For certain segments of the chattering classes, Conservative party leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is a straightforward case of dangerous political opportunism — a naïve belief that copying the strategies and tone that won Donald Trump the White House will be successful in Canada as well.
Leitch has famously called for immigrants in Canada to face screening for their agreement with “Canadian values” although she’s reluctant to elaborate on what those values are. She has cited tolerance for LGBT people as a Canadian value, which is hard to reconcile with her decision to join a party that has historically been opposed to LGBT rights. But when asked if she would bar a Catholic immigrant who didn’t support same-sex marriage, she couldn’t give an answer.
Was it her tolerance on display last year when she proposed establishing a “barbaric cultural practices” tipline for people to report on their brown neighbours?
Leitch’s values push is blatant hypocrisy.
There’s another reason to oppose a values test for Canadian immigrants: it sets an uncomfortable precedent for other countries to follow. Do we really want to validate another country’s choice to bar, for example, homosexuals because they conflict with that country’s values?
But Leitch’s gambit is unlikely to succeed.
The Conservative leadership contest is significantly different from the Republican primary. Instead of a series of winner-take-all contests, ranked ballots will assign points to each candidate in each riding across the country, meaning the winner will be the candidate who can build a broad consensus.
While the media attention Leitch’s proposals have attracted may boost her name recognition, the denunciations from key party members and other leadership candidates will likely stunt her ability to grow a base of support.
It seems as though the fundamentals just aren’t there for xenophobia to be a successful platform in Canada. Based on recent census data, Canada is becoming increasingly more urban and multi-racial.
The most economically depressed parts of Canada — the East Coast and the remote North —also receive the fewest immigrants, and have a strong tendency to vote for progressive parties. Explicitly racist incidents in Canada are generally denounced in the loudest terms by community members and political leaders. Politicians who run on explicit racism tend to go down in defeat. Just ask Pauline Marois.
If not for the sake of basic decency, then at least for these reasons, the Conservative party cannot simply ignore what Leitch is doing here. If she loses, the new leader should expel her from the party caucus.
In the unlikely event she wins, right-thinking Conservative MPs should withdraw from the caucus in protest. Such a move would not be unprecedented. In 2001, 12 MPs left the Canadian Alliance caucus over concerns with Stockwell Day’s leadership, precipitating his eventual resignation.
There is one way to help ensure that Leitch’s views do not become mainstream in Canada: vote.
Anyone can vote in the Conservative leadership race as long as they join the party before March 28, 2017. Cost of membership is $15. Each vote that doesn’t include Leitch among ranked choices puts victory further from her grasp. You may have already seen posts on your Facebook feed urging you to join the party even if only to block Leitch’s ambitions.
Since Harper’s resignation, the Conservatives have taken admirable steps to modernize their party. They’ve finally accepted same-sex marriage as the law of the land. Although they did not come out in favour of Bill C-16, only a minority of Conservative MPs voted against it (including other leadership hopefuls Andrew Scheer and Brad Trost; Leitch, Lisa Raitt, Steven Blaney, Deepak Obhrai, Maxime Bernier and Michael Chong voted in favour). So far, signs indicate that the party will also support the Liberals’ bid to scrap the anal sex law, though Trost is already raising hackles over it. Leitch’s campaign risks running all of these efforts into the ground.
But while Leitch’s play to the xenophobes and racists has gotten a lot of attention, it seems like explicit homophobia from Trost is accepted as par for the course in the party. While he’s even less likely to win the leadership, if the Conservatives are serious about becoming a modern, inclusive party, they must also decide how much homophobia the new Conservatives can welcome.
Editor’s note, Nov 23, 2016: A line in an earlier version of this story incorrectly said “right-wing thinking” but should have said “right-thinking.”
Editor’s note, Dec 6, 2016: An version of this story did not include Leitch as one of the Conservatives who voted in favour of Bill C-16.