Former British prime minister Tony Blair says the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. and the rise of the far right in Europe are the result of governments' failures to address people's real concerns about immigration.
Blair sat down with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge to discuss the U.S. election, Brexit and the growing popularity of extreme right-wing parties in western Europe — and he warned Canada not to follow in the same path.
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"It's been an extraordinary time, hasn't it, for those of us on the other side of the pond who've just lived through Brexit, and now we've had another political earthquake," Blair said of Trump's victory.
'A new reality'
"I won't pretend to you I wasn't surprised by what has happened over this past period, because I am, and what it means is not entirely clear to me yet. But there is a new reality you've got to make sure you come to terms with," Blair said.
That new reality, he said, is the result of leaders like Trump exploiting people's legitimate concerns.
"People are angry for all different sorts of reasons, and you have to respond to that and listen to it. You can't just dismiss it and say these people are ignorant because they think like this," he said.
It's not unreasonable to be worried about national security amid an influx of refugees from war-torn countries like Syria, Blair said.
"If people think that their communities and their societies are being changed without them being part of the debate about it, without them being engaged, then they will feel angry and fearful," he said.
"If the centre does not act in a strong, coherent way … then there will be people who can come along and exploit and develop that anger and turn it into a very powerful movement."
While people's concerns are valid, Blair said anti-immigration sentiments espoused by Trump and Nigel Farage, leader of the pro-Brexit U.K. Independence Party, are not the way forward.
"The answer is to have rules, not prejudices," he said. "What you don't want to do is turn sentiment in the country against immigration. Immigration in a country like Britain, for example, has been a huge and positive thing."
A warning to Canada
Blair, who served as prime minister from 1997 to 2007, cautioned Canada to resist similar rhetoric at home.
"The 21st century belongs to the open-minded. Why is Canada a great country? Why is Canada a country that I would say is one of the most admired countries in the world? It's not just that you're reasonably successful, if you look at your economic figures. It's because the spirit of the country is openness to the world," he said.
"Once these issues start to become real issues in the political arena, they do have a very divisive effect, and you've got to hope in the case of Canada that doesn't happen, because many people will look upon Canada and say, 'Look, you're a country that's got people of different faiths and races and cultures living together in what appears to be reasonable harmony.' Keep that."