When my parents first left Laos for a refugee camp in Thailand, their first choice of adopted country was the United States of America. My dad had spent time there when he was younger, on military training, and had travelled from California to New York. He told me he had beautiful memories of his time there, how nice the people were and how great and open the country was. Two of my mom's sisters were already residents in the States and years before that, my mother had an acceptance letter to a university in Chicago, but could not get out of Laos because of the turmoil at the time. It was natural that they wanted to resettle in a country they knew and had ties to. Besides, all they ever heard of Canada was that it was cold.
Twenty four hours have passed since the shock of a Donald Trump presidential victory shook up my perceptions about our continent. It has given me a little time to reflect on how truly thankful I am to be Canadian — I could've become a U.S. citizen had it not been for some missing paperwork.
How a missing document and Pierre Trudeau brought us to Canada
As fate would have it, after applying to immigrate to the U.S., the government representatives on the ground asked for a document that my parents simply could not return to Laos to get. With the application stalled, they turned to Canada. Another of my mom's sisters was living in Toronto and with former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's family reunification policy at the time, it was easier to immigrate here. And so, the Canadian government sponsored our family. Decades later, this is what has saved us from having to endure the political upheaval now under way after Tuesday's vote. The rest, as they say, is history.
The thing is, despite not being American, sharing a border with the most powerful country in the world still affects us as Canadians. And now, a Conservative Party leadership candidate wants to import Trump’s hateful and divisive politics to Canada.
In a fundraising letter sent at 3:13 a.m. on Nov. 9, Kellie Leitch wrote “Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president. It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well.” Really?
What are Leitch and Blaney's 'Canadian' values?
Trump’s campaign was not about throwing out the elites and “making America great again.” It was, as many have rightly noted, about dividing the American people, cultivating a culture of fear, creating a message that misogyny is okay, having no respect for other candidates and fostering hate of “the other” within the disaffected, uneducated white male population—much of it based on lies and all of it couched in a communications exercise that I’m sure every political strategist is looking to study for the next win.
This is the message Leitch wants to deliver in Canada. After crying about her role in the former Conservative government’s initiative to start a “barbaric practices hotline,” she’s come out with her “Canadian values” rhetoric—so much for ‘it’s not about race.’ And apparently it’s working with her Conservative base. “It’s why I’m the only candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada who is standing up for Canadian values,” she wrote in her letter. “It’s why I’m the only candidate who will ensure that every visitor, immigrant, and refugee will be screened for Canadian values. I look forward to continuing to deliver this message to the Canadian elites — that historic Canadian values are worth protecting.”
Conservative leadership candidate Steven Blaney has also weighed in, saying there’s a “Canadian way of living,” also in an effort to rally the base and win the top job.
What exactly are these “historic Canadian values”? Does she mean the ones in which only white Europeans immigrated to Canada with their English, Christian notions of a nuclear family in which the wife stays at home to raise their heterosexual children and are the epitome of success in small rural towns? You know, the racist views of those hearty, “old-stock” Canadians that sent First Nations people to residential schools, and who have apparently gone missing since Canada’s population has become almost 25 per cent made up of non-white immigrants and foreign-born nationals. Those values? Or does Blaney mean the same ones that prompted him to be part of a political party that tells women they can’t wear niqabs, that opposed same-sex marriage and that actively denied refugees access to health care?
Tories lost in 2015 by trying to divide Canadians
When Trump won the Republican nomination, I predicted he would also win the presidency because as I told my friends and family, I did not have faith in the American people to reject his lies, hate and outrageous divisiveness — I was hoping they would prove me wrong. Unfortunately, they got the result they did on Nov. 8 and I’ve never been more thankful for missing documents. On this side of the border, Leitch and Blaney may well successfully import Trump’s “exciting message” to their campaigns, but I have faith it will stop at the Conservative base. Last October’s election showed that most Canadians rejected the fear mongering and the attempts at working against each other that's increasingly prevalent not only in the U.S., but here at home.
The Conservative Party of Canada lost the last election because it chose to scare and divide people and it will lose again in 2019 if Leitch or Blaney are at the helm. There is no room for their politics in our amazing, open, inclusive, caring, modern and diverse country—one that I’ve “integrated” into well and love dearly. Here’s hoping the Conservative base proves me wrong and cooler candidates (come on down Lisa Raitt, Michael Chong) will prevail.