The ONW Salon: Is Kellie Leich Channeling Donald Trump With Her Idea For A "Canadian Values" Test?
As Donald Trump's campaign scrambles in damage control mode this week, Trump's policies are still popular with his base. Here in Canada, Kellie Leich is being accused of channeling Trump with her pledge to introduce a "Canadian values" test and her pledge to fight the influence of "elites" in politics. Richard Mahoney, Blair McCreadie and Tom Parkin weigh in on Leich's campaign so far.
First, and in the interest of full disclosure, Kellie Leitch has been a personal friend of mine for over 20 years, and I am supporting her in the Conservative Party’s leadership contest.
That being said, I don’t think that it’s fair to draw comparisons between Kellie Leitch’s proposal to implement values screening as an element of immigration reform and some of the offensive rhetoric we have seen from Mr. Trump in the presidential race.
Canadians have a long and proud history of opening our doors to others and, this year, we will be welcoming approximately 300,000 newcomers to Canada.
But I think Canadians also value the fact that we are a tolerant, multicultural society that is becoming increasingly secular. That’s also an important part of our identity.
Given that context, I think that Kellie is saying that to the extent there are those who don’t share those views about the importance of things like equality, tolerance, equal opportunity for women, respect for other cultures and religions and LGBT rights, that should be a factor taken into account as part of the admissions process. And on that issue, she seems to have support, given that a poll commissioned by the Toronto Star in September found that two-thirds of Canadians agreed with her.
As for the impact on the Conservative Party, it’s important to remember that these ideas are being put forward as part of a leadership contest. Party members will have the opportunity over the next eight months to debate these and other ideas and, on that basis, select the person that they think is best positioned to rebuild the Conservative Party and take it forward into the next election.
There has been a persistent effort to form equivocations between Donald Trump and various Conservatives, for obvious political benefit - Trump is very unpopular among Canadians.
Not only do those comparisons fall flat, they are just another step in misrepresenting and therefore normalizing the candidacy of Donald Trump.
Remember - this is a man who late last week confessed to sexual assault. He is a racist and a dangerous jingoist. He's a predator. He's not a bad man; he's an evil one.
But we see a lot of this mud-spreading coming from the new hyper-partisan party in power in Ottawa. I was amazed when the Prime Minister's chief of staff accused the Globe and Mail of racism - because that's what a claim of birtherism is by the standards of those who make that charge - because that paper ran an editorial taking the position that Minister Monsef's place of birth is a legitimate political issue. It was a clear attempt to smear and intimidate in order to distract from a legitimate position.
Now, none of the above is to say Kellie Leitch's idea makes any sense or is anything more that populist claptrap. You can ask Canadians if they'd like summer in January and 65% would agree. But just like Ms. Leitch's proposal, it's an idea that is entirely impossible.
Impossible but not inoffensive. The idea that a political leader should start developing a test to see if people are sufficiently ideological for admittance to Canada is disturbing. Section 2 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects our freedom of thought, belief and conscience. That fundamental freedom is not just something we want for ourselves, it is something we wish for everyone - and that includes people seeking to become Canadians.
If Ms. Leitch wanted to debate the security screening processes for potential Canadians, that would be a legitimate and possibly useful debate to have.
But making empty gestures to Canadians - though not as threatening and violent as Trump's - on things all of us know can and will never be done is a low form of politics.
In his efforts to take a shot at the Liberals, Tom has taken us rather far afield from the question: is Kellie Leitch “channeling” Trump? I have great respect and fondness for Blair, and like Kellie Leitch herself, he is putting an attractive gloss on Leitch’s “values test”. When she defends the idea, she, like my friend Blair, says we are just trying to promote equality, tolerance etc. It all sounds reasonably safe and almost motherhood.
But the purpose of the test is hard politics, not polite values.
Leitch looked for something that would distinguish her from the pack of lesser knowns that are seeking the Conservative leadership. In concert with her wily campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis (our readers may know him as the architect, as it were, of Rob Ford’s campaigns) they played the anti-immigrant card, seeking to convince Canadians that newcomers represent a threat to our way of life. And the way they did that was through the values test.
