The most significant aspect of the population landmark of 40 million is this: Canada is the only Western nation with an overwhelming national consensus in favour of immigration, i.e., welcoming more non-whites into the family, given the demographic realities of the world — aging, sparsely populated West vs. a young, populous East.
Canadians are also the only Westerners to hold multiculturalism as the defining feature of our nationhood. Ahead of such traditional unifying symbols as the national anthem, the national flag, hockey, the beaver or our great outdoors.
This is a remarkable transformation within our lifetime.
Historic assumptions have been challenged and dismantled — principally, that Canada was a white Christian nation where peoples of other faiths and colour were expected to, and often did, assume second-class status. Canadians of long-established ancestry have had to make, and have made, the difficult psychological journey toward accepting all Canadians as equal.
Not surprising, given our history. No civil war. Peace, order and good government instead. Recognition of collective rights, dating back to the 1867 British North America Act, even if breached too often, especially with the Indigenous peoples. The 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The inexorable power of demographics manifesting itself through the electoral process.
Now Olivia Chow.
Earlier, Naheed Nenshi in Calgary, succeeded by Jyoti Gondek.
Conversely, Maxime Bernier, leader of the anti-immigrant People’s Party, defeated — thrice in the past three years in attempts to get back into the House of Commons.
Such is the alchemy of the new Canada that no anti-immigrant, let alone overtly racist, party can win federally or provincially.
Canada is an oasis of multicultural harmony in an increasingly fractious world where skin colour has emerged as a major fault line — leading to isolationism, xenophobia and majoritarianism. The democratic liberal order is in disarray in the United States and in parts of Europe. But not in Canada.
None of this is to say there’s no racism, no bigotry, no tensions. Life is never all honky-dory.
Quebec has rejected official multiculturalism and limited immigration. Yet it has not escaped the impact of demography. Immigrants in Quebec have helped suppress the separatist cause. Their instincts, acquired abroad, make them resist nationalism. Bad news for the separatists, good news for Canada. And last month, Premier François Legault reversed himself and boosted immigration to mitigate labour shortages.
How many immigrants are too many is a never-ending debate. The more important point is that we’ve come a long way away from None is Too Many era of the 1930s and 1940s.
Malthusianism — too many people leading to food shortages, etc. — is no longer infallible. The populations of China and India have acted as domestic spurs for their economies during worldwide downturns. The need for more immigrants to Canada is so well-established that most provinces and the business establishment routinely lobby federal politicians of all stripes not to go dog-whistling about immigration.
Yet the system is tainted by bias, as demonstrated by the ready preference shown those from Ukraine as opposed to those fleeing wars and persecution in Myanmar, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa and the Middle East.
New immigrants continue to be exploited — a function of capitalism, and artificial barriers of entry into professions. It is not an accident that the least regulated professions, such as High-Tech, have benefitted the most from skilled immigrants. Provincial governments must lean on turf-conscious self-regulated professions, such as medicine, to open their doors, on pain of losing their power over who gets in and who’s kept out.
Bigotry persists. Some social media posts during Toronto’s mayoral election oozed poison against Chow. Similar bile had earlier been directed at Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, from COVID deniers.
Our great contemporary achievement of ushering in a peaceful heterogeneous community, however, is being undermined by forces that are pulling us apart and pitting us against one another.
Cynicism has it that politics and politicians are corrupt. Whatever their shortcomings, our politicians are not corrupt. Corrupt is what the American political system is — votes and legislation and regulations sold to the highest bidder. What plagues us is different.
Both the public and private sectors cannot deliver infrastructure projects on time and budget. Neither cares a hoot about the years of inconvenience to neighbourhoods and the bankruptcies caused to small businesses built over a lifetime of toil. This erodes public confidence.
We’ve also lost the ability to think and act holistically. Cars are bad but governments continue to subsidize auto production, for jobs. Cars shouldn’t be allowed into big cities, but we can’t build the transit to get people there. So, we penalize those who must use cars.
Governments, especially Toronto city council, keep relitigating decisions. Subway to Scarborough? No, yes, half-yes. Tory’s SmartTrack? Yes, no, gone, forgotten. Rehabilitating the Gardiner? Yes, but let’s reopen the debate. On and on.
We can no longer run trains and planes on time. Or bring the baggage at airport terminals without long torturous waits.
Worse, we’ve started turning on each other, much like the dysfunction plaguing America, where half the population doesn’t talk to the other. It’s not just the Freedom Convoy folks vs. the rest. It’s politicians like Pierre Poilievre constantly foaming at the mouth, demonizing opponents. It’s bikers vs. car owners. LGBT folks vs. those who don’t like them. Dog lovers barking at those who object to their dogs urinating anywhere, brushing against people who don’t want to be brushed against, and cluttering parks clearly marked as off limits to canines.
Intolerance is spreading. We are losing the ability to live and let live, that cardinal Canadian principle of civility in the interest of the common good.
On this Canada Day, let’s reflect on what we’ve built, be aware of the emerging dysfunction and divisions, and dedicate ourselves, as a start, to lowering the temperature, please.