The Conservative leadership race is sending some people up (and down) the wrong tracks:
- Kellie Leitch is still flogging her very flawed idea of testing would-be immigrants for Canadian values;
- Lisa Raitt is worried that such a “test” might diminish the pool of desirable people wanting to enter Canada; and
- Steve Blaney wants to ban face coverings.
They are all worried about the wrong thing.
First: there ARE Canadian values … I, and many others, have prattled on about them at length, but they are things that need to be taught to all Canadians, not just “imposed” on new immigrants.
Second: we, Conservatives, need to understand, believe in and propagate those values.
What are Canadian values?
This could be a topic for endless debate, but, for ALL Conservatives and most Canadians I would suggest they must be both vital and limited:
- Our priceless heritage of Anglo-Saxon or English or British, as you prefer, liberal democracy;
- Other cultures have democracy, some, mainly Scandinavians and the Dutch, etc, have both liberal and democratic traditions, a few have managed conservative democracy, but most, including e.g. France, embrace various forms of illiberal democracy. We are almost unique in having a long tradition of both democracy and liberal social values.
- Our institutions which both flow from our liberal democratic traditions and then reinforce them: respect for the rule of law, equality at and under the law, the ideal of equality of opportunity, universal, secular, public education, and so on;
- A belief in the fundamental rights to life, liberty and property as described by John Locke in 17th century England and privacy as described by Brandies and Warren in 19th century America;
- The right to privacy, the right to be left alone, can, as can all rights, be “read” narrowly or expansively. In the most expansive readings it has been used to explain a woman’s right to control her own body and, despite any and all reservations by church and state, to procure an abortion as a matter of fundamental right.
- A belief in the fundamental role of free markets (the right to property, again) in providing the prosperity which allows us to exercise our most generous impulses, at home and abroad; and
- Principles ~ fairness, equality, truth, justice ~ that define our policies: foreign and domestic, economic and social.
So why are Blaney, Leitch and Raitt wrong?
First, while our immigration system is always in need of tweaks, the base is sound: we determine eligibility, using a colour blind points system, and, using more subjective means, we determine desirability. We can and do, already, screen people out for a wide variety of reasons and that list can be expanded.
Second, to the degree that we have a “values” problem, it is not just the fault of immigrants. As a good article in The Economist points out, “Important institutions have suffered a loss of legitimacy. Many of the normal checks on defections from adherence to institutional norms have been weakened. This weakening is pernicious because some important institutions inevitably check others.” Immigrants didn’t do that. Sure, some immigrants are responsible for some of the attacks on our precious and fragile institutions, but, mostly, it is “we the people,” the ones who were born and raised here, who are trying to tear down what generations of our forbearers built, brick by brick. The assaults on moderate, liberal values, from both the left and right, are “home grown,” and they reflect frustrations with change, itself, and the rate of change and how change is managed.
Writing in the Financial Times, Mark Mazower worries that “Underpinning the rise of fascism was a profound crisis of liberal democracy. The real lesson waiting to be learned is from this interwar crisis of democratic institutions … [and] … Before the first world war, people fought hard to expand the powers of parliaments and enshrine constitutions. Afterwards, with startling speed, these things lost their allure … [but] … Across Europe, many blamed the power of the legislature for society’s woes and wanted to see more power in the hands of a single leader. Parliaments were written off as façades that rubber-stamped what unaccountable lobbies and elites demanded … [and] … The most striking parallel of all: political parties moved to the extremes and spoke about one another as if they were fundamentally illegitimate. Judiciary and police became politicised. It is this crisis of institutions that provides the most striking parallel between Weimar and the US today.“
The problem is an attack on our basic, core values ~ not by immigrants, in particular, by by native born Canadians who have lost faith in the strength of our institutions. We, Conservatives, need to worry less about niqabs and more about how to strengthen our institutions: our liberal, democratic legislatures, our courts, our schools and universities, our libraries, our community service clubs and charities. That’s the right track to be on.