09.13.2016 12:00 AM

This week’s column: no value

What’s a value?

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has been talking a lot about “values.” She sent out a questionnaire to Conservative partisans about it. Here’s what it said: “Should the Canadian government screen potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values as part of its normal screening for refugees and landed immigrants?”

Leitch’s question enraged the Left side of the spectrum – and her party’s acting leader, and several Conservative caucus members, and a leadership rival. (Newspaper columnists and editorial boards, too.) They were all super outraged.

That’s what Leitch wanted, of course: attention. Your average Canadian voter couldn’t pick her out of a two-person police line-up. So she and her smart circle of advisors did something to get noticed, and to get pointy-headed progressive intellectuals – who the conservative base deeply detest – to commence the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. It worked, big time. 

While everyone was running around being outraged, however, no one bothered to ask any practical questions. Here’s one: how would Prime Minister Leitch’s policy actually work, in the real world? At some future border crossing, would a courteous CBSA lean across the counter and say: “Welcome to Canada. Are your values Canadian, or Islamic State-ish? Planning on blowing anything up? Got an tobacco or alcohol to declare? No? Well, have a good day and welcome!”

Leitch’s stunt was just that: a stunt. She’s a doctor, and she’s not particularly stupid. She knows that CBSA – and CSIS, and the RCMP, and (as we have recently learned, after the confrontation with that ISIS fanboy in London) the FBI and Homeland Security in the U.S. – already screen potential immigrants and refugees to Canada for their affinity for terror and extremism. So, knowing that, what was Kellie Leitch – she of the mid-election barbaric practices hotline stunt – hoping to achieve with her latest stunt, about “values?” 

To get noticed, as noted. And to appeal, naturally, to the Conservative Party’s still-formidable red-necked, knuckle-dragging moth-breather demographic.  

Richard Nixon pioneered that sort of strategy, many years ago. He used to say that Republican presidential aspirants should run to the Right to get the nomination – and then, once they get it, start running back to the Centre. (Somebody should tell Donald Trump, who is still jogging toward the outer reaches of the far Right.)

So that’s what Leitch is doing, as she scrambles to get noticed and win her party’s leadership. It’s cynical, it’s dishonest, and it may just work.

But we digress. When Leitch talks about “values,” what does she mean? Does anyone know what a “value” is? Kellie Leitch doesn’t define what she means by “values” – and, when you think about it, neither does any other politician, ever. 

Values are the stuff of life. They are indefinable. They are hopes and dreams and fears and the things found deep within the guts of every person. Values are about emotion, not reason – which is why the Right is so good at them. They know the Left get tongue-tied when trying to talking about passion and emotion and stuff like that. And – almost always – whomever controls the “values” debate tends to win elections.

I wrote an entire book about the subject, Fight the Right, available still at fine bookstores near you. Therein, I noted that, after every electoral loss, progressives always confuse “values” with “messaging.” But they’re not the same thing. The challenges facing progressives extend to more than mere linguistics and wordplay. Values are the ineffable, keenly felt issues that hit folks at a primordial level. Not the stuff we think about – the stuff we feel. The stuff that attracts the attention of hearts, not heads.  

Pollsters, pundits and political scientists prattle on endlessly about values, but none of them ever seems to be able to offer a working definition of same. A value is known, it’s felt, as noted, but a value isn’t easily described. 

Leitch, and her fellow travelers on the Right are better at values – because they have a willingness to talk about emotional issues, and a willingness to manipulate cultural prejudices. 

Conservatives delight in values-related debate, because they know that surveys consistently show that voters believe that conservatives have values, and liberals don’t. Also problematic: we progressive types fuss over minutiae. We are too often the proponents of Nanny Statism and social engineering, whether we realize it or not We’re policy fuss-budgets. Conservatives, meanwhile, are more concerned with what Garance Franke-Ruta, the online politics editor of The Atlantic, calls “the fundamental stuff of life.”  

They’re all big picture, the conservatives. Progressives, meanwhile, are all about the little things: laundry lists of picayune political promises; minor tactical tweaks; everything that is vertical, in policy terms, but little that is horizontal. Voters know it. Or, more accurately, they feel it.

