Kellie Leitch’s politics of division


Kellie LeitchThey’re not like us. They’re not our religion. They’re not our colour. They don’t speak our language. They don’t dress like us. They don’t eat like us. They don’t drive like us, shop like us, read like us, walk like us. We need to control them. Deport them. Jail them. Make them convert. Make them speak English. Make them dress like us. Screen them before we let them in.

Them versus us. The politics of division, of polarization and separation. Dog whistle politics that appeal to the most vulnerable: the poor, the poorly educated, the illiterate, the disenfranchised, the unemployed, the angry, the racists and bigots, the fundamentalists, and, at least in our culture, the young white male.

That tactic worked well for Donald Trump and propelled him into the presidency. Now Conservative leadership hopeful, Kellie Leitch, is trying to make it work in Canada. While most of us watched aghast at Trump’s victory, Leitch sent this exuberant email to her followers:

Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president.

“Threw out the elites?” Since when was a self-aggrandizing, tax-avoiding billionaire businessman not one of the elites? Since when was he not the establishment? But apparently many thought he was just an ordinary guy. A vulgar, vagina-grabbing, lying guy. The Washington Post wrote:

The greatest trick Donald Trump pulled was convincing voters he’d be “anti-establishment.”
Well, maybe not the greatest trick. But in a campaign full of cons, it has to rank close to the top. This was near the heart of Trump’s appeal to the disaffected and disempowered: Send me to Washington, and that “establishment” you’ve been hearing so much about? We’ll blow it up, send it packing, punch it right in the face, and when it’s over the government will finally be working for you again. And the people who voted for Trump bought it.
…An organizational chart of Trump’s transition team shows it to be crawling with corporate lobbyists, representing such clients as Altria, Visa, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Verizon, HSBC, Pfizer, Dow Chemical, and Duke Energy.

Trump didn’t throw out any “elites” – he’s opened the door to power for them. Trump’s term in office will see cronyism, patronage and elitism rise to its fullest and fiercest. But there was Kellie at the recent leadership debate, proudly stating “I have common interests with Mr. Trump.”

I don’t know how that statement will play out among the Conservative elites who get to determine their new leader, but it sure flabbergasted and offended me.

Think the average American will benefit from Trump? More fool you. The elites won this race. The article goes on to warn:

Trump’s tax plan would give 47 percent of its benefits to the richest one percent of taxpayers. Paul Ryan’s tax plan is even purer — it gives 76 percent of its cuts to the richest one percent in its first year, and by 2025 would feed 99.6 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent.

The elites didn’t get thrown out: they got promoted and the flogging has just begun. But that hasn’t made Leitch stop to consider what’s really happening south of the border because it would interfere with her attack message. And she doesn’t want to give Canadians time to put two and two together and realize the same con could be happening here.

It will certainly get worse for the USA, and nothing we want to emulate. As best-selling author and social commentator As Chris Hedges wrote,

Trump, with no democratic institutions left to restrain him, will accelerate the corporate assault, from privatizing Social Security to exonerating militarized police forces for the indiscriminate murder of unarmed citizens, while he unleashes the fossil fuel industry and the war industry to degrade and most probably extinguish life on earth. His administration will be populated by the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, men and women characterized by profound intellectual and moral impoverishment, as well as a stunning ability to ignore reality. These ideologues speak exclusively in the language of intimidation and violence.

In an earlier email, September 24, Leitch made other disparaging comments about the “elites”:

Do you know what has them so upset? It is because I’m proudly holding a Canadian flag! That’s right, the self-hating Canadian elites can’t stand the idea of a proud conservative standing up for Canada and Canadian values. First of all, because they don’t believe there are such things as Canadian values, and secondly because they don’t think our values are best in the world.

No, Kellie, what people were upset about is your plan to screen immigrants for nebulous “Canadian values” that neither you nor anyone else has clearly elucidated. Nor have you explained who would vet and approve this list of our values, who would oversee them, make sure they stood the test of inclusiveness, and who would administer the screening objectively and neutrally.

And self-hating? Come on – Canadians love our country, all of us. Being born here is like winning the lottery. Wrapping yourself in a flag is just an appeal to those who think cosmetics matter more than actions. Which is very American in style.

Leitch – a university-educated, doctor with a home on 20 hectares near the elite millionaire playground village of nearby Creemore, has blasted the “elites” although she is clearly one of them. Her elite followers (aka cronies) hosted $500 a plate fundraising dinners to which only other elites can afford to attend. A bit hypocritical?

Like Trump, she ignores that, hoping, one supposes, for the cognitive dissonance that affected Trump supporters to be shared by her Canadian followers. In an interview in the Globe & Mail, Leitch sloughed it off:

When asked whether she qualifies as elite due to her professional background, Ms. Leitch said, “You may call me an elite but look, I dealt with the most challenging old boys’ club there is in the country. They’re called surgeons.” When asked about Mr. Trump, she said “I’m not going to comment on Mr. Trump, whether he’s an elite or not.”

