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After watching a video of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau giving a speech in which he reiterated one of his favourite statements about "diversity being what makes Canada strong," Conservative MP Maxime Bernier lost his marbles and went on a Trump-like Twitter rant about diversity and the dangers of promoting it too much.
1/ Trudeau keeps pushing his “diversity is our strength” slogan. Yes, Canada is a huge and diverse country. This diversity is part of us and should be celebrated. But where do we draw the line?— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) August 13, 2018
Diversity is what makes Canada strong: Trudeau https://t.co/dZmCffRBFY
“If anything and everything is Canadian, does being Canadian mean something?” he tweeted. “Shouldn’t we emphasize our cultural traditions, what we have built and have in common, what makes us different from other cultures and societies?
“Having people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and openness doesn't make us strong.”
Without necessarily stipulating who these people are who live among us actively rejecting these values, he went on to use dangerous and inflammatory buzzwords like “ghetto”, “extreme multiculturism,” “little tribes” and “cultural balkanization” when alluding to the dangers of excessive diversity.
He later clarified that it wasn’t diversity per se that he had an issue with, but “ever more diversity,” whatever that means.
Erin Tolley, Political Science professor at the University of Toronto and author of Framed: Media & the Coverage of Race in Canadian Politics, responded to Bernier's thread and brilliantly debunked many of his arguments. This included pointing out the rather awkward fact that when Bernier decided to throw around words like "tribes" to describe homogenous groups, he forgot that Beauce, the Quebec riding he represents is almost 99 per cent francophone and white. But, of course, no one is complaining about that particular lack of diversity.
Politicians dangle the “immigrants are scary” line to get easy votes because it’s the easiest trick in the campaign book, writes @toulastake #cdnpoli #polqc #CPC
In many ways, Bernier’s concerns mirror those of many middle aged white folks who are seeing the status quo change right in front of their eyes. Canada’s demographics are indeed changing fast and in most major cities the majority of the population is already not looking anything like them. According to Statistics Canada, by 2031, one in three Canadians will belong to a visible minority. One in four will be foreign-born, the highest proportion since the end of the last wave of mass immigration.
So, when Bernier says “where do we draw the line” and arbitrarily and arrogantly assumes he (and others like him) must decide that, he’s only saying out loud what so many others perhaps only think. Many "old-stock" Canadians feel that it’s ok to let “some” immigrants in (after all we need someone to prop up the labour force, help the plummeting fertility rate, and ensure that Canada’s rapidly aging population has medical services and a pension fund to draw from) but not too many, and while they're here they shouldn’t get too uppity and thankless about it. It’s a parochial, small-minded, fearful-of-differences approach that ignores the very essence of what we pride ourselves in as a country.
Bernier's comments mirror many Conservative talking points
His immigrant bashing wouldn’t be so offensive and worrisome if it were coming from some marginal political figure, but this isn’t some random, fringe member of the Conservative Party who occasionally needs to be put in his place. Bernier has been a long-standing member of Parliament, representing the Quebec riding of Beauce, has served in Harper’s administration for years, and came in a very close second in the 2017 Conservative Party’s leadership race behind Andrew Scheer. He is very much a part of the political establishment, as much as he likes to present himself as a maverick and call himself “Mad Max.”
Despite both Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Ontario MPP Lisa MacLeod rushing to disavow Bernier’s tweets, is what he said so far removed from the Conservative Party and their previous attempts at leveraging the fear of immigrants and refugees for political capital? After all, the Cons introduced the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act in 2015 — complete with a helpful tip line — and Conservative MP Kellie Leitch argued that Canada should be screening potential immigrants for “anti-Canadian values."
Dog whistling as a political strategy from the Conservative party shouldn’t surprise me, but it still somehow does. Andrew Scheer’s very own campaign manager, Hamish Marshall, was the founding director of Rebel Media, a site that actively promotes white nationalism and is virulently Islamophobic. Is it really such a surprise that former Rebel Media employee (fired only when she appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast) Faith Goldy enthusiastically shared Bernier’s Twitter thread? These are the kind of people language like this appeals to and if the Conservative Party wants to see itself as a legitimate alternative to the Liberals in next year's federal election, it needs to clarify what and who it stands by. In many ways, it almost feels like Bernier's tweets and Scheer's subsequent dismissal of them is a testing of the waters of how far they can go with their identity politics next year without leaving them open to accusations of racism.
