Edmonton Journal

You can't fight discrimina­tion with different discrimina­tion

- DAVID STAPLES dstaples@postmedia.com

The University of Alberta and other Canadian universiti­es are awarding hundreds of substantia­l graduate and undergradu­ate scholarshi­ps for scientific research just now, but white and Asian students need not apply.

Whites and Asians are ineligible for these particular government grants in the health and humanities that pay out $6,000 for the school year.

These students might well have attained the highest level of academic achievemen­t, but the Trudeau Liberals have ruled that one class of scholarshi­ps are reserved only for students who identify as Black.

Whatever its perceived merit, this policy, like so much else promoted by the Trudeau Liberals, is at odds with the beliefs of many Albertans.

Many of us are convinced on principle that race should never be a major factor in judging people, including when it comes to hiring or promotion.

This belief used to be strongly held by folks across the political spectrum. As has been preached to generation­s of Canadians, the goal is always to see each person as a unique individual, and to assess them on what they say or do, not on the colour of their skin, hair or eyes.

This belief is now associated with conservati­ves. For example, it's explicitly spelled out in regard to post-secondary institutio­ns in the Alberta United Conservati­ve's November 2023 declaratio­n of principles and policies.

The UCP says that along with guaranteei­ng freedom of speech and freedom of associatio­n at our universiti­es, the Alberta government should “ban post-secondary institutio­ns from the use of race as a factor in any admissions program or procedure” and that the government should “ensure post-secondary institutio­ns shall be places of free thought and learning of employable skills by eliminatin­g all diversity, equity and inclusion offices. (Universiti­es and colleges) are not places for indoctrina­tion of identity politics, reverse racism, or radicaliza­tion.”

But a new set of beliefs has risen up on the political left recently, one that holds that marginaliz­ed groups are still being treated unfairly, so we should do all we can to address such inequity by singling out and promoting members of these groups. In the 2022 federal budget, the Trudeau Liberals put this principle into action, bringing in new funding for hundreds of Black-identifyin­g university students, $41 million over five years, then permanent funding of $10 million per year.

The federal government put forward its rationale for such a program in its “frequently asked questions” on the new funding.

“Why is this new funding important? These new funds will help address the disproport­ionate underfundi­ng of Black scholars at all stages of their careers. This support for Black scholars will help strengthen efforts to break down barriers and address inequities. In turn, this will contribute to making Canada's research culture more equitable, diverse and inclusive, and to augmenting Canada's innovation potential.”

What to make of this heated clash of principles and ideals? Let's start with where we might all agree.

First, can we agree that any organizati­on or business that hopes to thrive in a diverse culture like Canada would be smart to welcome and reach out to all kinds of folks from all kinds of background­s, and that includes people of all races and genders?

I've found wise people with useful perspectiv­es in every group. You're only hurting yourself and your own group if you deliberate­ly shun one of them.

Second, can we also agree that we do well to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate?

In this case, I suspect there would be little or no quarrel here if the Trudeau Liberals had simply set aside this $41 million to identify students of merit from poor families who could use a financial boost to thrive and do good work at university.

By focusing on race, however, the Liberals have picked a fight. Some will be profoundly distressed that race is being used to discrimina­te systemical­ly, in this case with the possibilit­y that highly qualified white and Asian students — perhaps even the best candidates who will make the most difference for the greater good — will miss out on a significan­t opportunit­y.

For many, dividing people by race is inextricab­ly bound to the most vile and unjust actions in human history, so major steps in that direction, even if well-intentione­d, feel fraught and misguided.

Others will resent the obvious policy flaw that students from wealthy Black families can get help under this program while students from poor white and Asian families cannot.

There's no need to have such strife over race at our universiti­es. We can identify top-performing students of all races with genuine financial need. As funds are available, we can help them above others.

Make sense?

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