A Conservative Canada?

Canada is supposed to be, at first glance, the progressive bastion in North America, the truly progressive alternative to the USA. But is that really so?
As of this moment, those who cross into Canada successfully are safe. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed a willingness to accept any refugees who might show up, and agents very rarely turn people away on the Canadian side of the border. Americans at first glance, especially in comparison with President Trump, may feel Canada is a progressive bastion, but it doesn’t seem to actually be so. The Canadian election for Prime Minister is on October 21, and while election season hasn’t officially begun (it can only be a six week period), it has in all other respects. Parliament is done for the session, and the candidates are off and running. The government mirrors that of the UK, it’s a parliamentary system, so the candidates running against Trudeau are members of Parliament, as is Trudeau himself. There are three candidates the media gives a chance of actually winning, who are members of the three main parties in the nation. The challenger in the Conservative Party is 39 year old Andrew Scheer, a dynamic and popular member of Parliament. He has been neck in neck with Trudeau in the polls so far, usually coming within five points of him, or even less. Jagmeet Singh is running under the New Democratic Party banner, the even more progressive alternative to Trudeau’s ruling Liberal Party. Singh was born to immigrant parents from India, and talks about opportunities for new immigrants coming to Canada, as well as refugees.

The three most major candidates, from left to right, Jagmeet Singh, Andrew Scheer and incumbent Justin Trudeau. From the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

“The one to watch, however, is Maxime Bernier. There is a conservative movement in Canada. A real one. Right now he’s at 10%, low, but he just created a brand new party, he started at 0, I think slowly more people disaffected from the Conservative Party may move his way. There’s an awakening here in Canada just like there was with Trump in 2016.” Richard Huang is a member of the Conservative Party in Ontario and used to be an activist for the party, volunteering and even managing various campaigns in his spare time. He is also a doctor. Lately, however, he has become disaffected with his party and has ceased his activism. An enthusiastic Trump supporter, Huang feels like he felt “politically homeless” for some time in Canada, “until Doug Ford, and now Maxime came along”. Maxime Bernier is running for Prime Minister under a new party, the People’s Party of Canada, that claims to be the more conservative alternative to the mainstream Conservative Party. He challenged Andrew Scheer, the current Conservative nominee, for the leadership but lost in a close race.
The Daily Globe and Mail notes the extremism of Bernier’s platform, which seems to slowly be getting traction. Bernier “questioned the science of climate change, pilloried the United Nations and insisted immigrants to Canada must embrace ‘Western civilization values.’”. Bernier has called for a ceiling matching Trump’s in the USA for refugees, and has said he will work more closely with him than the current PM. The paper also notes that Bernier is not pulling any punches with his language. “He tweeted a video of crowds in Pakistan protesting the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian who had been convicted of blasphemy. ‘Radical multiculturalism is the misguided belief that all values and cultures can coexist in one society,’ he tweeted. ‘They cannot. We must protect our society against this kind of barbarism.’”

“Things are getting worse with the Conservative party, yet somehow their radicalism is not enough. The fact that 10% of voters are planning on voting for Bernier is alarming. And it’s only going up. It’s an interesting contrast in Canada. We have the incumbent who has disappointed so many progressives. For his support of the pipeline, his various governmental scandals. But then the population here seems to be evolving to the right of Trudeau.” says Jared Walker, who is does communications for the NDP. “Singh is gaining traction too however, the picture and diversion is stunning. We have Mr. Singh whose parents immigrated from India, he is Sikh, wears a turban, he visually represents the diverse multiculturalism that Canada is proud of, and his story and politics do too.”

Maxime Bernier is running under the banner “strong and free”, which some say is a racist dog whistle against immigrants. Photo from the Global News

While Singh, being the first South Asian major nominee in North American history does reflect the accepting attitude of Canada, it is clear to see that their collective attitude is slowly becoming fractured and is changing.

The changing tide started with the Premiership election for Ontario. Being the premier of a province is essentially akin to being the governor of a state. Doug Ford, the brother of controversial Toronto mayor Rob Ford (who was caught smoking crack on video, resigned, and later passed on), won the election, with his main catchphrase being “we need to take care of our own”, in response the wave of refugees coming into the nation. Voters agreed with his message, with Ford beating the incumbent premier by 7%. She came in third place, with the NDP candidate coming in second. “That race shows a divide too. Luckily the liberals get even more radical, now the NDP is the big game in town and it’s taking away votes from the Liberal Party. Canada is at the same time becoming more liberal and more progressive. We are mirroring the USA, we are more divided. And that’s why our movement will win, sooner or later,” Huang says with a satisfied chuckle. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation notes that the Immigration and Refugee Board, which gives legal assistance to refugees, has been cut by 30% under Ford’s rule.
Scheer has struck a somewhat more moderate tone, although it is clear to see he is generally with Ford and Bernier on immigration, even if his language is more careful and respectful. CBC quoted Scheer saying, “Among the people I hear from most often on this point are new Canadians themselves, people who have played by the rules and arrived in Canada fair and square. They are most offended at Trudeau’s status-quo, where some are able to jump queues, exploit loopholes and skip the line.”

Richard Huang has a point. National Post has a graph detailing the support of the new flux of Syrian refugees coming to Canada, with a breakdown by province. Not a single province even tops 40%

This election, and the result of it, will give a more whole understanding of North America’s immigration process in the near future. If Trudeau wins, which right now is just a few points ahead of Scheer, Canada will continue to be a refuge for refugees. Without a ceiling, with adequate legal assistance, without intense questioning from border patrol agents. But if Scheer wins or of course if Bernier wins, the process will forever be changed, with most refugees being unable to find an adequate home in the continent.