Di­ver­sity is what holds us to­gether

New ar­rivals of­ten stan­dard­bear­ers of Canada’s suc­cess

Calgary Herald - - NEWS - An­drew Coyne

Is “di­ver­sity our strength”? Pos­si­bly noth­ing in Justin Trudeau’s reper­toire of happy-talk cliches grates on con­ser­va­tives more than this one — even if Stephen Harper was known to say much the same (“Canada’s di­ver­sity, prop­erly nur­tured, is our great­est strength.” )

In­creas­ingly, how­ever, and par­tic­u­larly since Maxime Bernier’s tweet­burst de­nounc­ing the Trudeau gov­ern­ment for en­cour­ag­ing “too much” di­ver­sity, con­ser­va­tives have moved from silently seething at the plat­i­tude to more openly ques­tion­ing it.

“Canada faces a real test in main­tain­ing na­tional iden­tity,” writes pro­fes­sor Jack Mintz of the Univer­sity of Cal­gary, “when so many peo­ple come from dis­parate back­grounds.” While eth­ni­cally di­verse so­ci­eties can “in prin­ci­ple” yield eco­nomic ben­e­fits, from greater con­sumer choice to in­creased in­no­va­tion, “when cit­i­zens iden­tify more strongly with a so­cial group rather than the na­tion as a whole” the re­sult can be “frag­men­ta­tion,” even con­flict.

“The virtues of cen­sus di­ver­sity are more of­ten as­serted than demon­strated,” writes the an­thro­pol­o­gist Philip Carl Salz­man, in a 2017 piece for the Mac­don­ald Lau­rier In­sti­tute, chal­leng­ing di­ver­sity-is-strength ad­vo­cates to show “ex­actly how such di­ver­sity con­trib­utes to eco­nomic per­for­mance and so­cial and cul­tural strength.” Im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, he warns, should “en­sure the com­pat­i­bil­ity of the views and ob­jec­tives of new­com­ers with Canadian law, in­sti­tu­tions and val­ues.”

For his part, the Con­ser­va­tive leader, An­drew Scheer, speak­ing to a party con­fer­ence in the im­me­di­ate wake of the Bernier con­tro­versy, was care­ful nei­ther to ques­tion di­ver­sity nor to praise it. Canada’s real strength, he said, is “our free­dom,” of which di­ver­sity is a byprod­uct. It’s be­cause we are free, he said, that peo­ple come here from all over the world.

What are we to make of this? Cer­tainly it’s valid to crit­i­cize a pol­icy of en­forced di­ver­sity, as ad­vo­cated by many on the left and prac­tised by the fed­eral Lib­er­als: the sup­plant­ing of bedrock lib­eral con­cerns with process — merit in hir­ing, fair­ness in tri­als, and so forth — in pur­suit of what are con­sid­ered ap­pro­pri­ately rep­re­sen­ta­tive out­comes; the in­sis­tence on un­bridge­able gulfs of un­der­stand­ing be­tween dif­fer­ent iden­tity groups, or more rad­i­cally on the im­pos­si­bil­ity of any shared truths or val­ues across so­ci­ety.

But the right seems in­creas­ingly will­ing to go be­yond that. Few in Canada would go so far as the Amer­i­can com­men­ta­tor Tucker Carl­son, who asks for ex­am­ples, rhetor­i­cally, “of other in­sti­tu­tions such as, I don’t know, mar­riage or mil­i­tary units in which the less peo­ple have in com­mon, the more co­he­sive they are,” which on the sur­face would seem to im­ply both re­seg­re­gat­ing the mil­i­tary and re­strict­ing mar­riage to mem­bers of the same fam­ily.

