It’s been a while since former conservative prime minister Joe Clark has held membership in a federal party and, he says, with the way things are going in the Conservative leadership race, he isn’t sure if will any time soon.
One factor in his decision will be whether the new leader helps build a “national” party, he told The West Block’s Tom Clark.
Historically, Canada’s strength has come from immigrants, the former Progressive Conservative leader said.
Though perhaps not as apparent in Canada as elsewhere – in Europe, for example, where the spring saw a successful Brexit vote or in the United States where Donald Trump was elected president on a highly divisive platform – Clark pointed to a rise in right-wing nationalist parties in France, Austria and the Netherlands as evidence that open-mindedness toward and acceptance of immigration is declining.
“I think it’s a signal that our institutions and most of our leaders – business leaders, political leaders and media leaders are less in touch with, call them ‘ordinary people’ than they used to be or than they have to be,” he said.
Some candidates in the crowded Conservative leadership race, however, have made a pitch for strengthening “Canadian values.”
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A major point in Kellie Leitch’s campaign, for example, involves establishing measures to screen visitors, immigrants and refugees for Canadian values.
Steven Blaney, meanwhile, has said he will ban niqabs at polling stations, during citizenship oaths and for federal public servants.
“I’m disappointed in what Kellie’s doing because it seems to me … she is not following her instincts but following what her pollsters are telling her,” Clark said. “I don’t know what questions they’re asking, but I think the answers they’re getting do not in fact reflect the whole of the country.
“They can reflect pockets of the country. We can’t govern this country by treating it as pockets because that is necessarily exclusive. And I hope that phase ends.”
Illustrating his point, Clark compared the manner in which Vietnamese boat people were welcomed while he was prime minister to the “tension at the edges” with the recent influx of Syrian refugees. Part of that tension, he said is on account of religion and an “apprehension” about Islam.
But the underlying welcoming characteristic in the country is salvageable, Clark said.
“I think that we have to look at creating institutions … making sure that we are working hard at affirming what we’ve always believed was an important characteristic of Canada, that mutual respect.”