This attack on “elites” is the same anti-intellectual tactic that Trump and the other Republican candidates used to great success and has been used throughout history to discredit opponents. Julius Caesar used it successfully more than two millennia ago. Blame the elites for the problems. And if there aren’t any real problems, make some up.

Writing in the NatPost, John Ivision commented on Leitch’s tactics:

These are tactics straight from the Trump game-plan — tap into anti-elite sentiment felt by voters who are struggling and who are alienated by traditional parties. It panders to the hopes and, especially, fears of these groups and offers simple solutions.
Trump won over voters who felt helpless in the face of rapid change, worried about their livelihoods and their place in society. He did so by wiping away those existential fears with vague prescriptions that he said would America great again.
The problem for Leitch is that she is no Donald Trump.
For one thing, she can’t detach herself from the elites she pretends to condemn. How much more elite can you get than being a former cabinet minister? She’s also a surgeon — which makes her a member of the most exclusive band of health care providers. And she is set to host a fundraiser on Monday organized by lawyer friends on Bay Street.

But the most troubling part of Leitch’s campaign is not her appeal to the anti-elite illiterati, but to the fears, prejudices and ignorance of the xenophobes. In her Nov. 9 email, she wrote:

It’s an exciting message (Trump’s victory) and one that we need delivered in Canada as well.
It’s the message I’m bringing with my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada.
It’s why I’m the only candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada who is standing up for Canadian values.
It’s why I’m the only candidate who will ensure that every visitor, immigrant, and refugee will be screened for Canadian values.
I look forward to continuing to deliver this message to the Canadian elites — that historic Canadian values are worth protecting.
I congratulate President-Elect Trump on his victory and I look forward to working with him on issues of common concern.

She ends her Sept. 24 plea for money with:

Will you help me become Prime Minister to defend our Canadian values of freedom, tolerance, equality of opportunity, democracy and pluralism?

But who will determine how deeply those values are felt in a potential immigrant, and not simply lip service? How do we determine if someone values pluralism over a singular faith or political ideal? It looks to me that she instead wants orthodoxy; her orthodoxy, of course, the straight-laced orthodoxy of Stephen Harper still clinging to the party. Kellie herself doesn’t seem to like pluralism unless it conforms to her own – as yet undefined – ideals. And I suspect those ideals, once made public, won’t be the same as mine.

In an interview in Macleans, Leitch apparently listed, “Hard work. Generosity. Freedom of religion. Equality of opportunity. Tolerance” as Canadian values. But these are meaningless because all of them are relative and depend on circumstance and individual. A senior living on a pension (and not her MP’s gold-plated pension) giving $10 to a local library is generous. But to a lawyer, a $500-a-plate fundraising dinner for Kellie is peanuts. It’s all relative. Are we going to ban immigrants because they appear reluctant to donate sufficiently?

As Anne Kingston wrote in Macleans:

In the absence of details, Leitch has defined Canadian values in terms of what they’re not: “Violence and misogyny are not Canadian values,” she says, a sentiment backed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Criminal Code.

Which opens another avenue for debate: rather than try to sieve immigrants through the porous and unsteady filter of values, why not make sure our laws don’t tolerate certain types of behaviour and that we enforce them appropriately? Shouldn’t we measure people by their acts, not their opinions?

Will atheists be permitted into our so-called pluralistic society? After all, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms starts with homage to God: “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” Being an ardent opponent of mixing religion and politics, I find this offensive and politically/legally indefensible (not to mention it doesn’t specify which god it means – I suspect Thor but it may be Marduk… or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster…). To me, that line opens the door to abuse.

Neil Macdonald of the CBC commented on this opening:

The sentence is true only insofar as Canada’s founders were a group of professed Christians who no doubt regarded the conversion of heathens as some sort of good, and who sought to exclude the emergence of an absolute ruler for the nation they were creating.
But belief in God, with the moral dictation that usually comes with it, can actually be offensive to atheists. And rule of law, while an admirable legal concept, can become majoritarianism without a Supreme Court willing to strike down laws that offend democracy.

It seems to me that when people get on their soap box about immigrants and conformity, the subtext is some white, evangelical interpretation of Christianity, not the greater good and certainly not inclusivity. They want to impose their god and whatever fantasies they have spun around it/him/her, on everyone else. Another thing we saw in the US election: the rise of the American theocracy. Is that what Kellie wants?

In one photo, Kellie holds up a copy of Vic Satzewich’s book about immigration, Points of Entry: How Canada’s Visa Officers Decide Who Gets In. Yes, the immigration system has flaws – many of which were caused by the Harper government cutting funding to agencies. She served in the very government responsible for those problems, but she doesn’t suggest restored funding or additional staffing as a solution. Screening, she says, is the answer.

