Chris Selley: Most Canadians support ‘values screening’ — which is neither surprising nor concerning

Good observations by Selley:

Of course we can’t empirically test for violent tendencies, misogyny and indolence. There are many good practical reasons not to pursue these policies. The consensus among bien-pensant campaign watchers is that this is nothing more than a populist “dog whistle” appeal to nativists and xenophobes who believe immigrants are more likely to be violent, misogynist and indolent.

But most Canadians aren’t watching the campaign at all, and couldn’t pick Leitch out of a lineup. If you ask them whether Canada should screen immigrants for objectively undesirable traits, then of course most are going to say yes. It’s absurd to hold that up as evidence of a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment, especially when the poll in question provides plenty of evidence to the contrary: 78 per cent think immigration makes Canada a better place to live or makes little difference; 83 per cent think we have much to learn from other cultures; 79 per cent have no desire to see a Trump-style figure in Canadian politics.

If you were inclined to worry about anti-immigrant sentiment, there’s plenty you could latch on to in this 61-page poll that’s far more disquieting than support for “values screening.” But that’s the genius of a wedge issue like this: it provokes a level of outrage and condemnation that to those not following closely would seem unhinged, which in turn makes the policy and the candidate seem all the more reasonable by comparison.

“Leitch’s proposal to screen every immigrant and visitor is nothing but Donald Trump’s executive order, disguised as Canadian values, and crafted to keep Muslims out of Canada,” leadership candidate Deepak Obhrai said in a statement last week. He suggested it could incite racists to murder, such as in Kansas last month.

I’m disgusted by Leitch’s campaign and even I think that’s crazy. But more to the point, it won’t help. Fighting populism with hyperbole is like fighting fire with kerosene, and it’s strange how few anti-populists seem to realize this. If Leitch’s proposal weren’t surrounded by a bunch of exploding heads and people screaming “Trump! TRUMP!” at her, it would just be one silly, unpractical and unnecessary idea among dozens in play in this campaign.

At times Leitch’s campaign has seemed less like an actual leadership bid and more like a clinical trial of Trump-brand populism in the Canadian body politic. Perhaps it will yield useful data for its architects to use with a less terrible candidate in future. But moderate Conservatives and others arguing in good faith against her really need to up their anti-populist game. Leitch is an intensely unlikable and uninspiring campaign presence who will probably lose. But some day a populist candidate with an ounce of sincerity and charisma might come along with some truly dangerous ideas.

Source: Chris Selley: Most Canadians support ‘values screening’ — which is neither surprising nor concerning | National Post

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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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