Like Trump, they walk it back when there is push back, as there has been from many leaders in the Conservative party.
It is a dangerous but sometimes effective game to play - Canadians are not immune from being played by ambitious politicians - stoking fear and anger against the “other.”
This argument has been made against every wave of newcomers since the first British and French settlers arrived in Canada, displacing our First Nations.
First up were the Irish.
Then the Eastern Europeans, and Asians.
None of this is new. While we pride ourselves on our tolerance, we are not perfect and are just as capable of anyone of xenophobia.
So when Leitch literally waves the flag and talks about some kind of a values test, she is channeling a more polite Canadian version of parts of Trumpism.
It is a source of pride that newcomers from around the world want to become Canadian. Canadian citizenship is something that all of us should value.
There’s nothing wrong with giving more priority to individuals who are more likely to contribute to the community and our economy. In fact, that’s what our current points system is designed to do – it already sets priorities based on demographic needs, labour skills shortages, and available family supports.
What Kellie is saying is that there should also be some benefit given to those who can more easily integrate into the secular, tolerant society that attracts people to come here, while at the same time supporting the importance of the Charter values and freedoms that are so important to who we are as Canadians.
With respect to my friend Richard, his “immigrant card” comment above is unfair. Canada has been built by generations of people who came here because they believed in our shared values. But it is important to have a national conversation about what those shared values should be, and I think that is the dialogue that Kellie is attempting to start as part of her leadership campaign.
As Richard notes, intolerance and racism isn't something foreign to Canada. Kellie Leitch isn't channeling Trump; she's just playing the same games many politicians play when they have no solutions for Canadian's priorities - like jobs, the economy and health care.
This was done in last year's election by the BQ and Conservatives when they teamed up on the niqab question.
The bigger problem for the Conservatives is that this leadership race is reinforcing old perceptions of the party - perceptions on which they lost.
But here the short-term interests of Ms. Leitch in playing to some Conservative elements seem to be outweighing the long-term interests of the Conservative Party.
We have seen it on this topic and, I believe, we saw it last week then the Conservatives lost their minds over Justin Trudeau adopting and implementing the Conservatives' carbon targets. Suddenly, because of some short-term thinking of some Conservative aspirants to capture the support of anti-taxers and client change deniers, the entire Conservative Party was driven to reject the Paris Accord and targets they themselves developed - round and around we go!
This of course suits the Liberals. They campaigned on the claim they'd be more progressive that the NDP and now are relieved that the Conservatives have abandoned their old positions so that they can assume them.
It's a funny old world.
I am all for a national conversation about our shared values, but I don’t think that is all Kellie Leitch is up to.
When she started railing against “elites” and putting forth the values test, it was in the context of trying to find something that would distinguish her from the likes of Tony Clement, Maxime Bernier and the other candidates. She is not particularly well known or highly regarded. She needed to stand out and get the attention of the base, angered as it is by many things, including Harper’s defeat and Trudeau’s victory.
Her campaign folks said to her - we can do our own version of what has worked so effectively for Trump. We can rally the base with this stuff. And so they did. You only have to spend a little time online, or other places where the right wing in this country gathers, to see some of the terrible reaction to Syrian refugees, for example. While so many Canadians have embraced the effort and responded so wonderfully, you can easily see, hear and find allegations that these people aren’t being vetted, there could be terrorists, none of them have proper identification, and so on.
Most moderate Canadians shun politicians who seek to divide us on racial lines. That is why many leading Conservatives and so many other Canadians have spoken out about the Leitch campaign tactics. It may get you attention. But it is a dangerous game to play, with real consequences.
When Stephen Harper played similar games with his niqab ban and the awful and nasty “barbaric cultural practices hotline,” we saw an increase in public incidences of intolerance, and many Canadians reacted with horror. Interestingly, it was Kellie Leitch and her fellow candidate for the leadership, Chris Alexander, who did Harper’s dirty work for him by announcing that disgraced idea in during the election last August.
We already have a citizenship oath in this country. Every resident is obliged to obey the laws of this country, in which those values Leitch claims to embrace are enshrined.
The job of political leadership is to bring people together, not seek to divide them. Kellie Leitch should know better.
Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance. He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues.