A Conservative party spokesman says Stephen Harper was talking about people already established in Canada when he used the term “old-stock Canadians” during Thursday night’s leaders’ debate in Calgary.
“I think he was talking about how our plan and approach is supported by immigrants who are coming in, as well as Canadians who are already here in the country,” Kory Teneycke told Global News in the minutes following the debate, which focused on economic issues.
“It’s a success story that Canadians should all be proud of, the role that immigration has played in Canadian society and also in our economy.”
Harper delivered the head-scratcher during a segment on immigration policy, saying that his party would bring in more refugees than in the past, but that “we do not offer them a better health-care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive. I think that’s something that new and old-stock Canadians can agree with.”
Twitter responded with a bewildered “huh?”
Neither Liberal leader Justin Trudeau or NDP leader Tom Mulcair asked for clarification from Harper during the debate, but Trudeau later called on the Conservative leader to explain himself.
On Friday morning, Harper fielded a reporter’s question about the “old stock” comment by repeating his line on refugee healthcare policy, but this time avoiding the words “old stock,” referring instead to Canadians whose families have been here for “one or more generations.”
Canadians have also turned to Google for an answer. In the minutes following the remark, the company’s Canadian division reported a spike in the number of searches for the term.
In fact, “old stock” is not an uncommon expression, and has even been uttered in the House of Commons. A search on OpenParliament.ca shows the term used 56 times, though some of those include “old stocks” of things like oil.
In Quebec, the term “Québécois de souche” is commonly translated “old-stock Quebecker” and refers to residents of the province whose families have been settled there for centuries.
On Friday morning in Montreal, Trudeau said that “Mr. Harper is yet again highlighting that he doesn’t believe that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, that there are different categories of Canadian. And that, quite frankly, is not just offensive, it’s harmful to the country we are building.”
The Liberal party Twitter account later tweeted this message:
Mulcair, during a stop in Regina, called Harper’s language “divisive.”
“I think we’re all Canadians,” he said.