Maxime Bernier’s controversial tweets are stirring up a storm. Just a few days before the Conservative Party policy convention begins next week, he wants everyone to pay attention to him. He’s trying to remind people that they should have made him leader of the party, instead of that nebbish, Andrew Scheer. In Mr. Bernier’s view, being a team player is highly overrated.
So what are these attention-grabbing tweets all about? Nothing so tame as supply management. This time he is taking direct aim at immigration, multiculturalism, identity, the commemoration of residential schools, and the policies of a certain Prime Minister. Hot, hotter, hottest.
“Trudeau’s extreme multiculturalism and cult of diversity will divide us into little tribes that have less and less in common,” he tweeted. And: “More diversity will not be our strength, it will destroy what has made us such a great country.” And: “Having people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality tolerance and openness doesn’t make us strong.”
Personally, I think Mr. Bernier has a point about Justin Trudeau and identity politics. “Inclusion” is all very well, but I often wish he’d spend a bit more time on “integration.” And Mr. Trudeau’s claim that “diversity is our strength” is fatuous drivel. Diversity is not our strength. Unity is our strength. What makes Canada strong is our ability to unite people of diverse backgrounds with a shared set of goals and values. That is what we’re good at.
But although Mr. Bernier denies it, he too is playing identity politics. His dystopian description of this country makes no sense to anyone who looks around. Where are these hordes of ghetto-dwellers who reject basic Western values? They don’t exist. On the contrary, there’s plenty of evidence that our highly selective immigration system – which shows no sign of changing – is quite good at identifying people who will integrate and do well. The real test of any immigration policy is: How will the kids do? And so far as I can see, most of the the kids are doing fine.
Yet despite the evidence, there is a robust market for Mr. Bernier’s brand of identity politics. Polling around Canadians' views on immigration suggest a sizable chunk of the population – possibly a third – believe that our values are under siege.
Why is that? Partly it’s just old-fashioned xenophobia. But his views are also popular because mainstream politicians have been reluctant to allow an outlet for legitimate concerns over immigration and refugee policy. "There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,” Mr. Trudeau has said. A lot of Canadians disagree.
Mr. Bernier’s views also play into anger that the government has mismanaged or ignored people’s concerns on immigration and identity issues. At the moment, for example, Canadians are highly exercised over the influx of border-crossers, which seems to be beyond the government’s control. Although most Canadians are sympathetic to invited refugees (such as the Syrians), in this case they feel taken advantage of. They regard many of the asylum-seekers as illegitimate queue-jumpers who are living here on the public dime and might be here forever. The backlog of cases has stretched to nearly two years. It’s no surprise that, according to a recent Angus Reid online poll, two-thirds of respondents agree the border situation is a “crisis.” And they are right. It is a crisis – not for Canada, perhaps, but certainly for the Trudeau government, which doesn’t seem to be in control.
The Liberals also have a serious case of white man’s guilt – an irritating tendency to apologize and atone for every sin of the past committed against Indigenous or ethnic minorities. This can create resentment among people who feel it’s not their fault, or their ancestors’ either for that matter. Most people now grasp the tragedy of the residential schools, for instance. But is a national holiday really the right way to mark this terrible history? Mr. Bernier doesn’t think so. “Cult of victimhood and obsession with past wrongs instead of focus on the progress made and to come are another sick characteristic of extreme PC and multiculturalism,” he tweeted. I don’t know if he’s right. But his point is certainly open to debate.
Canada has been superbly fortunate, because we’ve been able to avoid the poisoned immigration and identity politics that are rocking Europe. Our immigration situation is largely a success story. At the same time, we need to find a way to discuss our problems honestly. And that means leaving identity politics out of it.