One of the experts I interviewed for Fight the Right summed it up best: “The Right has always been very good at playing to resentments, and particularly class resentments of the white working class.”

And that’s why Rob Ford won, and why Donald Trump is gaining on Hillary Clinton, and why Kellie Leitch – dishonestly, despicably – is going on and on about “values.” Because the values war is the war that conservatives will always win. And that’s the phony war that Kellie Leitch is fighting right now.  

And we’re all falling for it.



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    Jay Currie says:

    Ok, just for fun, let’s see how many of these Canadian values you agree with:

    1. Men and Women should be treated equally. (Note: sticking the women in the balcony is not actual equality. Just saying Justin.)
    2. Women have the right not to be sexually mutilated at a young age.
    3. Women, and men, can wear whatever they want and should not be coerced by family, religion or the state.
    4. Homosexual men and lesbians (and the trans-gendered) should enjoy all of the rights of heterosexual people.
    5. It is good to learn a bit of music in school.
    6. Antisemitism is a bad thing.
    7. The laws of Canada are the only laws which should have any effect in Canada.
    8. People who go and fight for terrorist organizations – looking at you ISIS – have no right to return to Canada.
    9. There is no legitimate justification for terrorism.
    10. Immigrants to Canada have a duty to accept our customs and way of life (whatever the devil that actually is.) You leave the old country behind.

    See how you score Warren. I bet we are not more than a couple of points apart.

    We want immigrants who want Canada. We don’t want immigrants who wish to remake Canada in the image of the places they are desperate to leave.

    I don’t think it would be impossible to devise an interview which looked for the people who want Canada. I suspect the interview could include a few neutral questions about “the Jews” and you would be able to sort the sheep from the goats in double quick time. In my experience Sikhs and Chinese people don’t waste a lot of time worrying about “the Jews”. Other potential immigrant groups have been brought up in a stew of the vilest antisemitism. A few questions about gay marriage and one or two about the “honesty of women” and Canadian values or the lack thereof will become pretty apparent.

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      dave constable says:

      Yeah, #10, we had to go to war on behalf of an old country against people on the other side of the planet in 1899, 1914, and 1939 for the sake of immigrants in Canada who insisted that we take on the wars of their old country. On #2 and #6, does circumcision come into this?
      The list looks aimed at the same group that Leitch is likely getting us to aim our blow guns at (this time).

      (I am Donald Trump, and I approve of this list.)

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        Maps Onburt says:

        Dave, while you might be right in arguing the case that Canada’s participation in the Boer and First World Wars were around support for the old country (we were a colony within a generation of them after all), you’d be hard pressed to make that argument for WW2. Germany was clearly on a path to world domination and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour made clear that North America wasn’t safe. If the American carriers were in port as they were supposed to be, the Japanese could have had free reign over the entire Pacific Ocean for at least two more years while the US rebuilt the fleet. There were armed battles fought on every continent except Antarctica. Nearly every country in the world fought in WW2 with a few notable exceptions like Switzerland.

        As for your claim that circumcision on males (removing some extraneous skin) is remotely equivalent to ripping out the female clitoris and labia, you are showing your foolishness – and many non Jewish people do this as well so your bias’s are showing.

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          dave constable says:

          The civil war in Europe from 1912 or so until the late 1940’s included great swaths of the world because Europe was the centre of world empires. As in 1914, Britain i 1939 followed its 200+ year old policy of intervening militarily to keep any one power form dominating continental Europe. A little over a year after German, Poland and Hungary had divvied up Czechoslovakia, Germany invaded Poland as a step toward replacing the overseas empire they had been deprived of in 1919 with an empire in Eastern Europe. Their intent turned out to be to treat Eastern Europeans as badly as any Western Europeans had treated their overseas colonials. Until fall, 1939, our government, and many other governments, much admired the German regime’s home achievements. Of the empires centred in Europe, Britain’s was the closest to world domination, and (like the PNAC bunch of today) would not stand for any competitors.
          When Britain declared war on Germany for invading Poland (but not USSR for doing the same), Canada also declared war on Germany. WE did not do so to keep Germany form conquering the whole world, not to stop fascism: we declared war because London did.

