By ANGELO PERSICHILLI
THE HILL TIMES
PUBLISHED: Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 12:00 AM
TORONTO—Italians, when they accuse someone of wasting time with futile discussion, say, “Perdi tempo a pettinare bambole” (meaning “Wasting time to comb a doll’s hair”). This allegory came to my mind during the dispute about Conservative leadership candidate
Kellie Leitch’s email with a survey about the need to “screen potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values.”
Such an idea is bad for two reasons.
First, it is like a priest asking two people about to be married to go through a love test. Such a request is, at best, redundant because there is already a law to be respected in order to be married, or become Canadian citizen. Or, at worst, it is stupid, at least until someone invents the love meter.
Second, it shows that the Conservatives have learned nothing about their last year’s defeat and how to handle communications. Despite many in the opposition saying otherwise, Conservatives were not defeated because of the economy or the way they were handling terrorism or international relationships or free trade initiatives. They were defeated because they were unable to send Canadians a positive message to make them feel good about it.
In politics, when inspiring ideas and charismatic leaderships are in short supply, communicating is everything. The typical example is the half-full or half-empty glass. The content is always the same, it all depends how you present it and, most importantly, what voters want to hear. After years of confrontation, personal attacks, and negative campaigns, Canadians were looking for something positive. No more half-empty glass; they wanted to hear about the half-full glass and be proud about it.
Of course, there are many components to a victory or defeat. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that one of the most important matters was immigration. It’s not necessarily because Canadians consider immigration the most important issue the country is facing, but it shaped the image of the Conservative Party, an image that became negative, confrontational, and nasty.
Conservatives failed not because they were not bringing in more immigrants or that they were against immigration. They lost because they were not able to communicate the right message. While the Liberals used the proper communications approach in talking about bringing more refugees in Canada, the Conservatives where talking about restrictions and solving problems that didn’t exist with niqabs and burkas.
In reality, the substance for both was roughly the same glass with the same amount of water.
The new Liberal government roughly doubled the number of refugees that come to Canada and has promised to do more. We will see. Still, we are talking about small numbers (from 10,000 to 20,000 or to 50,000 in the future?) compared to the real worldwide refugees’ problem. In just the first five months of this year, 203,981 refugees reached safety in Europe. In the same period, Italy received 47,463 and almost the same amount went to Greece, despite their economic difficulties. By the end of the year, numbers are going to double to an amount that Canada will not even be close to, never mind match.
Still, the Liberals are using the right approach. I don’t believe that Canadians really believe that Ottawa will or can solve the refugees’ problem, but they want an approach that will make them feel good about it.
Of course, Justin Trudeau’s government cannot hope to govern the country only by exploiting voters’ resentment about the previous negative attitude of his predecessor. Canadians are not stupid and they expect something more than folkloristic selfies or noble speeches filled with hot air.
While I can see some cracks in Trudeau’s Teflon image among voters who are ready to move on, here comes a Conservatives leadership candidate with the proposal to introduce the love meter for new immigrants. The proposal to “comb doll’s hair” is insignificant per se, but it conveys an approach to newcomers that Canadians already rejected last fall.
Kellie Leitch is one of the most competent, intelligent, caring, and—in my opinion—promising leadership candidates. But she can definitely do better than that.