Maxime Bernier’s vow to slash immigration and impose a values test on newcomers amounts to “dangerous rhetoric,” says the Liberal MP for the Mississauga riding where the People’s Party of Canada leader unveiled his immigration policy this week.
“It’s designed to sow the seeds of division amongst Canadians,” Navdeep Bains (Mississauga-Malton), who’s also the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, told the Star Thursday afternoon.
“He is stoking the politics of division and fear, and Canadians deserve better. They need leadership that speaks to how we can bring people together.”
Bernier’s right-wing party is currently polling at just three per cent support ahead of the October federal election.
On Wednesday, he told a crowd of 400 cheering supporters in Mississauga — one of the most multicultural cities in Canada — that a government led by him would cap the number of immigrants to Canada at between 100,000 and 150,000 per year, which would be less than half of current levels.
Bernier also said that prospective immigrants would need greater skills. He didn’t provide details on what the values test would entail, only that it would involve a “phased process to ensure prospective immigrants would integrate smoothly into Canadian society.”
Bains, who’s raising two daughters in Mississauga, says the proposals go against what the city and the country are known for. “This what we’re recognized for around the world,” he said. “What he’s saying and what he’s articulating really undermines our reputation.”
Bains also said Bernier’s policies are “bad for businesses,” as immigration is vital to economic growth, given labour shortages and the aging population.
“He’s really going back to a Stephen Harper playbook in 2015 of divisive politics, of pitting one Canadian against another,” he added.
“As (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) said, ‘A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.’”
The People’s Party leader also said he would redo multicultural legislation with a Canada-first focus and abolish programs that let immigrants sponsor parents and grandparents.
That’s a program Bains’s own family drew on when his parents emigrated from India in the early 1970s. They both brought their own parents over, and his father was eventually able to start a kitchen cabinet business in Brampton that employed 20 people.
“When my father came here, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to stay and deal with a harsh Canadian winter,” Bains said. “But that sense of belonging, the economic opportunities, and the fact that his family was here really enabled him to have a successful career and create opportunities for himself and many other Canadians.”
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May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11