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Jason Kenney vs. David Suzuki: The Great Canadian Slap Fight

07/15/2013 12:44 EDT | Updated 09/14/2013 05:12 EDT

"We are restoring order to our immigration system to bring annual net migration down to the tens of thousands -- rather than the hundreds of thousands."

That, according to the relevant section of their website, is the Conservative Party's official stance on immigration. And it's not an unreasonable position to take. After all, polls suggests 41 per cent of Canadians would like to see our immigration inflow reduced, while only 15 per cent favour a hike. Government stats similarly indicate the vast bulk of our admitted immigrants -- around 75 per cent -- are simply refugees or relatives of other immigrants and not the sort of economi- wait, what?

Apologies. I was reading the website of the British Conservative Party.

Despite all the ostentatious anglophilia of the Harper administration -- queen portraits and retro military insignia and whatnot -- when it comes to immigration, Canada's Tories have scant affinity for English norms. Indeed, according to Immigration Minister Jason Kennedy, the pledge of Prime Minister David Cameron -- sweet, moderate, middle-of-the-road, coalition government-loving, gay marriage-supporting David Cameron -- to "reduce immigration to sustainable levels" puts the Limey on the monster raving loony fringe of acceptable opinion, alongside that other far-right crazy, David Suzuki.

See, earlier this month, Suzuki gave an interview with the Paris paper L'Express. Most of the questions were standard greenie softballs, but things got interesting near the end.

"In Australia," said the paper (en français), "environmentalists oppose population growth and immigration, arguing that their natural resources are not sustainable. What do you think?"

"I think Canada is full, too!" Dr. Suzki replied. "Although it's the second largest country in the world, our useful area has been reduced."

"Our immigration policy is disgusting," he added "we plunder southern countries by depriving them of future leaders to increase our population to support the growth of our economy. This is crazy!"

Giddy one of his rivals had gone off-script, the interview featured prominently on Ezra Levant's show the next day.

Look, said Ezra, "there are plenty of arguments to be made about limiting immigration." Immigrants are "more likely to be on welfare," for instance. And "too much immigration can result in ethnic conclaves where people don't learn English," and beat their wives or whatever.

"But Suzuki," he noted, "is not making those arguments." No, said Ezzie, the good doctor is simply pledging allegiance to the environmentalist "doomsday cult" that blames population growth -- which is to say, humans -- for tainting Mother Gaia.

You can take or leave Ezra's hyperbole, but his summary of Suzukiism was basically correct. If you believe, as Suzuki does, that mankind's C02-belching SUVs and irresponsibly over-packaged bananas are the primary source of environmental destruction, then it's perfectly reasonable to suggest our governments should not support policies that spur population growth and cram ever-more car-driving litterbugs into our cities -- especially at rates as high as 257,000 per year.

The Ezra-Suzuki spat was, in short, a fascinating debate on the challenges of Canadian immigration, and exposed the degree to which critics of both right and left have no shortage of concerns about its consequences and impact.

So needless to say, Minister Kenney had to shut everyone up.

Jumping on Twitter a few days later, Kenney viciously denounced "Suzuki's stridently anti-immigration views" as "toxic and irresponsible." His words quickly became front page news across the country, with Kenney venting white-hot rage in chat shows and interviews towards this hateful little man and his "xenophobic" opinions. The minister made such a fuss, in fact, that the CBC even issued a apologetic statement emphasizing that the doc was "was speaking as a private citizen and not on behalf of CBC."

Now, Jason Kenney clearly wants to be prime minister someday, and for years he's been courting every corner of the Tory coalition with carefully-customized pitches. For so-cons, he's defiantly pro-life. For monarchists and traditionalists, he makes showy references to "Dominion Day" and pays fawning tribute to Her Maj. For national security neo-cons, he's stalwart in his defence of Israel and strident in his condemnation of Iran. A couple years back he even made a high-profile appearance at the Liberty Summer Seminar -- basically Canada's libertarian Woodstock.

But even with all that, Kenney's popularity is still ultimately tied to his performance in his actual job -- immigration boss.

Kenney's ratcheted Canadian immigration to 50-year highs, and his ambitions require the public to never, ever regard this as anything but a Good Thing. But in a country where 41 per cent want immigration lowered (a number higher, incidentally, than those who voted Tory in the last federal election) that's far from a cakewalk. Even Tory partisans are becoming skeptical. Though Kenney promotes a self-aggrandizing myth that more immigrants = more ethnic votes, nonpartisan post-mortems on the last election, like this study from the Institute For Research on Public Policy, actually found "a tendency for immigrants to vote slightly less for Conservatives in 2011."

That leaves only one face-saving option left, and it's exactly what we're seeing today: a vicious scramble to suggest anyone who has problems with Canadian immigration policy must be an intolerant, racist, bigot, just like happy Mr. Cameron, or that uppity Japanese internment camp survivor.

Such an approach isn't terribly conservative, at least in the sense conservatives are supposed to possess a natural revulsion for anyone who plays the "intolerance" card to silence his critics. But then again, neither is Minister Kenney.

He's simply a huckster. Who's struggling to close his toughest sell yet.