Sunday, June 07, 2009

Checking in on Jason Kenney's little project

A few events whirring in and around Mr. Kenney's portfolio this week for you to consider and think about how they'll impact ongoing Conservative political efforts to woo new Canadians to the Conservative cause, against the backdrop of a coming federal election...

First up, the ongoing tussle among Ontario Conservative leadership candidates as they debate the notion of doing away with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Jason Kenney likes to tell us that new Canadians share the same values as Conservatives. It's possible, however, that some of those voters might be confused about just what those Conservative values might be:
Ms. Elliott and Mr. Klees said Mr. Hudak's pledge to scrap the province's Human Rights Tribunal would polarize Ontarians and be every bit as controversial as the religious-schools funding initiative that may have cost the Tories the last election.

"I promise you I will not allow our party to be burdened by toxic political policies like scrapping the Human Rights Tribunal," Ms. Elliott said.

Mr. Klees went even further, accusing Mr. Hudak of living in the past for embracing many of the policies of the Harris era. He said the Tories need to reach out to new Canadians by showing that they care about human rights.
Mr. Hudak also defended his proposal to replace the tribunal with a court-based system bound by rules of evidence, by saying he is "on the side of courage."

Mr. Hillier, who was the first to propose scrapping the tribunal, said he is disappointed that it has become so controversial.

"I guess we don't have to wait for Dalton to make it an issue," he told reporters after the debate.
Nah, you guys and gals are doing a fine job of keeping the issue front and center, reminding all of us how iffy the Conservatives can be when it comes to their social policy agenda. Talking about the present tribunal system which hears claims of discrimination as being built on "hurt feelings" just can't help, one would think. We can probably expect to hear about such Conservative opposition to human rights protection in a federal election too.

Also of note, Steve Paikin's interview with Jason Kenney this past week:

Kenney, like James Moore, is a good talker, but if you listen carefully, he comes off as being more about the politics than the policy. You can tell by how he perks up at the more political questions toward the end of the interview and the lack of depth in many responses at the front end. In terms of that lack of depth, for example, see Kenney's response toward the 13:30 mark or so when he's asked a "vision" kind of question by Paikin. What kinds of immigrants do you see Canada having increasingly in 10, 20 even 50 years out? Well, we don't really think in those terms, Steve, is the nutshell response, it'll likely still be Canada reacting to the parts of the world pressing for entry. Oh well, maybe next time he'll have a vision response in his back pocket.

Throughout, questioned rather skillfully by Paikin, Kenney resorts to the usual bromides about integrating new Canadians into Canadian society, platitudes about ensuring there are no ethnic enclaves, needing to educate new Canadians to a greater extent about Canadian military and confederation history with that nifty little newcomers book they're making up, for e.g. When pressed on the "ethnic enclaves" he'd cite as problematic examples that should concern Canada, Kenney looked to be scrambling a bit, reaching for the usual examples, the suburbs of Paris, northern British cities, other cities in Europe. But is this a pressing concern for successful multicultural Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver? Are we even heading toward unrest like we've seen in France? No, not at all. And in fact, as Paikin points out, with respect to the major cities, while Conservatives have made inroads (Kenney barely suppresses a grin when Ruby Dhalla's Brampton-Springdale riding is mentioned), they've still been largely shut out in the past three elections. And could be again.

Bringing us to the other lodestone of Kenney's interview and his usual rhetoric, the proposition he consistently advances to the effect that "Conservative values are the values of new Canadians." Seeking to splinter voters along "values" lines like the Republicans have done for almost 30 years in the U.S. is not a productive addition to our politics, but a tactic Conservatives drive heavily, nevertheless. And a big part of Kenney's "values" rhetoric is economic. New Canadians are "savers" says Kenney, hard working, conservative economically just like their friends in the good ol' Conservative party. But you can see how this sell might become a bit of a problem given the Harper government's record of economic management. It's ludicrous these days to position good economic management as a "Conservative value" and as a winning argument for them given the record. They'll try, as Kenney gamely did with Paikin, but it's a tough one.

Also swirling around these days, the many judgments from the Federal Court on Canadians stranded overseas. You have to wonder how Conservative Foreign Affairs missteps are sitting with such Canadians. Abandoning Canadians overseas, doing everything legally possible in high profile cases not to go to bat for stranded citizens. Maybe the Conservatives have made the calculation that such cases are the "elite" foreign policy, they do immigration policy as their new foreign policy. But are Canadian citizens wondering about these cases when they travel? As in, is my government going to be there for me when I'm overseas?

No conclusions here, just a few items to consider that may be affecting Mr. Kenney's dogged pursuit of the "new Canadian" voter: attacks on human rights tribunals, a poor economic track record and high profile foreign affairs misadventures. They just might be stepping all over Jason Kenney's efforts.