Recent survey results indicate a shift in Canadian perceptions of diversity and immigration, fueling discussions on societal values and integration.Photo Credit: Pexels
Canada has long been known as a multicultural nation which has always welcomed immigration. Indeed, we are literally a country of immigrants, except for our First Nations citizens. Throughout our history, we have welcomed immigration as a necessary and positive phenomenon which helped to develop our economy and enhanced our society. Unlike the US, Canada did not actively encourage assimilation of people from different parts of the world into Canadian society, but we were nevertheless mostly successful in integrating a wide variety of people into Canada. Recently, however, it has been suggested that Canadians may be changing their views on this subject.
A key reason why Canada has been successful in welcoming diverse immigration in the past is that by and large the immigrants shared key Canadian values such as freedom, democracy, a market-based economy and gender equality. Early immigrants to Canada came largely from Western Europe, where similar values prevailed. Subsequent waves of immigration from various parts of Asia and South America also by and large bought into Canadian values, and immigrants from Eastern Europe frequently fled from communist countries to enjoy Canada’s freedoms. More recently, some people coming from parts of Africa and the Middle East have different values than most Canadians, hence the change in Canadian attitudes toward diversity in general.
A recent survey by Leger conducted for Postmedia revealed some different attitudes among Canadians than we have seen in the past. The survey found that 78 per cent of Canadians polled were concerned about the effect of the Israel-Hamas war on our communities in Canada. On diversity in general, 56 per cent believed that while some aspects of diversity can be beneficial, it can also produce conflicts, and 21 per cent of respondents thought that diversity often creates problems. Only 24 per cent agreed with Trudeau that diversity is a strength for Canada.
Trudeau has his partisan political reasons for harping on the “diversity is our strength” theme, with all those votes of various ethnic groups to be had. But the reality is that diversity really is neutral – it can be good or bad depending on the circumstances. The Trudeau government’s record on immigration has also been spotty, as the Liberals largely abandoned the “points” system which had been a key reason for Canada’s successful immigration history, and ensured immigrants had skills that were needed in Canada, had financial means so they didn’t end up on social assistance and had a very good chance of fitting in and thriving. Our current immigration system has become sloppy and less structured, which is one reason why our immigration success is declining.
The Leger survey also found that, when asked which of nine values they believed essential to being Canadian, the four top ones were democracy, freedom of speech, our social safety net and gender equality. Any groups who do not buy into one or more of these values are bound to have problems. The bottom two on the list were multiculturalism and tolerance for different religions, which certainly contests the notion that diversity is always our strength.
Since the October 7 attack by Hamas, many Canadians have been shocked by the amount of anti-Semitism they have seen in Canada. Most Canadians were aware that anti-Semitic views have always simmered just below the surface, as they do in many countries, but the overwhelming amount and virulence of the anti-Semitism that emerged after the Hamas attack surprised many, including me. Previously, most of us flattered ourselves by thinking we had more or less conquered these medieval attitudes and were now far too civilized in Canada to exhibit them. Apparently not.
This is a very unfortunate development because Canada will continue to depend on robust immigration in future to replace the aging baby boomer generation and offset our own relatively low birth rate. Anti-immigration attitudes will not be helpful in this regard. One silver lining in this dark cloud, however, is that this is a wake-up call that all is not well in our diverse Canada, and we need to do something about it. Being more explicit about the values we hold dear, tightening up our immigration system, returning to the successful points system of the past and not discouraging conversations on this issue by accusing people of being racists if they even question immigration are all essential parts of finding a durable solution to the current problems. There is no reason diversity cannot once again be our strength in future, but we’re going to have to work at it.
She has published numerous articles in journals, magazines & other media on issues such as free trade, finance, entrepreneurship & women business owners. Ms. Swift is a past President of the Empire Club of Canada, a former Director of the CD Howe Institute, the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, SOS Children’s Villages, past President of the International Small Business Congress and current Director of the Fraser Institute. She was cited in 2003 & 2012 as one of the most powerful women in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network & is a recipient of the Queen’s Silver & Gold Jubilee medals.