Conservatives and immigrant voters: an unconventional love story

Signage protesting Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney - photo by Tim Reinert

Signage protesting Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney - photo by Tim Reinert


In the first half of this two part series on this subject, Tim Reinert explored the conventional wisdom that new immigrants are starting to vote Conservative.

In 2011, the Conservative Party won their first majority government in decades. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has been given credit for much of the success due to his focused targeting of the immigrant community.

Jason Kenny, Minister of Immigration - Photo by GG Liu, Flickr

Jason Kenny, Minister of Immigration - Photo by GG Liu, Flickr

But Harjap Grewal of No One Is Illegal believes the gains made by the Conservatives are superficial and are limited to business leaders only. He says that since the immigrant community isn’t by and large homogenous, the Conservatives have latched onto members of the immigrant community that will benefit from their programs.

“There’s an issue of class within immigrant communities,” says Grewal. “To put it bluntly, the Conservatives promoted [their recent gains] as a broad relationship with immigrant communities, but the actual relationships are with the richer and wealthier aspects of the immigrant communities.”

He suggests that since the Conservative relationship with the business class of various immigrant groups has strengthened, it’s being interpreted by the media as a softening of their approach to immigration that just isn’t justified.

The NDP response

Grewal isn’t alone in his critique. Don Davies is the NDP MP for Vancouver-Kingsway, and the official Opposition critic for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

“On every objective criteria, on backlog and wait times, [the Conservatives] roundly condemned the Liberals prior to them, deservedly so,” says Don Davies from his riding office in Vancouver. “But their record is worse.”

It’s not just the logistics of the Conservatives handling of the Immigration file that Davies has problems with. He points to the recently tabled Bill C-31 as a perfect example of how he feels that Conservatives are politicizing the Immigration portfolio. Bill C-31 is essentially the immigration version of the recent omnibus crime bill, and bundles several older pieces of proposed legislation (including one that has already passed) together alongside new, controversial measures like mandatory biometrics. It would allow the government to detain refugees for up to a year without review, and prevents refugees who come here on an “irregular arrival,” such as Sri Lankans that arrived off the shores of Vancouver last year, from applying for permanent residence for five years.

Don Davies, NDP MP critic - Photo by Brent Granby, Flickr

Don Davies, NDP MP critic - Photo by Brent Granby, Flickr

Davies says this “bundling” tactic is a common strategy from the Harper government. He considers it legislative bullying, as it forces MPs to vote against bills that they might actually agree with parts of.

“And then afterwards of course they use it politically to say that you voted against it, even though they packaged it with odious things that you had no choice but to vote against,” says Davies.

Defence for the Conservative approach

Prominent conservative writer Russ Campbell disagrees with Davies’ criticisms, and believes that Kenney has made the best of a difficult situation.

“I’d give him an eight and a half out of 10,” says Campbell. “People forget that immigration is a privilege, [and] not a right. No one has a right to come to Canada. No one has a right to be accepted into Canada. It’s a wonderful privilege that so many of us have been afforded. ”

He describes Kenney’s handling of the Immigration file as “skilful” and believes Kenney has matured and grown into the position as time has progressed.

Campbell also defends Bill C-31. “Yes, the bill has changed [from when it originally passed as Bill C-11], but remember, it’s changed from legislation that’s passed in a minority government. It hasn’t so much changed from the legislation as originally envisioned.” Campbell feels that the changes should be considered more as ‘pro-Canadian’ as opposed to the ‘anti-immigrant’ label they’re being given by critics like Davies.

A harsher tone in Ottawa

It’s hard to argue that the Conservatives’ tone towards immigrants and refugees hasn’t gotten harsher since the election. Terms like “bogus refugees” and “crooked consultants” seem to be common place now, when even two years ago Kenney seemed to go out of his way to avoid such harsh language. Davies calls the new terminology “incendiary and divisive,” and believes that the Conservatives are trying to demonize a number of different kinds of immigrants in the eyes of the population at large. But Campbell believes that the tough crackdown on those trying to subvert the system is necessary.

“Every penny we spend on getting rid of people who don’t play by the rules is a penny we have to spend elsewhere,” he says. “And that elsewhere doesn’t help new immigrants to this country,”

Conservative writer Russ Campbell

Conservative writer Russ Campbell

Immigration as a key issue

One thing that both Davies and Campbell both agree on is how integral immigrants are to the future of our country. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration says that with Canada’s aging population and declining birthrate, by 2016 we will be 100 per cent dependent on immigrants for our new labour growth. Although how prominent a role immigrants should play in the cultural and social fabric of our country might be debatable, it’s clear that from a pure numbers perspective that immigration is extremely important to the future of our economy.

James Huáng, a recent immigrant who voted Conservative in his first Canadian election, feels that the media attention towards Kenney’s handling of the Immigration file is misguided.

“He’s keeping bad people out of the country,” says Huáng. “What’s wrong with that?”