Canada's Conservative Candidates on Trump's #MuslimBan

Now that twitter is our main means of engaging in complex political discourse, I trawled the feeds of the 14-and-a-half* registered candidates for the Conservative Party Leadership for their responses on Trump's #muslimban so you don't have to.

Chris Alexander

Chris Alexander is the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration under Harper. He struck a hawkish note, condemning both Trump and Trudeau for their "isolationism."

Alexander's website spells out his position on Syria. He goes further than Trudeau and calls the conflict a "genocide", having previously associated it with the Holocaust -- a designation which would presumably have some consequences for refugee policy. He's interventionist on terrorism - you can read his policy here - but despite his CV, his website is relatively quiet on both immigration and refugee resettlement.

Maxime Bernier

Maxime Bernier is a former Conservative Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism. In a series of five tweets, he didn't defend the ban per se, but seized the opportunity to criticize Justin Trudeau's expanded refugee resettlement programme.

(Note: In the tweet above, he means "economic" when he says "eco". No mention of environmental refugees here...)

Bernier's policy on immigration advocates reducing the total immigration to 250,000 a year, 50,000 less than current policy allows. He writes:

Preventing our businesses from hiring the immigrant manpower they need with red tape is a big government policy. At the other extreme, mass immigration that would create social tensions and is not in the interest of Canadians is also a big government policy.

His response to the ban suggests he views refugee resettlement as a drain on the Canadian economy. Though there is no comprehensive study of the economic impact of refugees in Canada, Harper's claim that refugees were leeching off the welfare state were largely debunked during the 2015 federal election. Most refugees are privately sponsored, meaning individuals and organizations besides the government ensure their basic needs are met.

Bernier, like many of the candidates, phrased their statement as a response to Trudeau's "welcome" to refugees "regardless of their faith". For Bernier, Canada should neither comment nor respond to a "US internal" approach to an unsolveable problem.

Steven Blaney

Blaney is a former Minister for Public Safety and Veterans Affairs. Like many Quebecois Conservatives, he has supported overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ban the niqab during voting and other public ceremonies, and in the federal public service. He also is supportive of a "Canadian values" test like that proposed by Conservative leadership candidate Kelly Leitch.

Blaney offers little policy on his website, but his campaign slogan, "Canada first", is an obvious nod to the nativist ideologies that underly Trump's ban.

Blaney hasn't yet tweeted a response. In the past, though, he has advocated for reducing refugee resettlement and immigration "to be able to offer those immigrants opportunities."

Michael Chong

Chong's response was short and sweet. His website is silent on immigration and refugee resettlement, but in the past, he has spoken critically of Leitch's "race-baiting" policies.

Kellie Leitch

Our own version of the badly coiffed racist populist archetype has of course waded into the debate. Her first tweeted response was a personally signed condemnation of a motion tabled in the house, M-103, which would classify Islamophobia as a hate crime. The bill has caused hysteria on right-wing hate sites like JihadWatch.

But after nodding to her core constituency of Muslim-hating internet trolls, Leitch reiterated her support for screening "immigrants for anti-Canadian values."

She also defended Trump's democratic mandate:

But in what might be an encouraging sign of personal development, Leitch deftly avoided singling out Muslims as the primary targets of her white supremacist policies.

Leitch's definitions of Canadian values are vague and wide-ranging, and she has not yet made clear the details of her proposed screening process. Her website indicates she believes immigration officials are already overworked, and thousands of lying Mexican refugees are only adding to their burden.

Pierre Lemieux

Lemieux is a pretty minor player in the race for the Conservative Party leadership. As of this writing, he has not tweeted a response. He has previously objected to Leitch's values test, but specifies "protecting Canadians from radical Islamic terrorism" as the number one priority in making immigration policy.

Deepak Obhrai

Obhrai, one of two non-white candidates in the field, was clear in his condemnation. As a member of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, he proposed partnerships with Muslim communities in the aftermath of 9/11. In his Conservative leadership pitch, he proposes "the setting up of a community-driven Centre... to exclusively address the threat of home-grown terrorism." He lists a "progressive social policy" under his core Conservative principles, saying he will "develop immigration policies that shape immigration to be seen as a Strength, not a Threat."

He adds, "Canada was built by immigrants."

It's not all roses. Obhrai wants to defund federal refugee resettlement programs -- though only to force privately sponsored refugee programs to pick up the slack. 

Kevin O'Leary

"Business doesn't take weekend" indeed. In amongst the rabid self-promotion and network-sponsored hashtags, O'Leary had no time to comment on Twitter's number one trending topic.

