“Old Stock Canadians”

A phrase blurted out unexpectedly by Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the Federal Leaders Debate sponsored by The Globe and Mail in Calgary on September 17, 2015.

In an exchange over the federal government’s decision to cut health benefits for refugee claimants, Harper said: “We do not offer them a better health-care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive. I think that is something that most new and existing and, and old stock Canadians agree with.”

The unusual phrase struck many Canadians, who are not accustomed to hearing their prime minister divide Canadians among “new” and “old”, let alone “old stock.”

The French language term “vieille souche” (literally “old stock”) is much more commonly used – primarily by Quebec nationalists – to point out the homogeneity of the vast majority of Quebeckers, who can trace their lineage to a few hundred families who settled New France three and four hundred years ago.

Sometimes “vieille souche” is an innocuous reference to pedigree, similar to those Americans who boast of ancestors who came over on the Mayflower. In more recent years, “vieille souche” is often used to contrast with the “threat” of diversity and the dilution of Quebec’s French identity.

In the more ethnically diverse Rest Of Canada-context, Harper’s “old stock” was a bit of a clanger – something of a throwback to the talk of “Mother Country” and “The Empire” of 100 years ago. Some saw a nefarious anti-immigrant dog whistle in the term. Most observers, however, just scratched their heads.

Perhaps the only answer is to crack open the kind of “Old Stock” that is in common usage in English Canada: Molson’s (and formerly O’Keefe’s) “Old Stock Malt Liquor”.

Image source: Wikimedia

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