Satzewich wasn’t comfortable with her using his work as a selling point. In a column in the Globe and Mail commented:

Her interest in creating policy to screen immigrants for Canadian values sounds like a return to a time when visa officers assigned points for what was then called “personal suitability.” But there was little consistency in how immigration officers assigned such points… In my research I did find it surprising that we do not interview many visa applicants any more. In some cases, more interviews would be useful, but not as a blanket policy, and not as a way to screen for Canadian values.

Welcome Peterborough, a website for potential or new immigrants, notes:

It is impossible to provide a simple description of Canadian culture and Canadian values. It isn’t really something you can study in a classroom; you have to experience it for yourself.

But if we won’t let them in the door, how can they experience it? The Canadian Index of Wellbeing lists a few “core consensus values” without actually explaining any of them:

fairness, diversity, equity, inclusion, health, safety, economic security, democracy, sustainability

You’ll have to pardon my skepticism, but these are not uniquely Canadian. They are far too vague to be guides for measuring the worthiness of an immigrant. Take democracy, for example. No two democracies are alike and someone’s respect for for the American or the Mexican or the Indian version may not play well in a Canadian context. What is economic security for me is very different from what it is for a billionaire. Or that of an elite MP with a plush income and a gold-plated pension for life that is many, many times greater than what average Canadians will subsist on in their later years.

And what is the definition of sustainability? Not buying pickup trucks or SUVs and using only LED lights? Are we going to investigate the shopping carts of immigrants to ensure they live up to sustainable ideals?

What about free speech? Well, that’s a Canadian value, isn’t it? Apparently not, unless you conform to the bizarre rules of political correctness (as U of T professor Jordan Peterson has learned). Neil Macdonald makes another salient point:

Freedom of speech, for example. Some Canadians, even on university campuses, seem to believe people need protection from speech, not the other way around. Canada outlaws “hate speech” and the provinces have human rights commissions with quasi-judicial power that can pursue individuals for offensive statements.
Follow that logic, though, and only inoffensive speech is deserving of protection.

There are a lot of people around who demand free speech for themselves, but not for their opponents, or those with different views.

Can any list actually represent core Canadian values properly? Or is this just some jingoistic, flag-waving pseudo-patriotism? Well, that, too, would be very Trump-like.

Is the current anti-cultural-appropriation fad (akin to the anti-GMO, anti-Vaccination and anti-gluten fads) a Canadian value? Last year, a woman was forced to stop teaching free yoga classes at the University of Ottawa because she was accused of “culturally appropriating” an Indian practice. Apparently she was stealing elements of a culture she was oppressing and the Politically Correctness Police had to step in. Refer back to my piece about Jordan Peterson.

This is a new value in Canada: a rigid, fundamentalist ideology that’s getting deeply ensconced in our universities where the next generation is being schooled. Shouldn’t political correctness be on that list of Canadian core values by which we measure the worthiness of those who want to settle here?

Who will decide what are and aren’t Canadian values? Some bureaucrats? A committee of politicians? A party caucus? Religious leaders? Philosophers? Teachers? scientists? Police? Farmers? What about semi-retired writers living on a shoestring? Why not the students in universities who get enraged over yoga classes, sushi and pronouns?

And how do you distinguish between sincere belief and mere lip service? Will the immigration interviewer be a mind reader able to determine the sincerity of the applicant? Or will we need to resort to so-called psychics to test them?

Values are organic and change with the temper of the times. It was only a generation earlier than mine that Canadians interned Japanese Canadians in camps and refused to help Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. Our treatment of our aboriginal people has been atrocious and even barbaric at times. Are these Canadian values we want to measure immigrants against? Of course not: our values have changed.

Focus on our laws and their enforcement, not the shadowy notion of values and ideals that we cannot articulate in a way that offers a quantifiable measurement.

And as for the Conservatives, if they want the party to gain any credibility with the Canadian voters and win back those they lost last election, they have to shed the Harperite legacy and its politics of exclusion. They need to move forward with something to inspire and engage all of us, to offer hope and a future. I don’t think Kellie is the one to lead them in that direction.

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    Even her former staffers were aghast at Leitch hitching a ride on trump’s coattails.

    “Popular ideas can be bad ideas, said Mirecki, citing Canada’s refusal to admit Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi terror in 1939. He said Leitch’s proposal to screen immigrants for values before they come in “is presuming guilt until proven innocent and it contributes to a culture of suspicion toward new Canadians. It’s geared completely toward people who fear and have contempt for the values of foreigners and the values they bring to Canada.”


    “Ruzylo is kindling a campaign that promises to gain national attention in coming weeks. He has created and distributed 60 lawn signs in Leitch’s riding of Simcoe-Grey, a district north of Toronto that includes Collingwood and surrounding towns and villages, peaked by the Blue Mountains. This week, Ruzylo will distribute another 200 signs, some of which could show up peacefully on the sidelines of a local Santa Clause parade on Saturday, and his neighbours have also taken to Twitter using #NotMyMp. Based on the anti-Trump slogan, “Not My President,” the campaign is a way for constituents to distance themselves from Leitch’s rhetoric—most controversially, her call to screen immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.”

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