NEW YORK, April 24, 2016/ Troy Media/ – In a recent interview with Peter Mansbridge, Governor General David Johnston said that Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the niqab debate “showed who we really are.”
Quite apart from the questionable propriety of the Queen’s representative commenting on politics is the stunning assumption contained within his observation. Namely, that the implemented response of the Trudeau government to both matters was not merely a political and party-based solution but one that came wrapped in a virtuous and unassailable purity.
The governor general may as well have gone the extra mile and said that any other response or opinion was – not just wrong – but not even Canadian.
It is understandable that Canadians have been somewhat giddy with self-satisfaction since last fall’s election. The world has taken note of Justin Trudeau. He is young, handsome and seems to possess a natural empathy or, at the very least, is able to fake a darn good facsimile of it. Either way, it’s safe to say a good portion of Canadians are happy to bask in his reflected glow.
We need to take a step back. The drunken elation that Canada seems to be enjoying since our change in government is taking on a nasty turn. It threatens to become an intolerant bullying of those who are not sitting at the cool kids table with Trudeau at the head.
Along with the proclamation of a new dawn and the embarkation along “sunny ways,” lies something disturbing. Lurking just beneath the surface is a potentially very ugly feeling that there is now a state of being and believing that makes one a true Canadian.
That is all well and good when it’s confined to flag-waving on Canada Day or cheering a golden goal from Sidney Crosby. But the ugly flipside to the belief that arbitrary government policy reflects true Canadian values is that those who do not share those orientations are somehow less Canadian – not among the true, genuine cadre of Canadians. They are ‘other,’ they are ‘impure’ and their views must therefore be dismissed or ignored since they emanate from a lesser class of citizen.
The idea of “Canadian values” was invoked throughout the election campaign. Isn’t the whole reason for elections that we accept as a given that there are always competing values in a democracy which every few years are put up for review? But for one party – one leader really – to co-opt the entire body of hopes and dreams, of aspirations and ambitions for an entire nation is, frankly, disturbing.
Disagreements over policy and procedures – on issues as critical as the manner and speed with which Syrian refugees would be incorporated into our society – are now presented, not as legitimate counterpoints, but as transgressions by one group from core Canadian values. The dissenters – non-believers if you will – are expected to wear this violation as if it were a stain upon their now questionable Canadian identity.
Ironically, I think many of the people we are welcoming to our shores are fleeing countries that demand a certain level of shared belief. Those not exhibiting a sufficient fealty to the perceived party line were in danger of being marginalized, ostracized or worse.
Clearly, lauding Canadian values is meant to be celebratory and inclusive; it is instead coming off as exclusionary and mean-spirited. By defining anything in reference to arbitrarily agreed-upon qualities – more accurately decreed qualities – inevitably means that anything deviating from the norm is viewed with suspicion. It is viewed as a cancer that needs to be excised and expelled.
Trudeau has said that the next governor general will reflect Canada’s diversity. Well, diversity is not just skin deep, nor is it only reflected in gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.
A far more important diversity comes in what people think, how they express themselves, the laws they wish to see passed and the quality and character of the communities in which they wish to live – even when it runs contrary to the ruling party of the moment.
Respect for that kind of diversity would be a welcome value indeed.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canadian writer and lawyer living in New York state. Gavin is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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