opinion
The Conservatives need to stop blaming "diversity" as a problem for Canada
By: Guest Contributor
Published: 17th August 2018

Sarbjit Kaur

Looking at what's happening in politics south of our border, Canadians can be forgiven for being a little smug.

That kind of thing can't happen here, we think. We're better than that. Our leaders don't play politics with diversity and human rights.

Except, of course, when they do.

In a multi-tweet tirade last Sunday, Conservative MP (and one-time leadership contender) Maxime Bernier attacked the idea that diversity is a strength, saying more of it will be a bad thing.

This in the same week Toronto city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti referred to social housing residents at Jane and Finch as "cockroaches" -- a chilling comparison, most notably used in the past in the context of genocide.

I'm not saying we're heading for genocide, but we do have a problem because it signals that these kinds of messages are okay, and encourages others to say and act on thoughts they may have otherwise kept private.

This only serves to divide us. This, in turn, lets politicians like Bernier claim that the Canadian multiculturalist dream has failed, and we need to revert to some kind of imaginary, whitewashed core identity that has never, ever existed on this land.

Bernier's comments aren't just offensive, they're hypocritical. One the one hand, he says that having people in our society who reject basic Western values of freedom, equality, tolerance, and openness weakens us.

On the other hand, his Conservative party panders to the most traditional elements of the very communities he claims aren't "integrating," hardening divisions between those people and others, including more progressive groups within those communities. In short, he and his party are fostering and capitalizing on the very divisions he now blames for a perceived downfall of Canadian society.

The Conservatives reached out to diverse communities under Stephen Harper and made real inroads. But they lost that support (and more than a few seats) when they started whipping up fears about minority groups for political gain. These losses are only continuing as the party, under Andrew Scheer, cribs from the same alt-right playbook favoured Ezra Levant's Rebel Media and Donald Trump.

Like the current US president, the Conservatives seem to think that this will help them win power - a power that doesn't include diverse groups or people of colour. They are wrong, but it's alarming they even think this kind of strategy stands a chance.

Of course, Conservatives and Bernier himself will jump to tell you that this isn't about culture or race. Bernier rests part of his argument on "Western values" (also known as "basic human rights," and it's debatable whether there is anything particularly "Western" about them).

This is somewhat ironic, considering the values he mentions, like freedom, equality, tolerance, and openness, are also Charter values. It was Bernier and the Conservatives, of course, who opposed the Trudeau government's move to make groups who get federal funds to hire students agree to respect Canadians' Charter rights.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer responded to Bernier's tweets with a lukewarm statement distancing himself from his caucus colleague. That's not enough. Scheer needs to send a strong message -- including within his own party -- that these cynical and divisive tactics are un-Canadian and un-Conservative. Bernier is jeopardizing all the work that was done in previous years to bring diverse communities into the Conservative fold.

The Conservatives should kick Bernier out of caucus, because it's the right thing, but also because it's the smart thing.

Maxime Bernier thinks that "diversity" necessarily implies "division". But to suggest that our diversity is dividing us is simply bad faith.

While he says we should emphasize what makes us different from other societies, what makes us different is precisely the character he says we should abandon. It's that we've been able to gather together many threads of culture and tradition and weave it into a strong and vibrant tapestry of multiculturalism, in a way that no other country has succeeded in doing.

That's what binds us together, and that's what makes us different. That's what makes us Canadian.


Opinion published on 17th August 2018 in the Politics section




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