          In Versailles, in 1919, our ally, Japan, requested that Wilson’s War Aim of autonomy for those people who wanted autonomy. Br/USA/France rejected the request, arguing that the point applied only to European peoples. Japan went home to review its priorities. When, in the next 20 years, Japan’s fire and sword, persuasion, and alliances had success in spreading the word about Asia free of European and American domination, Europeans and Americans chafed.
          In 1940, Britain tried mightily to get USA into the war on Germany. The regime in Washington seemed willing, but way too many Americans liked the regime in Germany, and did not realize that Germany wanted to conquer the whole world.
          In October, 1941, Britain/USA/Dutch Government in exile declared oil sanctions on Japan.
          Japan was in a box, either accept outside domination of Asia, or fight.
          They decided to fight to hang on to what they had.
          USA self righteously declared war on Japan for their “surprise’ attack.
          Germany backed its Anticomintern partner Japan and declared war on USA.
          Presto, USA was at war with Germany.
          And we as part of the British Empire were targets of Japan.

          I do not say circumcision and clitorectomy are the same. Both, though, are genital mutilation at a young age. Your accusation that I am anti semitic may be true, but not because I don not know other people besides Jewish people practice circumcision on new borns.

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            The Doctor says:

            One other important factor in the USA’s reluctance to declare war on Nazi Germany was the substantial amount of money that was owed by Germany to the US at the time. US politicians, Foggy Bottom and US banks were worried (with good reason) that a declaration of war would mean those loans would never be repaid. There’s a very good account of this in Erik Larson’s excellent book In The Garden of Beasts.

            To be fair, lots of Americans knew that Nazi Germany was odious. So did Ambassador Dodd, but the Foggy Bottom lifers wanted to be “practical” about Hitler, which is why it took until December 1941 to declare war.

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            Maps Onburt says:

            Nothing you said Dave changes the fact that virtually every country in the world was at war during WW2. Most weren’t colonies of European or Japanese powers. As to Poland, the western powers had told Hitler that Czechoslovia was to be the last. They had drawn a red line on Hitler’s aggression and when he declared war on Poland on September 1st, 1939. The British and French were forced to declare war on Germany. Canada followed a few days later as it took longer for communications in those days (and in part to prove that Canadian had made their own decision to join the war). The Soviets never actually declared war on the Poles and only began their invasion weeks after the Germans had essentially moped up the Polish Army. They had signed a non-aggression pact with the Nazis but it didn’t commit the Soviets to the Nazis or vis versa as Stalin later found out!

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      Charlie says:

      – I’ve got a neighbour who believes gay-marriage to be an abomination as per the Bible and doesn’t believe it should be allowed. He is a white, Christian Canadian who’s great-grandfather came over from Ireland.

      – I’ve got a technician that does work for me who believe homosexuals are disgusting and are just pretending to be the way they are for attention, he also believes women belong in the kitchen — as per his own words. He is a Jewish Russian who came to Canada via Israel some 4 years ago.

      How do we go about addressing either of these two for their un-Canadian values?

      – There exists a private Catholic school in Canada which rejects any notion of LGBT inclusion and expect girls to dress modestly, as per their school imposed dress-code.

      – There is a Muslim father applying for Canadian citizenship who imposes the hijab on his teenage daughter as a manner of preserving her modesty.

      How do we go about addressing either of these two for their un-Canadian values?

      I’m all for preventing the entrance of beliefs that are contrary to Canadian values, but it quickly becomes an untenable objective once we have to enforce those values upon our own.

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        Jay Currie says:

        Our home grown bigots are another issue all together. The question is do we allow people who don’t subscribe to our values immigrate to Canada? They have no inherent right to immigrate. We have the sovereign right to say “no”. I think we should use it.

        (And yes there will be close cases. And mistakes going both ways; doesn’t matter, the thrust of the policy is to try and avoid the really nasty. That is, at least, a start.)

