Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bigotry At Its Heart


Many watching Thursday's debate were shocked to hear Stephen Harper make a distinction between refugees and those he called "old stock Canadians." If they had been familiar with Harper's history and his Reform roots, they wouldn't have been shocked at all. Murray Dobbins writes:

Not much is written these days about the nature of the Conservative base post-merger of the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Alliance Party (formerly Reform). But the base is largely the same today, and in my book Preston Manning and the Reform Party I documented just how dangerous the immigration issue was for Manning and his then-policy chief, Stephen Harper. No other policy issue took up as much time on the political massage table as this one -- with Manning having to use all his persuasive powers to neutralize the alarming resolutions coming from the famous "grass roots" of the party.

Leading up to 1991 policy convention, the most important the Reform Party ever held, there were 18 riding resolutions on immigration. Every one of them was considered by the party executive as extreme in one way or another: imposing various restrictions on immigrants, settlement in remote regions, demands for "ethnic balance," the deportation of immigrants with criminal convictions, etc. None of them made it to the convention floor, replaced by the Party Policy Committee with three more moderate ones.

From the very beginning, the Reform Party was anti-immigrant:

One way top Reformers played to the anti-immigrant vote was through the promotion of the writings and speeches of William Gairdner, one of the party's most popular keynote speakers. In his book, The Trouble with Canada, Gairdner (in a chapter called "The Silent Destruction of English Canada...") spoke of "invading cultures" and proposed quotas on "non-traditional" immigrants (those not from the U.K., U.S., New Zealand, Britain or white South Africans). Gairdner warned "in 250 years Canada could become a Chinese nation."

And the National Citizens Coalition, which Harper headed, opposed -- among many other things -- the settlement of Vietnamese refugees:

Among its many well-funded campaigns (against the Canada Health Act, fair tax reform, unions, and restrictions on corporate political spending) was a hysterical campaign against Canada admitting the so-called "boat people" -- the 1978-79 wave of refugees from post-war Vietnam. The NCC took out two full-page ads in The Globe and Mail warning that the government's policies would lead to "at least 750,000 [Vietnamese] in the not too distant future." The actual number was 60,000. 

The line from the Globe and Mail sounds suspiciously like Harper's claim that the other two parties would open the door to "hundreds of thousands" of refugees.

Bigotry was always at the heart of the Reform Party. And, even though he tries to hide it, Stephen Harper occasionally reminds us that he never was a Conservative. He was -- and is -- a Reformer.


zoombats said...

That's the underlying foundation of most politicians. They rely on the forgetfulness of the populace.

Owen Gray said...

Forgetfulness makes injustice possible, zoombats.

Lorne said...

Perhaps Harper will now start to realize that the code words he uses to reach his base are becoming increasingly transparent to the rest of us, Owen.

Owen Gray said...

Harper's politics is dog whistle politics, Lorne. It's always been dog whistle politics.

Mogs Moglio said...

Are Harper's 'old stock' Canadians the Earl Cowans of Canada? The 'security card' that Harper pulled on the immigrant issue also implies that it was written for non old stock Canadians and not a terrorist threat otherwise why even bring it up. If C-51 is supposed to protect us from terrorists coming into Canada why sound the alarm bells Mr. Harper?

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Mogs. Harper has a hard time with people who don't look and sound like him.

the salamander said...

.. in the face of Harper's hysterical new & clearly bogus definition of 'old stock Canadians' could he also enlighten us on how he now defines 'existing' Canadians? It appears they are neither 'new' ie first generation immigrants who became citizens or 'old stock' ie children or descendants of first generation immigrants who became citizens but instead are simply 'existing' - perhaps in some rapture or preborn vaporous apolitical sense yet may evolve into 'ordinary Canadians' able to hum Oh Canada, vote some day, become westerners, be put in prison for possession of the dreaded ganja marijuana, perform as backdrops for political photo-ops or engage in fake citizenship ceremonies

“The only time we’ve removed it (Healthcare) is where we have clearly bogus refugee claimants who have been refused and turned down. We do not offer them a better health care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive,” he said. “I think that’s something that most new and existing and, and, old-stock Canadians agree with.”

Owen Gray said...

I suspect that Harper would define "old stock Canadians" as people who look and sound like him, salamander -- a clear sign that he has been captured by the image in his mirror.

Scotian said...

Coming from "old-stock Canadian" roots as I do (when your family roots here predates Confederation I think you qualify) I was horrified by this language. Not so much for the open pandering many believe it signals, but for what it shows about the underlying mindset of the man who said it in general, which is where your post here hits the mark on. I remember Reform from its beginnings, and Harper came onto my radar back then because of his policy prominence within the party, as did his embracing of some fairly odious extremism especially on the refugee/immigrant side of things. Even within the Reform movement there was a bit of a split on this issue, and Harper was a part of the hard core element, not the more moderate element of which Manning represented (and what it says when you call Manning of that time the moderate in itself speaks volumes too, does it not).

Part of what makes Canada so unique and a valuable nation to the world in the pre-Harper years was out community of communities approach instead of the melting pot assimilationist approach that our American cousins use, and the fact we were able to make it work. One of the most appalling aspects of the Harper decade of endarkenment is how openly bigotry and fearmongering became seen as acceptable in our political discourse, especially by a sitting government. We've been watching it in action yet again when it comes to the Syrian refugee issue, when you get Lewis MacKenzie, Romeo Dallaire, and Rick Hilliar all saying the same thing about how bogus the security argument is being used to slow-roll processing by this government you know it is really and truly a bullshit argument. As if people are saying ignore sensible security screenings and simply let anyone in! That this argument isn't being immediately mocked by everyone in the media and the wider public in itself shows just how far we have fallen as a nation on this point, and it is something I find myself bitterly ashamed over.

This old stock comment and the thinking behind it regardless of whether it was intentional or not is something that should trouble all those that believed in the open Canadian society of tolerance, multiculturalism, and pluralism that we were so well known and respected for internationally as well as internally. As you said, this isn't Canadian conservative values, it is old school Reformism, and the more extreme wing of Reformism at that.

Owen Gray said...

Hillier, Dellaire and MacKenzie -- with their military backgrounds -- know a lot about logistics, Scotian. They know that refugees can be brought here in great numbers and quickly.

It's not a question of capacity. It's a question of will. With Harper it's always been about will -- not capacity.