While there is a need for a strong conservative perspective in citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism policies, it should be rigorous and evidence-based, enriched by anecdotes, and not merely a polemic.

One of the enduring lessons of my time working on citizenship and multiculturalism issues under former minister Jason Kenney was just how much I and many other public servants were blinded by internal values, ideologies and biases and were thus not able to respond appropriately to the various values, ideologies and biases of the minister and his staff.

Recognizing these biases, and more importantly, overcoming them, was a somewhat painful process, as I detailed in my book Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism. As a result, I always try to ensure that my readings include a range of perspectives, particularly those that challenge my beliefs and values.

This commentary on Candice Malcolm’s book should be understood in that context.

Malcolm, who was a political staffer in Jason Kenney’s office, provides good insights into the thinking, values, ideologies and biases within the minister’s office. Her view of the “real character of our nation,” which she describes as “an independent but community-oriented, hard-working but fun-loving, prudent yet jovial, responsible, religious, family-oriented nation with big hearts and open minds,” reflects the anti-elite orientation of the Harper government.

But, written as it was so soon after the election, Malcolm’s book reads more as a rant than a thoughtful critique of the changes the Liberal government has made to citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism. To borrow one of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief, she remains in the denial stage.

The language she uses is highly partisan: “foolhardy Syrian refugee policy,” “elite intellectual circles,” Trudeau “isn’t interested…ignores…whitewashes,” “mouldy leftist myths,” “blundering politicians and partisan lackeys,” “arrogantly throwing the doors open,” “rewards his friends and government agencies,” “pandering to a small minority in ethnic communities,” “silent majority of right-thinking Canadians” and “manipulating the system and playing partisan games.”

While her examples and anecdotes are relevant, all too often she does not substantiate them with quantitative analysis.

But beyond the language and rhetoric, what about her substantive arguments?

  • Fundamentally, Malcolm does not understand multiculturalism as it is practiced in Canada. She characterizes it as a “hodge-podge of many cultures that are all equal.” Yet multiculturalism — based on the late Conservative senator Paul Yuzyk’s 1963 “unity in diversity” speech, the 1969 Bilingualism and Biculturalism Reporton the “other groups,” the 1971 Multiculturalism Policy and the 1988 Multiculturalism Act — has always been about integration and participation in wider Canadian society, as were the citizenship and immigration policies that followed. These all take place in the Canadian constitutional and legal context. Jason Kenney’s “reboot” of multiculturalism re-emphasized the original integration focus, but broadened it to mean relations among all groups, not between the “mainstream” and newcomers. The European version of multiculturalism, which Malcolm largely describes correctly, if in caricature, did not have this integration focus, and the result was poorer economic, social and political participation outcomes.
  • She goes so far as to say that “[Trudeau’s] government must be encouraged to continue the work of Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney to replace multiculturalism with pluralism,” without recognizing, as Kenney did, that multiculturalism is in the Constitution and is one of the top 10 aspects that according to regular polling makes Canadians proud. More fundamentally, the issue is less over the choice of word and semantics — whether it is multiculturalism, pluralism or interculturalism — and more over the substance of whether the policies encourage more integration or more separation.
  • Her characterization of the Liberals’ citizenship and immigration changes as “radical” ignores the many things that the Liberal government has not changed. For example, with respect to citizenship, the Liberals have maintained and enhanced all the previous integrity and anti-fraud measures, as well as the physical presence requirement, cementing an important part of the Conservative legacy. Moreover, the changes under the Conservatives’ Bill C-24 were more “radical” when seen in relation to previous — Liberal and Conservative — governments, as were many of their immigration policy changes.
  • Malcolm is incoherent in her criticism of the risks of admitting so many Syrian refugees so quickly while going on at length about just how strong, rigorous and professional are the systems and officials in place to reduce such risks.
  • Ironically, she poses the question, “does Trudeau really think he can redefine Canada’s national identity?” when so much effort was expended by the Conservative government to do just that (e.g., commemorating Canada’s military history through highlighting the War of 1812 and the First World War, the Discover Canada citizenship study guide’s focus on history from a more Conservative perspective, and adopting a more “go-it-alone” foreign policy, including the dismissal of the UN and other multilateral institutions).
  • Her defence of the Discover Canada citizenship guide is matched by her valid fear that the announced revision will revert to the “incredible lightness” of its predecessor, A Look at Canada, and its lack of emphasis on Canadian history and general shallowness. But Discover Canada, while a major improvement over A Look at Canada, was also unbalanced, as it over-emphasized the military and the Monarchy and underemphasized social history and culture. I advised her predecessors in Jason Kenney’s office to take a more balanced approach to allow Discover Canada to survive a change in government. Needless to say, that did not happen (as was their right).

My fear is that the Liberal government may go too far in the other direction, only addressing the weaknesses of Discover Canada by adding “progressive values,” rather than building on its strengths to prepare a more bipartisan citizenship guide. The themes the Liberals have selected for the Canada 150 celebration — diversity and inclusion, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, youth, and the environment — somewhat justify my fear. As to her defence of the Conservative government’s language and approach surrounding “barbaric cultural practices,” in my view, more neutral and inclusive language would situate these practices within the broader historical context of the struggle for gender equality without weakening the fundamental illegality of honour crimes.

