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Canada is Being Dragged Into a Debate on What It Always Feared the Most: Immigration

There are two sides in the immigration debate: Team Nerd and Team Canada First.

Former public safety minister Steven Blaney has entered the Conservative leadership race. Screenshot/Daily VICE

In 1913, Canada brought in 400,000 immigrants. And boy were people mad.

As the pipeline of settlers came from British isles, a heavy mix of Fenian Papists and incomprehensible Gaels and Welsh, "old stock" Canadians fretted idly about their Canadian identity.

But it was the steady stream of Indian, Japanese, and Chinese migrants (more aptly described as labourers) arriving in Vancouver that finally turned the tide against the open door policy. That's when the real — perceived — threat to Canadian identity began.

A few years earlier, the governing Liberal Party introduced the Continuous Passage Regulations, mandating would-be migrants to the Canadian dominion must arrive there by direct route from their birth or resident country. That made the Asiatic Exclusion League in Vancouver pretty happy, as there was no direct route from anywhere in the Asian continent to Canada at that point.

Once those regulations were properly enforced, immigration plummeted.

400,000 in 1913. 150,000 in 1914.

Obviously, since then, we had a couple of world wars. We also turned away a lot of ship-fulls of migrants. Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs, 352 all-told, who were on board the Komagata Maru were turned away at a Vancouver port in 1914, forced back to the regime of the British Raj where they were shot at and imprisoned. In 1939, it was the MS St. Louis, with 937 on-board, mostly Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's regime, who were turned away in Halifax. Upon return, roughly half were killed in Nazi camps.

This year will be the first time in a century, since 1913, that immigration to Canada is expected to be above 300,000.

Now, we've got a decision to make. Do we turn the clock back to 1914 and become immigration skeptics again, or do we leave the door open?

Team one is Finance Minister Bill Morneau's Advisory Council on Economic Growth (Team Nerd, for future reference.) In a report released last week, Team Nerd made a bold statement: bring in 450,000 immigrants per year within five years.

Their case is pretty straightforward: Canada is old as hell, and various government benefits and pension plans for its increasingly aging population are wildly unsustainable unless a major change comes about.

"Attracting more young foreign talent to Canada—by focusing on retaining international students, for example—will help to partially offset the fiscal impact of these demographic trends," the Team Nerd report reads.

Team two is elbowing its way into the Conservative Party leadership race, headed by the tag-team of one-time Barbaric Cultural Practises Hotline proponent Kellie Leitch and erstwhile public safety minister of C-51 fame, Steven Blaney. (Team two is Team Canada First.)

Leitch, as I've already written, is hawking a plan to interrogate would-be Canadians into confessing to their radicalized ways. Her new partner in crime, Blaney, entered the race over the weekend, promising that "right now, we are seeing a slow and sure erosion of the foundation of Canada."

Conservative MP Kellie Leitch wants potential immigrants to be screened for their values. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

On one hand, Blaney told reporters on Monday: "We are all new Canadians."

On the other, he actually said: "We don't want our country to be like the country they left."

So, hey, real mixed bag.

Perhaps the most obscene thing from Blaney's announcement, and the reason you're reading a history lesson disguised as a column, was his choice of slogan: Canada First.

[Sound of a VHS rewinding]

The Canada First movement was a 19th century political movement, hellbent on Making Manitoba Protestant Again by ousting Louis Riel's Metis government through the forcible annexation of the Red River Colony. That, of course, happened.

So Blaney's choice of a slogan, especially coupled with his promise to supercede the Supreme Court in order to implement a government-wide burqa ban for public employees, is particularly odious.

This whole thing, the embolism of a conversation about enhanced screening of refugees, is an age-old reaction to the very thing that made Canada great (sorry) in the first place: immigration.

Leitch and Blaney would contend that they're not looking to reduce immigration at all, they're just looking for the "right" immigrants (wink wink, nudge nudge.)

There's nothing conservative about empowering government bureaucrats to interrogate prospective Canadians based on government-mandated fealty criteria. There's nothing patriotic about blowing dogwhistles in the face of refugees fleeing a warzone. And there's nothing pro-immigration about setting ideological standards for living in Canada that we don't apply to our own citizens.

Canada is going to import some idiots. We might wind up with an Islamophobic Dutchman or a sexist Kuwaiti. The whole point of our multiculturalism system is to take in those people—as well as the engineers, the doctors, the future politicians—and create something bigger and better than each individual immigrant.

Steven Blaney, have you never even watched a single damn Heritage Moment?

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