Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire hosted a town hall meeting on immigration on Aug 14 with Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel as the featured speaker. I went to the Brandon event anticipating an opportunity to ask a question or two and possibly engage in healthy debate.
In her speech, Rempel called herself a centrist, lamenting the rise of nationalistic rhetoric (the ‘keep Canada for Canadians’ sort of talk) and stated, “The reality is there’s no ‘them’ and ‘us’ anymore.”
Her message was refreshing, demonstrating a willingness to include her own party in the blame for how poorly we’ve handled the discussion around immigration.
I have argued on Larry Maguire’s Facebook page that phrases such as ‘illegal border crossers’ and ‘queue jumpers’ were not helpful and functioned as dog-whistle terms to those who would equate them with leeches, terrorists, delinquents, and a drain on society.
After Rempel’s presentation, the audience was invited to submit written questions. I asked her to recognize that words matter; that the way her party was framing the discussion was essentially baiting those who live in the Rebel and Breitbart universe, a world where illegal immigrant hordes are infesting the white western world and Sharia Law is imminent.
Imagine my surprise when she read my question out loud, then accused me of calling her a racist. She rejected the premise of my question entirely. I sat there dumbfounded at how I had managed to provoke such a visceral reaction from a seasoned politician.
There was no opportunity for debate. The format put all the power and speaking time in her hands. The Q&A was simply a platform to pump her own party’s tires and deflate those of the government.
A few folks stood and called out their questions. One fellow repeatedly interrupted her lengthy answers. Rempel turned to the audience and invited them to “let this guy know what you think of his rude behaviour.” The conservative-friendly crowd obliged, booing and shouting him down.
What immediately came to mind was Donald Trump urging supporters at his rallies to jeer protesters and the media.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s claim that the border crossings are a crisis was recently rated “full of baloney” by Canadian Press (CP). Rempel accused the news outlet of being a mouthpiece for the Prime Minister’s Office. But according to a reputable media rating site, CP ranks high on factual reporting with minimal bias.
Three immigration experts interviewed for the CP reportsupported my argument. “All agree there is no foundation for calling the influx of irregular border crossers a crisis. But all three worry that the word is being used by some — along with terms like "illegal," "bogus" and "queue jumpers" — to dehumanize asylum seekers and instill fear that they're lawbreakers not worthy of compassion.”
Public opinion appears to be turning against those crossing the border into Canada at irregular crossings. Rempel and her party have found a wedge issue and won’t soon back down from their use of loaded language if it gives them an edge. She comes across as just one more partisan, opportunistic politician.
If Maguire wants to bring his constituents together in an honest exchange of views, then the format and host he chose to lead it were poor ones. Last Tuesday evening was a major disappointment.
Bill Tiessen is a columnist and concerned citizen from Crystal City.