With a legacy characterized by Canada’s worst human rights record in the modern era, utter disdain for the environment, the proroguing of Parliament (twice), and the muzzling of scientists, I think all progressive-minded Canadians are quite happy to see the back of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Surely whoever we have to look forward to replacing him won’t be nearly as bad, right? Folks, meet Kellie Leitch.
Leitch is a bit of a newcomer to the public political scene. She’s apparently been actively involved with the Conservative Party since the mid-1980s, but her real job is as an orthopaedic paediatric surgeon at SickKids in Toronto. In fact, she was the doctor who was trying to save former finance minister Jim Flaherty’s life after his ultimately fatal heart attack by in 2014.
She first ran for office in 2011, winning the Simcoe—Grey seat formerly held by Helena Guergis. (If you don’t recognize that name, Guergis is one of the numerous Conservative MPs unceremoniously dumped during the Harper years that we have no idea why, because the Harper government covered everything up. There was an RCMP investigation, which eventually cleared her of all charges, but apparently she just… fell out King Harper’s favour. She ended up filing a defamation lawsuit against Harper.) In 2013, Harper appointed Lietch as Minister of Labour – and I think we all know about the Harper government’s track record on labour issues – and Minister of the Status of Women (formerly held by Guergis, natch). Her record on the latter is impressive, but not in a good way: She was the Minister of the Status of Women when the Harper government refused to open the enquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and, well, this.
Leitch was the first to throw her hat in the ring to replace Harper as leader of the Conservative Party, way back in April, likely in order to fund-raise for as long as possible to challenge more established names like Tony Clement, Maxime Bernier, and Lisa Raitt (who is still not officially a contender). (Also, at the time there was a possibility that interim leader Rona Ambrose would simply be acclaimed as the permanent leader, but that idea got quashed at their convention in May.) The fund-raising gambit paid off, too. But of course, Harper only officially quit last week. So Leitch decided to mark the occasion by… playing the bigot card again.
Yes, I said “again”.
First, the current scandal. Last week she emailed a survey to people who had signed up for news about her campaign. It was mostly a bunch of questions about which policies you wanted to see Leitch support:
including electoral reform, corporate tax cuts and the legalization and regulation of marijuana for recreational use. But buried in the survey was this question:
Yup, that’s right: Leitch wants to know if Canadians would support an ideological purity test before admitting refugees.
Oh, I’m sure some would. Surely we’ve seen plenty enough examples of xenophobic bigotry in the last few years in Canada that it’s no longer easy to believe the myth that Canada is a welcoming and tolerate society. But this idea… screening refugees for ideological purity… gee, doesn’t it sound familiar? Where have we heard that suggested recently?
Leitch has since come under fire for her survey question, not just from progressives, but also from her competition for Conservative leadership. Michael Chong called it
dog-whistle politics, and said it
does not represent our Conservative Party or our Canada. (Chong seems to be the least horrible of the current crop of Conservative leadership candidates, which of course means he’s got the smallest chance. He does beat the tired old conservative drum that the pocketbook is the only thing that matters (who the hell uses a pocketbook anymore?), but at least he voted for the C-279 “bathroom bill” (which was ultimately defeated by the Senate). On the other hand, he seems to be a pro-lifer.) Rona Ambrose has also weighed in against Leitch’s proposal. Conservative strategist Chad Rogers was even more blunt as he called for Leitch to withdraw from the leadership race:
You don’t get to apologize twice for the same mistake. She’s done something stupid and if she apologizes now and leaves the race, she has a chance to rebuild her reputation within the party.
Wait… apologize twice for the same mistake?
Yup. For some of you, the name Kellie Leitch might have been familiar from the 2015 election. It is now widely agreed that Harper ran a dirty, divisive campaign focusing on identity politics, and stirring up racism and bigotry. And lo, at the centre of all that, in what some people are now calling the
one of the lowest point of the Conservative campaign… there was the infamous “barbaric cultural practices hotline”.
Don’t remember that? Well, it was a charming proposal by the Conservatives that, if re-elected, they would implement a hotline for people to report quote-unquote “barbaric cultural practices” to the RCMP. Never mind that we already had a hotline for people to report any actual barbaric acts… more commonly known as “911”. It has been widely derided as a “snitch line” for Canadians to narc to the cops about their Muslim neighbours.
After the massive smack-down at the polls, Leitch went on CBC and tearfully not-pologized for the idea when she was just starting her leadership run. But now, she’s un-a-not-poligized, and she’s defending her survey question.
Oh, and of course it probably goes without saying that she opposes abortion, legalization of cannabis, and a carbon tax, is keen on “conscience exemptions” for assisted dying, and, well, there’s her record as Minister for the Status of Women. An all-round winner, this one. And she’s not even close to the worst of the bunch – at least she supports LGBT rights.
Well, Canucks, thus far we’ve had our fun snickering at the Yanks and their circus show of an election season. But it seems we may have our own horrifying campaign season to look forward to in March, April, and May next year. I haven’t dug too deeply yet, but it looks like half of the candidates oppose same-sex marriage (wasn’t that issue closed in 2006?), and none of them are pro-choice (the exception would have been Lisa Raitt, but she hasn’t officially declared candidacy (yet)). Granted, it’s just the Conservatives’ leadership race, and, well, we kinda expected this to be a shit-show. But we hoped for better, and now it looks like we’re going to be disappointed.