New Canadians at the Polls: A Reply to Adams and Brown

Recently Michael Adams and his co-author wrote an interesting piece on  immigrants and conservatism appearing in the Globe. They ask: are immigrants natural conservatives?

The authors make several mistakes in their analysis

Mistake one. Conflating Bush’s form of conservatism with Harper’s – Republicans are further right than most Canadians can imagine and are led  by mostly white older males. Yes it’s true Harper has his white older male ideological base, but for the most part  his form of social and fiscal conservatism is far less extreme than anything concocted by the  Republicans fiscally and socially. To those immigrant Canadians who  are attracted to the middle ground on a values and fiscal basis , Harper must constantly show his party can claim some of that  middle ground especially  on social spending. Not so the Republicans with their take it or leave it philosophy on health care and other social programmes.

Mistake two. Harper’s political  approach is narrow casting; appealing to specific groups through “ethnic media” which means targeted and specific polices that appeal only to them. No big tent full of liberal values for Harper. Just treating the ethnic vote as a specific set of interests with specific targeted policies. Like it or hate it – the strategy has worked so well  it has been copied by provincial parties in British Columbia and elsewhere. Macleans ran a series of excellent articles on Kenney’s targeting strategy. John Baird’s recent visits to the Ukraine in support of the  protests there are an excellent example of this form of “narrow casting;”  most Canadians would not take issue with this policy and to the Ukrainian Canadians it makes a big difference. Elsewhere I have written how this plays out with the Office of Religious Freedom (click here for the article in the Globe and Mail and here for the post on iPolitics) and Sri Lanka. The bigger analysis appeared in our book  The World in Canada (MQUP 2009).

Mistake three. Its not just new Canadians that have abandoned some liberal values; all of Canada is shifting to the right. As our population ages this is what happens. Specifically on foreign policy issues but elsewhere too. What Harper has done is to  try and  wipe the  ideological slate clean and eliminate in every sense of the word, any reference to past Liberal party policies on foreign policy (the UN, Human Security, the role of Civil Society in foreign policy consultation, RtoP, peacekeeping etc). New Canadians just aren’t  as  “in tune” with the Trudeau and even the Chretien eras because they never really experienced them. Canada a peacekeeping nation? We’ve been at war for over the last decade.

Mistake four. Just because some new Canadians might share some social values in line with the Liberal party doesn’t mean they will vote for them. Justin Trudeau’s big tent philosophy is no match for narrow casting. He needs to rethink his core strategy of building on the “middle class” as some sort of amorphous lump. It just doesn’t exist in the same way it did a generation ago; now we have accentuated urban-rural splits, ethnic splits and other demographic divides based on age and gender that are accentuated every time a policy announcement is made.  Jason Kenney as Minister of Immigration  or “Curry in a Hurry” recognized the wisdom of this strategy and became a master of chasing down the so called “ethnic vote”. Justin Trudeau needs to get with the programme, learn Punjabi, Filipino and Mandarin  and get up to speed on what really matters to new Canadians.

Finally, many  immigrants coming here may  now bring less concern about human rights violations, than they do business interests. The new business class fast tracking system will help ensure that new Canadians will put economic interests in their suitcases over and above anything else. That is much different than the immigration policies  that existed under Chretien and  even  Pierre Trudeau.

The downside to all this is that Canada is becoming less a nation bound together by a common set of principles and values and more a way station for people to park their money while they seek a better quality of life elsewhere. New Canadians especially the wealthier ones are just as likely to return to their homelands after making a living here.

David Carment
Professor of International Affairs,
CDFAI Fellow  and Editor  –  Canadian Foreign Policy Journal

Related readings by David Carment:



One thought on “New Canadians at the Polls: A Reply to Adams and Brown

  1. I’m probably wrong but I recall researchers once making the argument that the voting preferences of immigrants correlated favorably for the the governing party e.g. they will tend to support the power that was in power over their first few years in Canada. Notwithstanding the outreach efforts of Mr. Kenney doesn’t incumbency alone have its advantages, especially among a demographic that will experience on average significant upward mobility?

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