During the federal Conservative leadership race, Kellie Leitch has gotten more attention than most candidates, due in large part to her proposal to screen new immigrants for “Canadian values”. The proposal has gotten Leitch a lot of support, but it’s also gotten her a lot of criticism from people who say that the proposal is racist. White ethnic nationalists have even latched onto Leitch’s campaign, in much the same way as their American counterparts have to President Donald Trump. Since then, Leitch has denied that her campaign is based on ethnic nationalism. Instead, she says, it is based on civic values. Her campaign website indicates that the “Canadian values” she promotes include gender equality, freedom of religion, freedom and tolerance.
The support Leitch has gained for her proposal shows that is that the issue of national values and identity is still a very heated one in Canada. It also shows that many Canadians do not agree with Justin Trudeau’s recent declaration that Canada has no “core identity” and is the world’s first “post-national state”. It would be especially surprising to many Francophones and Indigenous people since many people in both these groups have insisted on their distinct place in Canada and the fact that they are not in the same boat as immigrants from other parts of the world.
The debate over what exactly our shared values are, how multiculturalism should work, and how much new arrivals are expected to change to fit into our society, is something many people still feel strongly about. However, English-speaking Canada doesn’t talk about it much, possibly because people are concerned about being called racist if they question the value of open borders. Quebec is about the only place that has discussed it openly, with its recent debate on “reasonable accommodation” and how immigrants should adapt to their new home’s core values.
The support for Leitch and Trump shows that, despite the all the talk about open borders and a global community, many people still see themselves as citizens of their countries rather than citizens of the world. National identities are still important to many people, as are the ideas of shared histories and identities. What many people forget is that national identity is not a static thing. It can change and grow just like anything else.
In Canada, we continue to expect people to speak English and/or French, but we see that the experiences of the Black communities of Atlantic Canada or Asian communities in B.C. are just as important to our history as the experiences of people of ethnic British or French descent. New immigrants bring their cuisine, their art and their music, evolving Canada’s culture in the process. They have as much right to call themselves Anglophone or Francophone Canadians as people whose ancestors came here 200 years ago.
Instead of criticizing people who express concern about accommodation and shared values, we would be better served by listening to their concerns. These issues are far from resolved in Canada.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on February 8, 2017 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/We-must-listen-to-concern-about-shared-values-20170208.