His website is also light on the details.

Despite framing himself as the budget, Canadian version of Donald Trump, he has called Leitch's values test "un-Canadian". He's also expressed a preference for limited military involvement in Syria, saying, "The last nationality ISIS wants to put a bullet through is a Canadian."

Erin O'Toole

O'Toole called the ban "unfair & ineffective for security." As a candidate, he's pretty old school -- no anti-immigrant populism here. Just reform of the temporary foreign workers programme and an emphasis on skilled workers.

Rick Peterson

Venture capitalist Rick Peterson didn't comment on #MuslimBan, but like Leitch, he did seize the opportunity to deride M103. This is clearly a key issue for him -- less than an hour later, he was asked for his position again, prompting a snarky reply.

Peterson's website clearly states his opposition to Leitch's values test:

Rick wants to make it crystal clear that he will say No today and forever to values tests of citizenship. He rejects an idea that would inevitably lead to someone striking up an Orwellian “citizenship values committee”, staffed with busybody bureaucrats. He will say No to anyone who thinks that immigrants to our country should be subject to a values test that apparently nobody born here would have to take.  We’re better than that.

However, in the previous paragraph, he states his support for "smarter immigration policies, using tiered security screening and increased terrorist surveillance." These may not involve a civics test, but they will likely discriminate on the basis of country of origin.

Lisa Raitt

A longtime cabinet minister in the Harper government, Raitt is one of the front-runners for the leadership -- or, at least, she was, until the "irresponsible populism" of Leitch and O'Leary came along.

Raitt went into constituency mode when news of the travel ban broke, and otherwise hasn't commented. Her policies page doesn't mention immigration, and in the past she's been skillfully vague on the numbers of refugees, skilled migrants, and other immigrants she'd be willing to accept as PM.

Andrew Saxton

Saxton hasn't tweeted since before the ban, and his campaign website appears to be broken. However, in the past, he has stressed the importance of integration and been hesitant about raising the annual cap on immigrants. He has also been critical of Trudeau's Syrian refugee program, saying:

When Justin brings in 25,000 Syrian refugees in a matter of months, without a plan to help them integrate, I feel this is irresponsible governing … Not only is it tough on the refugees … it is tough on our taxpayers who are footing the bill while refugees are left to figure out on their own how to find work, find housing, and learn our culture.

Andrew Scheer

Scheer, a former Speaker of the House, released a storm of tweets in response to the ban, largely attacking Trudeau for his pledge to welcome refugees.

Scheer clearly opposes increased refugee resettlement. Instead, he proposes attacking its "root causes" -- not the root causes of terrorism that Trudeau goes on about, but ISIS, which must be "destroyed:"

Scheer's website is light on details and heavy on self-promotion, but he has criticized Leitch's values test as impractical. Nonetheless, he believes immigrants should have "a conversation about the values that do make Canada great" on arrival. He appears to be a supporter of privately sponsored resettlement.

Brad Trost

Trost is the social conservative voice in the wilderness of the Conservative leadership race. He did not address the travel ban on Twitter this weekend, though he was embroiled in a minor local controversy over a meeting with pro-life groups in Saskatoon's public library.

Despite the radio silence, CTV has previously reported Brad Trost's support for "temporary immigration bans on nations or groups who pose a direct security risk to Canadians," using language strikingly similar to Trump's travel ban.

If that weren't enough, as a Conservative MP in 2010, he argued Canada "should make deportations quicker and easier."

Rona Ambrose

Rona Ambrose isn't running for the Conservative Party leadership (and, indeed, may not be able to), but she is its interim leader. She struck a note in opposition to many of those vying for her throne when she came out strongly in favour of refugee resettlement irrespective of religion -- and even, it would seem, economic benefit:

This has been a pretty consistent stand from her, even in tough times. She advocated strongly for the resettlement of Yazidi women and girls, and stated in a 2015 interview with CBC:

I support bringing in as many refugees as I can, in a safe way. Canada has always been a safe haven for people who are persecuted... There are no people in the world that are being more persecuted right now... [than] religious minorities, [including] Muslim religious minorities.


So there you have it. There's a lot of these guys -- and some are likely to be gleefully rubbing their hands at the precedent Trump has set for immigration policy the world over. But it's a big field, with a lot of varied faces. If Leitch and her like don't steal the show, it's possible Trudeau's safe haven could outlive Trudeau.

*14 registered candidates and interim leader Rona Ambrose.

Assembled with haste on a Sunday night -- I will be updating as others make their responses. If you see any obvious oversights, please let me know.