Nev­er­the­less, we are per­ilously close to de­bat­ing, not just the pol­icy of “di­ver­sity” or “mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism,” but the un­der­ly­ing so­ci­o­log­i­cal re­al­ity: if not di­ver­sity of race or eth­nic­ity, then di­ver­sity of cul­tures or val­ues. I say per­ilously, be­cause the sub­ject is in­her­ently ex­plo­sive, with enor­mous po­ten­tial for mis­un­der­stand­ing. All the same, it seems un­likely to go away; and as it hap­pens I think the case for di­ver­sity is ro­bust, there seems no point in avoid­ing it.

It is surely note­wor­thy that Canada, with one of the most eth­ni­cally di­verse pop­u­la­tions of any de­vel­oped coun­try, is also one of the most suc­cess­ful, as it is that, though we have among the high­est num­bers of for­eign-born pro­por­tion­ate to our pop­u­la­tion, we seem least fussed by it — less fussed, in­deed, than we were our­selves at a time when the pro­por­tion was much lower.

This is pos­si­bly not co­in­ci­den­tal. Fa­mil­iar­ity, it would seem, breeds re­spect: the more peo­ple come into con­tact with mem­bers of other eth­nic groups, the less con­cern they feel. For their part, con­trary to Mintz’s con­cerns, the ten­dency of im­mi­grants to iden­tify with their own eth­nic group has de­clined over the last sev­eral decades, ac­cord­ing to the poll­ster Frank Graves, in favour of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the na­tion as a whole.

Di­ver­sity doesn’t just bring ben­e­fits in terms of more in­ter­est­ing cities and var­ied restau­rant of­fer­ings. It seems to al­ter the po­lit­i­cal DNA of a coun­try in use­ful ways. Canada has been deal­ing with the ques­tion from its ori­gins, and while our record is hardly un­blem­ished, and the ef­fort tir­ing at times, can there be any doubt it has made our po­lit­i­cal cul­ture more adept at com­pro­mise, more at­tuned to dif­fer­ence, more sub­tle?

Cer­tainly it’s valid to worry whether peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds can form a co­her­ent whole, able to work on com­mon projects, as­pire to com­mon ideals, or at the least avoid con­flict. But the ev­i­dence is that greater di­ver­sity helps, rather than hurts, in this re­gard. Where a so­ci­ety is riven be­tween two large groups, the po­ten­tial for po­lar­iza­tion is greater. By con­trast, where there are many dif­fer­ent groups, as in Canada’s metropolitan cen­tres, the po­ten­tial for con­flict is dif­fused.

I worry some­times that Canada is los­ing sight of those tra­di­tional lib­eral val­ues I men­tioned: that we are be­com­ing less a na­tion of equal in­di­vid­u­als than a jig­saw puzzle of groups, with politi­cians pan­der­ing to each.

But the peo­ple who con­sis­tently re­store my faith are the most re­cent ar­rivals on our shores. It is pre­cisely to es­cape such racial and eth­nic spoils sys­tems that many im­mi­grants leave their coun­tries of birth. They long for noth­ing more than to be val­ued as in­di­vid­u­als, in and of them­selves.

Many con­ser­va­tives, though they may be open to im­mi­gra­tion, seem to han­ker for a more overtly as­sim­i­la­tion­ist pol­icy; some even speak ad­mir­ingly of Que­bec’s ap­proach in this re­gard. But this is a so­lu­tion in search of a prob­lem. In any case the al­ter­na­tive to mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is not mono­cul­tur­al­ism: it’s to leave cul­ture out of it, as an ob­ject of state pol­icy.

The nec­es­sary and suf­fi­cient con­di­tion for unity is a com­mit­ment to the coun­try’s laws and in­sti­tu­tions, that “po­lit­i­cal na­tion­al­ity” of which our founders spoke.

I think those who have cho­sen will­ingly to be­come Cana­di­ans, some­times hav­ing en­dured great hard­ship to get here, should rather en­joy the ben­e­fit of the doubt on this score.


Jasjot Mann, 5, takes a flag from a Moun­tie dur­ing a cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­mony in Win­nipeg in De­cem­ber 2017.


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