Politicians dangle the “immigrants are scary” line to get easy votes because it’s the easiest trick in the campaign book. You need to artificially create a “them” versus “us,” to demonize an external threat and then create a solution for a non-existent problem affecting the "us" to appeal and manipulate fears that are exacerbated by misinformation and prejudice. Quebec's Parti Québécois attempted its own failed experiment with the Quebec Charter of Values; legislation that only managed to divide and create strife and bad blood in this province. Thankfully, it (and the party who proposed it) were promptly defeated by Quebec voters who felt differently. Inclusion, not division, is what always works when integration is the goal.
Diversity and celebration of differences is part of common Canadian identity
While the fear mongering Bernier's tweets represent does appeal to a certain voting base, it runs contrary to everything Canada stands for. When he talks about our “core values” he somehow seems to forget that diversity is, in fact, one of Canada’s main core values. Pluralism has always been the very essence of the Canadian identity, where new groups, new languages, new cultures add to the whole; they don’t subtract. It’s not a perfect system but, overall, it works well in integrating newcomers and helping forge a common identity of what it means to be Canadian.
In a tweet, Frank Graves, the president and founder of EKOS Research Associates pointed to recent findings that in fact disprove Bernier’s claims that increased diversity and multiculturism diminish national identity. “As diversity has risen national identity has stayed strong and ethnic attachment plummeted”
In 90's Bisoondath and others predicted multiculturalism would diminsh national identity/ghettoize ethnic communities. Bernier makes similar claims .Importantly, the opposite has happened. As diversity has risen national identity has stayed strong and ethnic attachment plummeted pic.twitter.com/PGjI1Xz9F1— Frank Graves (@VoiceOfFranky) August 14, 2018
A similar study by a national think tank, the Institute for Research on Public Policy also reached similar conclusions. They "found neighbourhoods with a dominant ethnic population are actually places of cultural diversity rather than cultural isolation."
There is nothing surprising in these findings. Ask any child of immigrants and they will confirm the same. As a second-generation immigrant whose first language was Greek, I know first-hand how effortless it can be to hold all the parts of me close to my heart. Yes, it can sometimes be a juggling act, but it can always have its rewards.
When I learned how to speak English, I didn’t lose my ability to speak Greek. When I learned how to speak French, I didn’t suddenly forget how to speak English. In fact, I am better for knowing all three. Ask any mother if she suddenly stopped caring for her first-born because a second child came along. As humans we have the amazing capacity to embrace and value more than one reality; we have the ability to expand both our knowledge and our hearts.
Since the beginning of time, immigrants have always endured the hostility and suspicion of those who were there before, silenced their voices, kept their heads down, contorted themselves into pleasing shapes, and tried to "fit in." It doesn't matter how much or how little they do, they are always seen as "outsiders," intent on "invading" or forever altering some notion of hard-fought-for commonality; who have to prove that they belong.
But immigration is not a benevolent and magnanimous service, it’s not charity bestowed upon inferior foreigners with questionable motivations. Immigration is a “quid pro quo” transaction that benefits the receiving country as much as it does the person being welcomed into a new society.
There is no need to devalue the “different” to prove loyalty to the “same.” I don’t need to renounce pieces of me to prove I’m Canadian. I already know I am. My Canadian identity has never been at odds with my identity as the child of Greek immigrants. If anything, it has enhanced who I am and what I bring to the table. This notion that the "other" is somehow a threat to our common values is used time and time again by politicians for easy vote pandering. A country that has thrived on its ability to successfully integrate newcomers should have learned by now not to respond to such negative connotations of something we not only desperately need for our survival and evolution as a country, but that also collectively makes us better.
It is not necessary that recently arrived immigrants and refugees show their immense gratitude and appreciation by throwing off their hijabs, pledging allegiance to Hockey Night in Canada and developing a taste for Beaver Tails, all the while waving the Maple Leaf with nationalistic fervour. Many of them certainly will, and their children will form the next generation of fully integrated Canadians, but it's not unpatriotic to initially hold on tightly to the vestiges of what made you who you were before you became one of us.
Immigration is a lengthy and complex process, not without its challenges. It requires an open spirit (on both sides, no doubt), but most of all, it requires time. By the next generation I assure you another new wave of foreign-sounding folks will — just like the Greeks, the Italians, the Portuguese, the Vietnamese, the Chinese, the Polish, the Korean, and so on and so on — just be one more valuable and beautiful piece of this often-frustrating puzzle we call Canada.
Most of all, however, immigration is a gift because a society is always improved and enhanced by diversity of experiences and viewpoints. Just like research points to a board room and its decision-making ability being enhanced by diversity, so is a community’s and a country’s. Bernier does diversity a disservice when he sees it as a threat, instead of the opportunity that it is.
Toula Drimonis writes from Montreal. Use the promo code TOULA today and save 20% on an annual subscription to National Observer.