Maclean’s spoke to Jason Kenney this week from the road on his “Unity Tour” across Alberta. Among questions about leaving Parliament Hill after nearly 20 years, his provincial Progressive Conservative leadership ambitions, and the distinction between bad people and good parliamentarians, we asked his opinion on the immigrant values test proposed by federal Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch. Kenney’s response was edited due to space constraints in our print edition, but here it is in full.
Q: You’ve made a few pointed comments about Kellie Leitch’s immigrant values test proposal. With your cabinet experience, what’s your take on the screening people have to go through? Is there a problem she’s perceiving that needs to be solved?
A: I have an enormous amount of experience in this area as multiculturalism minister for 10 years, focused on the broader and more abstract question of integration, then being minister of immigration responsible for screening and selection, and minister of citizenship—which is the ultimate expression of people’s integration. I’ve read and saw and experienced more than I think virtually anybody in Canadian politics about these issues, which is why I find her approach to be disingenuous.
I don’t think she’s ever thought deeply about these questions. She has certainly given no evidence of that. She never addressed or raised these questions in Parliament, in public, in caucus or in cabinet. She seemed only to latch on to this as a theme after her campaign was circulating some questions on an online poll that was probably designed to generate email addresses. I just find the whole approach a bit slapdash.
I think what concerns me is that these are extraordinarily sensitive questions that must be addressed with a great deal of nuance and prudence.
Having said that, I do believe there is absolutely space for legitimate debate in a liberal democracy about immigration selection, about screening, about integration. I thought a great deal, I researched and read widely on the question of how can we select people to identify those who might have profoundly illiberal attitudes, might regard women as property rather than people, or bring with them ancient prejudices or hatreds.
I concluded that quite frankly, for an open, liberal society— ultimately, a society that will not and should not discriminate on the grounds of race, ethnicity or country of origin—the best way to select people is based on their human capital. And then you do your best to be a welcoming society and to encourage newcomers to integrate. That’s the kind of balanced approach that I tried to articulate.