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    Steve T says:

    Further to Jay Currie’s point above, I saw a recent poll that said 2/3 of Canadians agree that asking immigrants questions of this type is an acceptable practice. These are not off-the-wall questions, except perhaps #10 (multi-culturalism is fine, so long as it doesn’t purport to impose things that would contradict our basic principles as set out in questions 1 – 9). I don’t think Leitch was proposing to ask a question like #10, anyway.

    And further to your points, WK, about why this sort of thing may increasingly resonate with average people – the characterization and misrepresentation of certain topics as “racist”, “mouth-breathing”, “knuckle-dragging”, and “despicable”. People are tired of being told that certain discussions are off-limits, lest they be painted with the overbroad brush.

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      The Doctor says:

      I don’t agree with Leitch’s proposal and I wouldn’t want her as CPC leader, but I agree with your observation. This is a shining example of Liberal-proggie arrogance, i.e., essentially claiming that certain topics are non-debatable, and that if you dare open them for debate, you’re a racist, neanderthal, blah blah blah. This is precisely why university campuses have become politically correct dystopias.

      Given that poll result, following Liberal logic, 2/3 of Canadians are racist mouth breathers. I really don’t think that’s the case. It’s not just arrogance that’s the LPC’s kryptonite — it’s the related tendency Liberals have of only listening to what other Liberals have to say. There is a world beyond The Annex.

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    Lukelele says:

    This is interesting, your take on the left and details. I think the left is best when it leaves detail aside. That’s why Bernie Sanders was so compelling. It’s why Justin Trudeau was appealing before issuance of policy proposals.

    That said, if lefties like me start talking big picture, no sooner do we get smacked across the face with complaints about pie-in-the-sky ideas with no basis in reality. Add the details to substantiate the big picture, and you lose the big picture… A conundrum. Refute the pie-in-the-sky accusation with an argument founded in values?

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    bluegreenblogger says:

    There is one very interesting characteristic of ‘values’ projection. You do not have to actually do anything once in power. No promises to fulfill, just the warm assurance that the ‘Government’ hates those bad guys too. Once in a while you throw a discriminatory policy into the mix, preferably one that is illegal so the courts will throw it out, and give you another chance to pass the same bigotry all over again. It costs nothing and raises boatloads of free publicity for the haters. In the meantime, the silverware disappears to a chorus of ‘stop the terrorists’.

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    Lukelele says:

    Shows what you know…


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      Warren says:

      1. I don’t give a shit if it’s popular or not. Screening people on ill-defined “values” is dangerous.
      2. If you don’t like it here, don’t come back.

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        Lukelele says:

        Whoa. Comment was in jest. Relax.

        Article supports your thesis.

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    Sean Cummings says:

    If this is correct than it says more about us than it does about Conservatives.

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    Kevin says:

    Ha! Your opening question nails it: what’s a value? It was confusing – so much of what was being put forward as a Canadian value looked more to me like a slogan on a placard. So I looked it up. Here’s what Webster has to say: A value is “…something intrinsically valuable”.

    Must (bang) stop (bang) banging head (bang) on desk (bang)!

    In any case, I doubt people in Aleppo are waking up, bombs falling around them, kids wailing because they haven’t eaten in 2 days, no work to go to because the factory isn’t there, the back of the house lying in rubble, and think: “Gee, I love me some Canadian values. Gotta get us somewhere men and women are treated equally, pronto.” I think it’s more likely they wake up and think “Dear God, we have to get someplace sane, find work and feed the family”. No?

    I’d much rather welcome people, give them language training and adequate supports, and allow them to integrate (not assimilate) into the mainstream here. That has always worked in the past (a few outliers notwithstanding) and I don’t see any reason it wouldn’t continue to work.

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    Maps Onburt says:

    What’s funny about this is that the Liberals have always laid claim to Canada’s “Values”… multi-culturalism, universal health care, peacekeeping, etc. Justin has been particularly verbose on this topic but the moment a Comservative says immigrants need to respect Canadian values, all these Liberals start posting things like Maple Syrup and such… bunch of hypocrites.

