They’re immigrants to Canada. So why are they supporting far-right parties that want to reduce immigration?

About 15 percent of the PPC candidates were visible minority:

Kulbir Singh Chawla really doesn’t like when he’s connected with a customer service representative with a foreign accent.

This, despite having a accent himself.

“Here in Canada, I would say don’t even employ Kulbir,” Chawla said of customer service jobs.

“Because I still don’t have that Canadian way of (speaking) fully.”

The most recent federal election saw a small but distinct cadre of people of colour and immigrants such as Chawla supporting and in some cases even running for far-right populist parties such as the People’s Party of Canada, the National Citizens Alliance and the Canadian Nationalist Party.

All of these parties wanted to reduce immigration and scrap Canada’s official multiculturalism policy.

Despite being an immigrant himself, Chawla says he supports these policies.

Chawla, an industrial engineer, came to Canada from India with his wife and daughter in 1999. He currently lives in Nova Scotia and calls himself a Canadian nationalist. When he first moved here, he considered himself left-leaning, but over the past two decades, he’s experienced what he calls a political awakening.

It led to him attending yellow vest rallies at the movement’s peak, where he would wear a matching yellow turban. And people would call him racist.

“The left media would say this is a racist movement. And there I am with my turban. And it just breaks their narrative,” he said.

He was first drawn toward the Conservatives, then toward far-right, fringe parties such as the National Citizens Alliance, which in addition to advocating for lower taxes and the abolishment of the Bank of Canada Act, wants to reduce immigration levels to about 50,000 a year. Chawla previously ran for the National Advancement Party of Canada, the NCA’s predecessor, in Calgary Midnapore in a 2017 byelection.

He says some reasons his political stance shifted are political correctness and liberal “indoctrination” about issues such as white supremacy and racial profiling (the former he says doesn’t exist, the latter he believes is valid in some cases).

“It started with the yellow vest movement … It’s come up as a big, I will say wake-up movement for Canada and Canadians. It brought them together as well. So there’s a great deal of populism and nationalism going on,” Chawla said.

He compares nationalism to working for a corporation; the ultimate goal should be the betterment of the company, rather than advancing one’s own personal fortune. The same goes for living in a confederation.

It’s where his deep distaste for call centres that employ people with accents stems from. He said he believes it hurts Canada both economically and in terms of its national identity.

In particular, he is opposed to customer service being outsourced to other countries, for economic reasons — it takes jobs out of Canada and hurts the country’s GDP. It inspired him to create a Change.org petition urging the government and corporations to “Create call centres in Canada!”

But he acknowledges there’s an important cultural component as well.

“When I come here, if I found my own type of people speaking on the call … then it’s no different from being in India,” he said.

“We immigrants came to Canada for a whole different outlook on life. And we find it’s all changing, back to the same old Punjabi style.”

For parties such as the People’s Party of Canada that were accused of harbouring racist candidates and policies, there’s an obvious benefit to having candidates and supporters of colour, says Akaash Maharaj, a former senior resident at Massey College and CEO of the Mosaic Institute, an organization that helps bring together immigrants who have come to Canada from countries affected by conflict.

“There has been an effort by extreme right parties to try and play a game of blackface and brownface to inoculate themselves against accusations of racism by demonstrating that they have at least one or more members of their parties or candidates who are not white,” Maharaj said.

But the allure of anti-immigration policies for immigrants themselves is more complex.

“On the face of it, it looks absurd and I think it is absurd … I wouldn’t say it’s widespread,” Maharaj said. “But it’s more common than one might expect.”

“It’s the old pull-up-the-ladder syndrome,” he added. “Now that they have made it in, they want to protect themselves from people exactly like themselves that harbour the same ambitions. They are afraid more people benefiting from Canada means that their share of the pie will somehow diminish.”

This phenomenon is even more common among recent immigrants when compared to first-generation Canadians or the descendants of immigrants, Maharaj noted.

Peter Loewen, a populism expert at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said when immigrants move to Canada, integrate into mainstream society and accept the status quo, there’s a quick transition to viewing themselves as Canadian — and therefore, different from the rest of the people coming here.

He points to the 2015 federal election, where the support for a niqab ban was higher among immigrants than native-born Canadians.

“That’s largely underwritten by a sense that immigration is tough and once you’ve gone through it, you expect people to go through it without any more accommodations than you’ve had,” he explained.

Populism sells well to immigrant communities because at its heart, it’s about a deep disaffection with the political class who are seen as unsympathetic or even antagonistic toward everyday people. Immigrants can often come from countries with political corruption.

But populism comes in different forms, says Drew Fagan, professor of public policy at Munk School and a former deputy minister in the Ontario government.

“The new strain of right-wing populism increasingly pits itself against subsets of the population like immigrants and minorities. Whereas left-wing populism pits itself against what is viewed as an unfair system,” he said. “It’s about structure as opposed to people.”

And what is emerging around the world, and in Canada, is far-right populism, Fagan added. Its members are largely religious, have reservations about diversity, and are disdainful of institutions or perceived elites.

From there, populism can devolve into nativism, a policy of promoting the interests of native inhabitants of a country against those of immigrants.

Source: They’re immigrants to Canada. So why are they supporting far-right parties that want to reduce immigration?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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