The five Yukon federal MP candidates speak at a debate on immigration and diversity at the transportation museum in Whitehorse on Sept. 28. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Federal candidates debate immigration, racism

The debate covered a lot of ground related to new Canadians

A debate on immigration and diversity saw almost all of the Yukon’s federal MP candidates throw their weight behind settling new Canadians, most seeing the benefits to filling labour shortages.

The economic benefits of immigration were part of the talking points at the Sept. 28 debate, hosted at the Yukon Transportation Museum, with many, including Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell and the NDP’s Justin Lemphers, talking up the cultural importance immigrants bring to Canada.

“Diversity is our strength for us,” said Bagnell, who went through a list of initiatives established to expedite settling immigrants.

Citizenship processing times, for instance, have been reduced from two years to one year, he said.

“It allows us to help countries that are in trouble,” Lemphers said. “Some countries are on fire and we can be a haven. …”

Joseph Zelezny, candidate for the Peoples Party of Canada, said a cap should be placed on immigration — a belief carried over from his leader, Maxime Bernier.

Immigration, he said, needs to be “sustainable” and can’t be about “pandering” votes from immigrant communities, an apparent barb at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

At one point, he said that love and free speech “unites” Canadians (Zelezny circled back to his stance on bolstering free speech several times throughout the night.)

An audience member said, “Shame.”

“Use your vote,” said another, in response. “You don’t have to vote for him.”

All candidates were present at the well-attended event.

Gurdeep Pandher, who emceed, asked how candidates would support immigration.

Conservative candidate Jonas Smith said he would staff a designated federal immigration office.

“I would be in support of having more (Canada Border Services Agency) and other immigration officials here in Whitehorse. I’ve heard many stories where people have to leave the Yukon or go to a border crossing to fill out a very basic piece of work, so it would make a lot of sense to me if that was (available) in town.”

Lemphers said a citizenship and immigration office should be established in Whitehorse.

“So many of these applications are time-sensitive.”

Lenore Morris, candidate for the Green Party, agreed with Lemphers.

“This might be a situation where, at this point, we have such a large number of immigrants in the Yukon that it would justify having an actual federal government immigration office here,” she said. “There needs to be some regular service from the government.”

If there isn’t an office, she continued, immigration staff should schedule visits to the territory in order to meet with people who need help.

There were also heavy moments.

During the tail end of the event, racism in Canada was addressed, using examples like Trudeau’s black and brown face scandal, Quebec’s religious symbols ban — Bill 21— and an anti-Islamophobia motion.

“I’ll be brief,” Lemphers said, “Bill 21 is racist. People should have the freedom to believe what they believe.”

He was the only person to call the religious symbols ban, which applies to public servants, racist.

On Trudeau, who recently apologized and conceded his donning of black and brown face was racist, most candidates referred to those actions, directly or indirectly, as examples of racism.

“I don’t think it’s racist. I think it’s extremely offensive,” Zelezny said. “We need to stop the political correctness.”

Racism, Lemphers said, “shouldn’t be so difficult to name. When we’re talking about brown face, it is racist. There was an apology, I acknowledge that. I also acknowledge that people were hurt by it,” adding that those who were impacted should be the centre of focus.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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