Maxime Bernier tweetstorm just cost the Conservatives the 2019 election

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      Last year, Toronto pollster Michael Adams wrote a fascinating book called Could It Happen Here? Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit.

      Citing social-values research, he explored whether Canada might be susceptible to the xenophobic nationalism that's been unleashed in America.

      In his book Adams focused a great deal of attention on one key difference between the two countries: the percentage of foreign-born residents. 

      In the 2016 Canadian census, 21.9 percent of the population were immigrants. That's the closest it's ever been to the recorded high of 22.3 percent in the 1921 census.

      In the last United States census in 2010, just 12.9 percent were foreign-born.

      Only two states, the heavily Democratic-leaning California and New York, exceeded 20 percent foreign-born in 2010. Five others—Texas, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey, and Massachusetts— were over 15 percent.

      The reality is that America has a far lower percentage of foreign-born residents than Canada.

      And this is particularly true in the so-called red states that backed Trump so heavily in the 2016 presidential election.

      In fact, research has shown that the whiter a U.S. county was, the more likely it was to support Trump.

      The Washington Post cited exit polling to suggest that 52 percent of white women voted for Trump, and 61 percent of white women without a college degree voted for him. Around 63 percent of white men voted for Trump.

      Bernier blows up Conservative bridge to new Canadians

      Enter Maxime Bernier, MP for Beauce and second-place finisher in the last Conservative leadership race.

      Yesterday, he went on a tweetstorm criticizing Trudeau for repeatedly saying that "diversity is our strength".

      Bernier declared that having "people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and openness doesn't make us strong".

      "People who refuse to integrate into our society and want to live apart in their ghetto don't make our society strong," the Conservative MP stated.

      Moreover, he alleged that these "tribes become political clienteles to be bought with taxpayers $ and special privileges".

      Bernier's tweets contain some common fallacies. The term "ghetto" fails to recognize that ethnic enclaves often play critical and positive roles in helping immigrants adapt to Canada through their first few years in the country.

      This point was driven home in author Douglas Saunders's Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World.

      In the Lower Mainland, these so-called immigrant ghettoes have actually improved neighbourhoods in North Surrey, along Kingsway in Vancouver, and in South Burnaby. The arrival of immigrants has breathed new economic vitality into formerly dilapidated areas.

      Bernier also suggests that people are refusing to integrate into society. In fact, immigrants' level of adaptation and integration increases over time. They're not static entities frozen with the views they had when they first stepped into Canada.

      UBC planning professor Leonie Sandercock pointed this out quite brilliantly in her 2003 book, Cosmopolis II: Mongrel Cities of the 21st Century.

      Bernier also overlooks how patriotic many immigrants are. It's obvious to anyone who attends a Canada Day celebration in downtown Vancouver but it's also reflected in polling.

      He claims that "tribes" can be bought with taxpayers' dollars. In fact, Ontario premier Doug Ford won the most recent provincial election with the support of many fiscally conservative immigrant voters.

      They weren't in a mood to be bought off. They just wanted their taxes cut so they would have more money left in their pockets to support their families.

      There are diverse views and political divisions among groups of new Canadians just as there are in the mainstream. They are not monolithic, one-dimensional tribes. Bernier's tweets seem to reduce people to one aspect of their identity—their race or religion or ethnic origin—when they have a multiplicity of identities.

      At the very least, Bernier's tweetstorm is a reminder that elements within the Conservative party are uncomfortable with Canada's diversity. 

      He didn't state that diversity isn't making Canada strong—he only criticized adding more diversity.

      But in urban and suburban ridings across the country, the perception will be that a leading Conservative politician wants to put the brakes on immigration and family reunification.

      This will be amplified by media outlets that serve new Canadians.

      It's political poison for the Conservatives in places like Richmond, Surrey, and Coquitlam in Metro Vancouver, and ridings with similar demographics in Ontario.

      Bernier's outburst will also cost the Conservatives seats in Edmonton and Calgary. It will solidify Trudeau's support in Montreal. The Conservatives can kiss off any chance of retaking Vancouver South.

      Urbanization undermines Conservatives' chances

      Canada has become a far more urban and suburban nation in recent years.

      This partially explains the Conservatives' defeat in the 2015 election—Stephen Harper was trounced in suburbs of larger cities because he tried to characterize the "other" as the enemy.

      Harper talked about introducing a hotline for people wanting to report "barbaric cultural practices". He campaigned vigorously against Muslim women wearing veils during citizenship ceremonies.

      According to Adams, "he lost crucial support in the multicultural suburbs, support that cost the Conservatives an election they might have won.”

      The same type of xenophobia, as exemplified by its Charter of Values, cost the Parti Québécois the 2014 Quebec election.

      And it's going to cost the federal Conservatives dearly in 2019.

      Pro-choice voters feel uncomfortable supporting anti-abortion candidates. LGBT voters can sense when a politician is a homophobe.

      Similarly, those who are proud of Canada's diversity can detect when a politician or his party are not comfortable with the changing demographics of the country. These voters feel it in their hearts and in their guts. It goes beyond words.

      For all of Doug Ford's political negatives, voters did not think he was a racist.

      The federal Conservatives, on the other hand, are going to grapple with this perception in 2019. 

      And for that, they can thank Maxime Bernier's tweetstorm.