Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 9, 2016
The Conservative Party of Canada is continuing to cobble together a plan for their new captain.
Although still in doubt as to whether some of the big players, such as former Tory defence minister Peter McKay, will step into the ring, much has been said by some of the smaller names to come forward.
None more so than Ontario PC MP Kellie Leitch.
As of late, she appears bent on the style of “dog whistle” politics resonating south of the border. And although claiming to want to “create a discussion,” her stance may threaten to derail her party’s search to find a credible leader.
With former prime minister Stephen Harper steering his horse into the sunset, the dust seems to have settled now on the Conservatives. Little that is left, however, resembles the party of the late 1990s, and thus far even less represents the direction the Tories need to take if they hope to assume the top office in the country again any time soon.
Leitch is the latest to summon the worst of her perceived party ideals by asking respondents in a phone poll their level of support in introducing an “anti-Canadian values” screening process for new immigrants.
However quick she was to backtrack on her initial statement, surely she is smart enough to have carefully chosen her stance and her messaging on this very divisive issue. Her campaign is unlikely to garner the top job in Toryland, but questions such as this shine a bright spotlight on the overall Conservative brand — something that is very damaging.
As deplorable as it is, Leitch is attempting to appeal to the inherent fear of immigration among some Canadians — a stance that echoes many of the statements made in the sideshow that has been U.S. politics for more than a year.
Leitch is not new to this type of politicking, either. Her past support of the much-maligned “barbaric cultural practices” tipline shows that the leadership hopeful may actually believe the tripe she is peddling on the campaign trail currently.
Furthermore, if Leitch’s messaging were to seep deeper into the Conservative brand, it’s possible they may enter the same spiral the GOP has tried to pull up from since 2015.
Self-professed media mogul Donald Trump began his campaign of hate and twisted ideals more than a year ago and he, like his band of ravenous supporters, are resonating with some potential voters.
To be fair, Leitch is no Trump — but her attitude toward items such as immigration is, to say the very least, troubling.
That’s because there are buyers for what Leitch is selling.
For years, she and her fellow Conservative Party of Canada members have harped on tightening “national security” and this discussion is an offshoot of that. Scare people into believing they are unsafe and eventually — whether founded in fact or not — they will feel unsafe.
It is not to say Canadians should let their guard down on national security, but our citizenship department is stretched thin enough screening new arrivals to the country. Frankly, they do not need Leitch piling on.
If the Conservatives are hoping to gain relevance on real issues, they must distance themselves from Leitch and her controversial views on immigration and the immigrant population.
Current interim leader Rona Ambrose and fellow leadership hopeful Michael Chong have both strongly condemned Leitch’s viewpoint, with more likely to come on board as the weeks and months count down to the party convention.
Even some from Harper’s former inner circle have spoken out against Leitch’s “dangerous” political practices.
The party can only stand to be divided if her thoughts are able to gain ground among some of the membership. As Americans have seen first-hand with Trump, wedge issues like this can cause a party to fracture beyond any form of short-term repair.
The very fact Leitch and her team share that the “anti-Canadian” questionnaire was about developing tolerance is simply laughable.
True tolerance comes from understanding one another and not actively seeking to undermine another person’s beliefs based on religion, orientation or other determining factors. In crafting a policy strategy such as this, Leitch chose to renege on those ideals, and for someone wanting to represent the future of the party, it’s disturbing to say the least.
Although many won’t admit it, a small swath of the Canadian population has a fear of immigration, something that is increasingly prevalent among rank-and-file members of the Conservative party.
It is human nature to fear the unknown. The unfortunate byproduct, however, is the fact Leitch is doing little, if anything, to extinguish that fear.