Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail, October 14, 2016
Justin Trudeau has made diversity and inclusion the cornerstone of his brand. “Diversity is Canada’s strength,” he tells the world. There’s a lot of virtue in this. We are among the most successful immigration countries on Earth–one of the rare places where high rates of immigration are not contentious, and where anti-immigrant rhetoric has no respectable place in public life.
But the Prime Minister wants us to go way beyond tolerance for cultural differences. He wants us to love and celebrate them. Which can be a stretch. Should we really be celebrating women who wear the niqab? I don’t think so.
That’s where Kellie Leitch, a contender for the federal Conservative leadership, comes in. Her “Canadian values test” for prospective immigrants, an idea widely loathed by the elites, has a lot of traction with the public. One opinion poll found that a whopping two-thirds of Canadians–not just Conservatives–think it’s a good idea.
The CBC and Angus Reid did their own recent polling on this subject. The results disconcerted many. Nearly 70 per cent of respondents said “minorities should do more to fit in with mainstream society rather than keep their own customs and languages.” (According to the survey, long-time immigrants agree.) So much for decades of official multiculturalism.
What do these findings mean? Are Canadians becoming more intolerant? The Toronto Star’s Bob Hepburn, for one, is worried. “A backlash against more immigration appears to be spreading,” he warned the other day. Others think that the rise of Trumpism and of anti-immigration sentiment in Europe have simply emboldened Canadians to unleash the inner racism that has always lurked just beneath the surface.
I’m not all that alarmed (for now). According to a recent Ipsos poll, only one in three Canadians think immigration has been generally negative for Canada–a proportion that has remained steady for a decade, despite immigration levels that are among the highest in the world.
But the Liberals’ aggressive immigration strategy will surely test Canadians’ goodwill. In the past year, the government brought in 320,932 immigrants and refugees–one-third more than the year before. It’s the largest influx of people to Canada since the West was settled in the early years of the last century, and Immigration Minister John McCallum wants to keep it up. He says we need all these people to make up for demographic decline and to boost the economy of stagnant regions.
These arguments are largely spurious. Immigration can bring economic benefits. But it can’t do much to offset the impact of demographic decline. Nor will immigration revive the fortunes of flagging towns. Newcomers are going to move to where the jobs and opportunities are. They are going to compete for housing and health care and teachers and other public goods and services that are sometimes in short supply.
Yet in liberal discourse, any resistance to immigration on any grounds makes you a racist, and any questions about immigration policy are perceived as illegitimate. People get frustrated by that. They’re also frustrated by a narrative that, in their view, only goes one way. They feel they’re constantly being harangued by their betters that it is they who must accommodate the newcomers. No one ever talks about what the newcomers should do to accommodate them.
And so they’re not thrilled when Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s Premier, dons a head scarf to meet with the woman who insisted on her right to wear the niqab during the citizenship ceremony–and then tweets that it’s “an honour.” They are not thrilled when their Prime Minister promotes inclusivity by visiting a mosque where the women have to sit upstairs. They don’t like it when a Muslim boys’ soccer team refuses to play against girls.
Kellie Leitch taps into that sentiment. I don’t doubt for a moment that Canada has its share of racists–but if the Liberals ignore the genuine concerns of people who think accommodation should go both ways, they’re asking for a backlash.
Many progressives (including, I suspect, Mr. Trudeau) hold a romantic view of immigration as a sort of global social-justice project, which obliges us to share our good fortune with as much of the rest of the world as possible, while declaring that every other culture is just as good as ours is.
Thankfully, most Canadians don’t share this woozy notion. They pride themselves on their tolerance. But they’re also hard-headed pragmatists. They think immigration policy should serve our national interests, and that our leaders should not forget it.