

    Canadian “values” have been entrenched in law, including the Charter. Therefore, the only “test” necessary would involve an understanding of fundamental Canadian laws, and agreement with same.

    Values, morals, beliefs … all power words on the Christian Conservative right. The law is the only thing that truly matters.

  11. Many people need to be reminded that the Liberal Party may be in power today as a result of strategic voting by the electorate.

    Like it, or not, an extraordinary election of a successful President Trump, carefully managed by his advisers, will play into the hands of the Conservatives.

    • Well it worked for the liberals when Obama was elected.

      Oh no, wait…

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