Maxime Bernier says his party would cap immigration levels at 150K
Bernier is also floating a 'societal norms' policy similar to Kellie Leitch's 'Canadian Values' test
A People's Party of Canada government would lower the number of immigrants Canada accepts to between 100,000 and 150,000 per year — a level not seen since 1986 — party leader Maxime Bernier pledged in a policy speech Wednesday evening.
That's a number significantly lower than the 250,000 cap Bernier pitched while running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada two years ago.
In a speech in Mississauga, Ont. Wednesday night, the MP for Beauce took aim at what he called a policy of "extreme multiculturalism" and accused the Liberals of "putting Canada on a road to destruction" through Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's "globalist vision."
"Support for immigration will continue to diminish and social tensions are likely to rise," Bernier told the crowd in a speech delivered entirely in English. "We need to slow down."
Bernier, who struggled at times with his delivery, said his party would prioritize economic immigrants, accept fewer refugees, "considerably limit" those accepted under the family reunification program and scrap the option to sponsor parents and grandparents.
Bernier's more bold statements, such as his pledge to repeal the Multiculturalism Act, withdraw from the UN's Global Compact for Migration and promise to reject immigrants that do not share Canadian values, garnered loud applause and cheers from the crowd.
The federal Liberals plan to increase the yearly number of immigrants accepted into Canada to 340,000 by 2020. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer hasn't said how many immigrants Canada would accept if his party forms government in October, calling the emphasis on a number "a little bit of a red herring."
'Societal norms' or 'Canadian values'?
Bernier said he also wants to submit every person hoping to immigrate to Canada to an in-person interview with immigration officials to answer questions to determine whether their values and ideas correspond to Canada's "societal norms."
"Immigrants whose responses or background checks demonstrate that they do not share mainstream Canadian values will be rejected," he said.
The policy is eerily similar to the 'Canadian values test' proposed by Kellie Leitch during her own failed run for the Conservative leadership — a proposal that led Bernier at the time to wonder aloud why Leitch was offering up a "karaoke version of Donald Trump."
In his speech, Bernier also calls for action to stop the flow of migrants walking into Canada at unauthorized crossing points by declaring the entire Canada/U.S. border an official point of entry, which would allow border officials to turn back anyone trying to cross on foot from the United States.
Jean-Pierre Fortin is national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, which represents front-line customs and immigration officers. He said turning the entire 8,891-kilometre border into an official point of entry would impose a "huge burden" on short-staffed Canada Border Services Agency officers.
"Right now, there are not enough officers at every port of entry," he said.
The economic argument
Bernier also took direct aim at economic arguments for maintaining or increasing immigration levels, arguing that immigration doesn't affect the aging of Canada's population because new immigrants have not been shown to have a noticeable impact on aging demographics.
Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, said that while an aging trend is hard to reverse, immigration keeps Canada's workforce from shrinking further.
"Because there are so many baby boomers leaving the workforce, without immigration we'd have a net decline in labour force growth," he said, adding that the decline would be especially pronounced with the current low unemployment rate.
And anyone who thinks immigration isn't tied to higher economic growth need to take a close look at Atlantic Canada — a slow-growth region with low levels of immigration — said Kareem El-Assal, a researcher with canadavisa.com, a platform for immigration legal services.
"This is not a hypothetical conversation," he said, adding that there's "plenty of evidence" showing immigrants to Canada integrate socially and express high levels of pride and happiness in being Canadian.
Bernier spent a portion of his speech pushing back against what he claims is a political taboo surrounding the topic of immigration and claimed he's been falsely accused of racism by the media.
"As soon as you raise a concern about the level of immigration, someone will accuse you of harbouring anti-immigrant views and being racist or xenophobic," he said.
He pointed to PPC candidates hailing from diverse ethnic backgrounds — and told journalists who "keep coming back with questions about bigotry" to "take a hike."
Bernier's young party has come in for controversy over matters of race and religion, however. The People's Party has been dogged by racist tweets, photos with unsavoury groups and tales of disillusioned founding members.
Earlier this month, the entire People's Party of Canada board in a Winnipeg riding resigned in disgust, claiming the party is being taken over by racists, anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists.