Leitch echoes Trump – and a Canada we left behind: Ibbitson

Good commentary by Ibbitson, recalling past debates over removal of ethnic quotas for immigrants:

By calling on immigrants to be screened for adherence to “Canadian values,” Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has reopened a very old and tired debate over who makes a good Canadian. She may not remember that the answer for many used to be: someone who’s white.

A reader sent an electronic clipping of an article from Legion Magazine printed in 1974, three years after Pierre Trudeau first declared multiculturalism – the celebration and preservation of distinct cultures within a united Canada – as the official policy of the federal government. The Liberals were working on a new immigration plan and sought the Legion’s input. As the organization that represented veterans at a time when there were many more of them, the Canadian Legion was a powerful voice. That voice called on the government to shut the doors.

From Confederation until the 1950s, this country had imposed quotas and other measures to encourage European and prevent Asian immigration. Those quotas “permit a greater flow of immigrants from countries that have historically given fine citizens to Canada,” wrote Robert D. McChesney, the society’s executive vice-president, in a report that was reprinted in the magazine.

But the Diefenbaker government started dismantling those quotas, and the Pearson government replaced them with the colour-blind points system still in use today. Since Europe was now prospering, this meant most new immigrants would have to be recruited from what was then called the “Third World.”

The Legion believed this was a mistake. “Precedents already exist to restrict immigration from certain parts of the world,” McChesney wrote. The Legion’s members “are not yet prepared to see these restrictions lowered, and indeed there is some evidence that they should be extended.”

Rather than using a points system, immigrants should be selected based on “the ethnic composition of the country as recorded in the census.” Since Canada was still overwhelmingly European, this would ensure a European-based intake.

Not wishing to appear intolerant, the 1974 report stressed that “the quality of a prospective immigrant is of prime importance, and that the place of origin and ethnic background should be of a secondary consideration.”

The Legion also opposed admitting refugees because of the impact they might have on “the cultural well-being of the country,” and because “their interest in becoming Canadian citizens is remote or at the best incidental.”

Finally, the report recommended “some system must be devised to screen the applicant more efficiently.”

In 1974, the Legion represented more than 367,000 Canadians, many of them veterans of the Korean War and the First and Second World Wars. Those veterans sacrificed for their country and when the wars ended they built the Canada we live in today.

But the country was changing in ways they found difficult to accept. Already, demographers were warning that the birth rate had fallen to the point that more immigrants from developing countries would be needed to sustain the population in the long term. They were right. Today, one Canadian in five was born elsewhere, and population growth is almost entirely reliant on immigration.

It is only human nature that the Boomers’ parents resented the ethnic transformation of their country. But in demanding strict screening of all immigrants coming into Canada for “Canadian values,” Kellie Leitch is not simply echoing the preachings of Donald Trump; she is evoking a Canada that was already in eclipse half a century ago.

How can she hope to win the party or the country by being so far outside her time?

Source: Leitch echoes Trump – and a Canada we left behind – The Globe and Mail

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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