    Ask any Joe on the street if Canadians should let in people who support Female Genital mutilation, the inferiority of women, the death of religious supporters other than yours, supporters of terrorism or religious laws which supersede Canadian ones and you’d get a pretty damn near unanimous sample of “hell no!” This isn’t complicated. It’s not about religious clothing or different beliefs. It’s about fundamental human rights. The same reasons many progressives argued for gay marriage. I won’t be voting for Ms Leitch but that’s not because of this. She is dead on right here.

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    dave constable says:

    I was born here, so, I don’t have to have Canadian values. I had to memorize Leigh Hunt’s ‘Abou Ben Adhem’ in about Grade 5 when I was a twig, and that’s the way I incline as a tree.
    A cursory brows suggest to me that right now, our immigration people ask people applying about family and about job/career skills. It almost looks like a programme set up for employers in Canada.
    An immigrant is subject to our criminal code. I fan immigrant decides to go for citizenship, s/he would have to learn a bit more about the country and its laws and cultures.

    The Canadian values stuff, and Clement’s proposal are incarceration of people on a watch list are just adding powers to the police and the state.

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    godot10 says:

    Justin Trudeau went to a gender-segregated mosque yesterday, and did not talk about the Canadian value of gender equality. Because it is only 2016 when it is politically convenient.

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    Charlie says:

    This is Conservative kryptonite.

    Despite being highly entertained by the sight of the Conservative Party already ripping themselves apart right now as one pathetically desperate women seeks to stretch her 15 minutes of fame a little longer, I’m saddened by the obliviousness of conservatives while they actively perpetuate one of their worst stereotypes.

    Where rubber meets road, this identity politics shit only plays to the 30%; its not a big enough issue to grow the CPC beyond its base.

    At this point, Leitch is only sabotaging the CPC’s efforts to move past the 2015 election.

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    Kelly says:

    Free market Neoliberalism and illegal resource wars hAve ruined the lives of so many people. Now the Conservatives are trying to skirt responsibility by blaming people who dress different and eat food that doesn’t smell the same as roast beef and gravy.

    Is Dr. Leitch OK selling more weapons to the Saudis? Are their values Canadian enough?

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    BillBC says:

    “And we’re all falling for it.”

    Well, obviously, from the comments here, we aren’t all falling for it. But Jay Currie’s excellent post says it all. We all have “values,” Liberals no less than Conservatives. You choose the ones you like, I guess…

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I’m with Bob Beckel on this race. It isn’t tightening because Trump is gaining. Rather, it’s close because Hillary keeps dropping like a stone. Add to that her energizing more voters to vote Trump each time she speaks, and it don’t look good. Hope the debates save her but what if she’s too sick? Then what?

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    Matt says:

    Forum research poll Sept 9 2016

    67% support screening immigrants for anti Canadian values. A majority in ALL three main parties support the idea – CPC supporters 87%, Liberal supporters 58%, and NDP supporters 59%.


    Nanos Sept 1 2016 (not directly related to the Canadian values argument, but it is about immigrant screening)

    74% of Canadians support or somewhat support strengthening the screening process for potential immigrants
    from regions such as the Middle East

    Most Canadians think Canada should accept fewer or the same amount of immigrants in 2017 (39% say fewer, 37% say the same, 16% say more)


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    KBab says:

    Moth breather. What a glorious typo.

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    Cory says:

    Until 2002 we did screen potential immigrants for “personal suitability” with a one-on-one interview so it is possible and not “dangerous”.

    IMO no reason why we can’t bring that back.

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    billg says:

    So, if on their application a “new canadian” answers no to ” do you agree Homosexuals should be allowed to marry” do they automatically get located to the Ottawa Valley?
    This reminds me of the Whats your favourite colour sketch from Monty Python.
    Cant wait for the skill testing Canadian Value question.
    ” What’s the name of Canada’s best Rock Band”
    Rene Simard
    Boom…right back to where you came from buddy.
    As a die hard Conservative let me say this to Kelly Leitch, fuck off.
    Christ, I can find 10 of my hockey buddies who wouldn’t pass a Canadian Value’s test.
    Man, we’re gonna be in Opposition for a while.

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