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MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — If Maxime Bernier becomes prime minister, his People’s Party of Canada would be “fencing off the areas” along those areas along the border used by illegal migrants, notably Roxham Road that connects New York State and Quebec, the party leader announced at a campaign event Wednesday evening.
“Build a fence. Build a fence,” chanted one supporter, Michael Cieslinski, a child and youth support worker who was streaming the speech to his YouTube channel.
When asked who would pay for the fence, in an interview after his speech, Bernier emphasized that the fencing would just be for problem spots. “It’s not a wall. It’s a fence. There’s no cost for that … It’s a question of declaring our sovereignty.”
Bernier also said in his speech that he will reduce the total intake of immigrants and refugees to between 100,000 and 150,000 annually, depending on economic circumstances, which is significantly lower than the federal Liberals’ target of 350,000 per year. He also said he will outlaw “birth tourism,” a practice where foreign travellers come to Canada to deliver children as a way to secure citizenship. He promised to increase the proportion of economic immigrants to non-economic-class immigrants and require immigration applicants to go through face-to-face interviews to assess the extent to which they align with Canadian values.
He said that Canada should stop relying on the UN to select refugees that come here and instead “will give priority to refugees belonging to persecuted groups who have nowhere to go in neighbouring countries,” specifically naming Yazidis and Christians persecuted in majority-Muslim countries, and “members of sexual minorities.”
“We cannot be the welfare state of the planet,” Bernier told a crowd that filled approximately 900 seats. “I don’t care a bit about people’s race or skin colour. I have said many times that racist and bigots are not welcome in our party …The journalists who don’t want to recognize this and keep coming back with questions of bigotry can just take a hike.”
As Bernier finds his footing in the federal election, planned for October, his statements helped clarify the question of how nationalist his campaign will become. Since founding the People’s Party of Canada last September he has defined himself as a libertarian who promises freedom of speech, freedom of trade between provinces and freedom to emit carbon dioxide. He has previously announced his desire to withdraw Canada from all UN commitments and repeal bills that hinder construction of oil export pipelines.
While these positions have earned him just three-per-cent support, his statements on immigration and identity politics on Wednesday evening provoked shouts of “Amen,” and “Thank you, Maxime.”
Bernier took the stage alongside Salim Mansur, an academic running for the PPC who argues that multiculturalism imperils Canada. Bernier has roughly 90 days to build more support before the election, and his appeal to nationalism advanced substantially with Wednesday’s speech, which took sharp aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “diversity is our strength” mantra and argued instead for a more gradual integration of immigrants who ” have the right to cherish and maintain their cultural heritage” while also adapting to Canadian values — rather than those who might try to “recreate the society and culture (they) left behind.” His speech did not touch on Quebec’s recent ban against visible religious symbols worn by public servants.
“Maxime Bernier is struggling for attention,” says Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University. “I sense that he perceives — somewhat opportunistically perceives — an opening for himself in the current climate of right-wing populism that has impacted on many countries but has hitherto been much less of a factor in Canada.”
Bernier was introduced to the crowd by Mansur, an associate professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario running for the PPC in London North Centre, after the Conservative party rejected his candidacy.
“There are moments in the history of people that cry out for leadership, and providence answers by bringing forward an individual to be that leader in that hour of need,” Mansur said.
As a child, Mansur escaped war-torn East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) with his mother and younger siblings to his grandmother’s home in Calcutta, then immigrated to Toronto in 1974. Mansur is Muslim himself and criticizes Islamic extremism. In his 2011 book, Delectable Lie: A Liberal Repudiation of Multiculturalism, Mansur argues that all cultures are not equal and that human rights commissions are thought-police.
“The worm inside the doctrine of multiculturalism is the lie that all cultures are worthy of equal respect and equally embracing of individual freedom and democracy,” Mansur wrote.
On Wednesday, Mansur delivered his critique of multiculturalism to a multi-ethnic room of supporters, both young and old, that seemed to welcome it, judging by the crowd’s response that occasionally drowned out the two speakers. More than half the population of Mississauga is of Asian or African origin as of 2016, according to Statistics Canada.
Canada accepted 286,000 permanent residents in 2017, and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced last October that the Liberal government increase the number of immigrants it accepts each year, rising to 350,000 in 2021. Some audience members hoped to hear Maxime dramatically reduce the annual number.
“150,000” said a 21-year-old electrician, who requested to remain anonymous.
“Less than 50,000,” said a 25-year-old IT specialist, who also requested to remain anonymous.
Lynda Shapiro, a retired physiotherapist who lives in Ajax, Ont. had not yet decided how to vote, but she said Canada needs to accept refugees.
“A lot of people are hurting,” she said, waiting outside the convention centre two hours early. “The hurt and the damage and the war and the refugees and the absolute human sacrifice, we can’t just pretend it doesn’t exist.”
Although Bernier did not mention by name the Safe Third Country Agreement, which Conservative party Andrew Scheer has promised to renegotiate with the United States, he said his party plans to “declare the whole border an official port of entry and send back to the U.S. anyone trying to enter illegally.”
Bernier plans to travel next week to Saskatchewan, where he will hold a meet and greet in Moose Jaw.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019