Malcolm correctly notes the general importance of integration and settlement services, and to the Conservatives’ credit, they tripled the funding for integration and settlement services between 2006 2012 to $966 million (but reduced it to $599 million in 2014-15 after program review and other cuts). So while she is right to question whether there is adequate funding for existing settlement services and Syrian refugees’ needs (as many settlement agencies have), her critique would be more credible if she included an examination of the previous government’s policy and funding choices, and acknowledged the additional funding provided by the current government for Syrian refugees. Moreover, her overall fears regarding poor integration prospects for Syrian refugees do not take into consideration the relative success of our education system (which is recognized in many OECD studies) in integrating the children of immigrants and the subsequently high percentage of them who are university educated. Her assertion that “Second generation immigrants are choosing to reject western culture and values and instead embrace a radical religion that their own parents likely rejected” is not qualified. While there is an increase in religiosity among younger new Canadians — as seen in more common wearing of religious symbols such as the hijab, turban and other “headgear” — this is mainly in the context of participating in Canadian society, not removing themselves from it.  A recent Environics Institute survey of Canadian Muslims indicates high levels of attachment to Canada.

A number of her critiques are valid, but they are undermined by incomplete and misleading assertions. While it is legitimate to criticize the Liberals’ reversal of languageand knowledge-testing for 54-65 year olds, reverting to Paul Martin’s policy, she fails to note that this only affects 8 percent of applicants for this testing (according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada). She wisely does not challenge the removal of the language and knowledge-testing requirement for 14-17 year olds (they attend school and acquire the necessary language and knowledge). She does not acknowledge that the Liberal government kept the Conservative policy of not allowing interpreters in the knowledge interviews, despite pressure within their caucus to abandon the policy.

While one can argue whether or not the change in the residency requirement to three years out of five (from four out of six) was wise from an integration perspective, the Liberal government change did not change the fundamental — and more important — principle of residency, that is, physical presence in Canada. In the past, residency court definitions had ranged from physical presence to having a Canadian legal address, which led to some new citizens spending minimal time in Canada.

Her critique of the relative shift in immigration policy away from the Economic Class immigrants is valid, as is her critique of the overall increase in levels. But again, she overstates the impact of the shift, as 54 percent will be in the Economic Class compared with 65 percent before. Moreover, since her book was published, better data  from Statistics Canada on the various immigration classes’ incomes is available, and it shows, not surprisingly, that the children of immigrants from the  Economic Class fare the best ($46,000, similar to Canadian-born) and those of Family Class immigrants fare the worst ($39,000), but, surprisingly, those of refugees — government and privately-sponsored — do almost as well as those of Economic Class immigrants ($41,000 and $44,000, respectively) in 2011.

She correctly notes the complete failure of the Investor Immigrant Program, which the Conservatives cancelled, but then conflates this with Provincial Nominee Programs in general. The latter show good economic integration results in most provinces except Quebec, in terms of employment and earnings or accessing EI and social assistance.

Her valid concern that support for immigration is at risk is demonstrated by the 2015 Ipsos survey  (which she cites), but also by Ekos (March 2015) and IRCC’s most recent tracking survey (October 2014).

However, it is striking that she is silent on the role language and discourse — whether on the part of government leaders or the media — can play in influencing public opinion. Did some of the Conservative government’s language — “bogus refugees,” “citizens of convenience” — and the increasing use of identity politics against Canadian Muslims, not play a part in influencing public opinion?

This silence and lack of awareness is evident in her assertions that the Liberals are “pandering” for votes and that the changes they made were “deliberately engineered for partisan gain.” Did not the Conservatives also “pander” for votes in their historical-recognition initiatives for Chinese, Ukrainian, Italian, Indoand Jewish Canadians? Or were these initiatives just responding to citizen concerns? Was some of the anti-Muslim language not “pandering” to the Conservative base and used for party fundraising purposes, or was it a legitimate political response to a public concern? And was the push to address and provide additional funding to resolve the citizenship-application backlog, with over 500,000 new citizens in 2014 and 2015, not also partially driven by politics?

As other reviewers have noted, there is a need for a strong conservative perspective in citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism policies to inform debates, discussion and policy choices. Otherwise, governments risk not considering the impact of their preferred approach. But this conservative perspective should be rigorous and evidence-based, enriched by anecdotes, and not merely a polemic. The same of course applies to liberals.

While it may be cathartic for her and other Conservative party members and supporters to criticize the Liberal government’s changes in this manner, it does not help the Conservative Party in its reflections on the lessons of the 2015 election. Even though Jason Kenny spent most of his weekends in ridings with large populations of new Canadians, the Liberals were victorious in 30 of the 33 ridings where visible minorities are the majority. Furthermore, her book does little to advance our understanding and knowledge of the challenges in ensuring the ongoing success of the Canadian model of the immigrant-to-citizen process.

Photo: arindambanerjee / Shutterstock.com

 


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