Sunday, April 05, 2009

Jason Kenney, Multiculturalism and Integration

Canada has been able to avoid some of the problems other countries have had into integrating immigrant ethnic minorities into the fabric of their societies. One reason for Canada’s success in this regard was the Official Multiculturalism. By stating that the State did not favour a founding narrative about what it means to be Canadian, Official Multiculturalism helped reduce what it means to be Canadian to its bare essence. In English Canada, with the notable exception of the Aboriginal Canadians who are legally and stupidly defined as other, being a Canadian means having Canadian citizenship and no more than that. Without such a founding narrative or definitive sense of who we are, any attempt to distinguish between true Canadians from fake ones falls still born from its author’s mouth. The lack of rigid identity or founding narrative, so often lamented, is actually a strength. It has helped paved the way for integration.

That said, having helped establish Canadian identity as a becoming and only definable in retrospect, Official Multiculturalism can now be retired with a pat on the back for a job well done. We should feel free to drop the pretence that encouraging immigrants to try to embalm their respective cultures --- that will invariably diverge greatly from their parent cultures ---, is anything other than perverse. Jason Kenney is right. "We don't need the state to promote diversity”. The government was right to cease funding heritage language classes for example and I think most Canadians would agree with sentiments he said with regard to this manner. "I think it's really neat that a fifth-generation Ukrainian Canadian can speak Ukrainian -- but pay for it yourself.”

As I said countless times before, Kenney is also right about language. "Someone who has been here for 15 years and can't speak English or French is basically locking themselves out of the vast majority of jobs and is isolating themselves socially, and that is a tragedy."

However, Kenney has gone off the rails in talking about how "Canada isn't a hotel” and need for immigrants to integrate. Pace Jason Kenney, integration is not something that is accomplished by mere force of will. It is not a choice ---- or if you read the Conservative subtext, a compulsion that immigrants will feel once the multicultural “option” is off the table. Having the government foster a narrative about how immigrants need to become just like “us” not only demonstrates a lack of understanding as to why the legacy of Official Multiculturalism is largely positive, such actions are enormously counterproductive. Forced integration is an oxymoron and the damage it does is directly proportional to just how strongly it is felt.

Now, I believe it was Brian Mulroney who once said that integration is a job. He was not far off. Integration is a social economic by-product. So long as the economy is not racially segmented, national identity too rigidly defined and social mobility blocked, integration is inevitable for those that speak English. Race, ethnicity and even religion are not formidable barriers to friendship and hormones certainly do not care about such things. Put a group of kids from similar social economic backgrounds together in the same place and whether one is jock or nerd will be far more relevant to them then whether they were born in Cairo or Toronto or whether they wear a turban as opposed to ball cap.

So the kicker is this. When it comes to providing social services to immigrants, and encouraging social mobility generally, the Conservatives fail miserably. In other words, they fail to promote integration.

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