John Geiger, National Post (Canada), Tuesday, July 11, 2006
When Australian Prime Minister John Howard visited Canada in May, commentators noted just how much Stephen Harper owed to him — from his family-friendly platform of tax benefits to his determination to strengthen ties with the United States. During their talks, Harper also expressed interest in emulating the Australian approach to climate change outside Kyoto.
But there is one policy area Harper and his government have yet to borrow and should, namely a Canadian version of Howard’s concept of the “Australian Achievement.”
Howard used his Australia Day address in January to pay tribute to Australia’s ethnic diversity, calling it “one of the enduring strengths of our nation.” However, this was not the usual litany of multiculti platitudes that Canadians have come to expect from their politicians. Howard went on to say that even diverse countries have “a dominant cultural pattern running through them. In Australia’s case, that dominant pattern comprises Judeo-Christian ethics, the progressive spirit of the Enlightenment and the institutions and values of British political culture.”
Of course, it is equally true for this country, but try to imagine for one moment a Canadian political leader with the courage to say so. Or to hail, as Howard did, the fact that his countrymen have “drawn back from being too obsessed with diversity.”
Indeed, the contrast between Howard’s remarks on Australia Day, and Stephen Harper’s on something called “Canadian Multiculturalism Day,” which was held on June 27, could hardly be more striking.
While Harper urged “Canadians to celebrate our nation’s rich multicultural heritage” — and elsewhere announced his government would dole out millions of dollars in compensation for a head tax on Chinese immigrants instituted in the 1800s — Howard’s emphasis was not on the debt owed by his country to immigrants but the debt the newcomers owe to their adopted country: “It would be a crushing mistake to downplay the hopes and the expectations of our national family. We expect all who come here to make an overriding commitment to Australia, its laws and its democratic values. We expect them to master the common language of English and we will help them to do so. We want them to learn about our history and heritage. And we expect each unique individual who joins our national journey to enrich it with their loyalty and their patriotism.”
Howard has been acting on these sentiments, as well. Not only for newcomers but all Australians. He has said he wants to see students saluting the Australian flag at morning assembly, a practice abandoned four decades ago. And last week, Australia’s federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, promised to end political correctness in the country’s school curriculum and to undo the damage done to the study of history by educators who filter it through Marxist, feminist — and she should have added, multiculturalist — interpretations, preferring to, as an editorial in The Australian newspaper put it, “see Australia as a racist and sexist country founded on a crime.”
We are, as Harper said on “Canadian Multiculturalism Day,” a “nation of immigrants.” But diversity is not all that we should be celebrating. Yet judging from the messaging from Ottawa and the provinces, that is all that binds us. Here is a sample of the entertainment line-up Ontarians were offered at Queen’s Park on Canada Day: Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company, the Indonesian Candra Kirana performers, Oplenac Serbian Cultural Association, Folklorico Mexicana, Punjabi Canadian Culture Group, Wushu-Chinese Martial Arts, Sankofa African Drum and Dance Ensemble, Huairapungo Ecuadorian Ethnocultural Group and the Brazilian TropiCaliente troupe. Such mutliculti feel-goodism is no doubt well-intentioned. But immigrants came to this country for freedom and economic opportunities — not a smorgasbord of ethnic schmaltz.
Of course Canada should celebrate its diversity, but we should be celebrating our common heritage, too. Next year, Harper should strike “Canadian Multiculturalism Day” from the nation’s calendar and instead take another page from Howard’s playbook. Our “Canadian Achievement” is very real. What we need is a leader with the courage to speak of it.