Wednesday, 04 January 2017 15:51

From Helwi Hamdoun to Nabil Warda

Commentary by Khaled Salama in Mississauga, Ontario

Last summer, I had an interesting debate with a young, well-travelled Qatari friend in Doha. Not unlike millions of others around the world, he was curious to know what I thought of Donald Trump’s chances winning the Nov. elections.

“He is going to win;Donald Trump will be the incoming President,” I said emphatically, many months before the elections.

My friend was shocked. When he pressed me to back up my prediction, I explained: it’s not because Trump is the best candidate and nor is Hillary Clinton the worst nightmare, but the American people want Trump and they will make sure that Trump will be the next U.S. President.

Clearly intrigued, my Qatari friend moved closer, in an effort to speak more privately.

My reasoning went something like this: the profile of immigrants to both Canada and the U.S. has changed over the years and it’s not hard to understand the anxiety in both countries.

For me, two names personify what I see as a sea change in the attitude of immigrants to Canada over the last 80 years: Helwi Hamdoun of Edmonton and Nabil Warda of Montreal.

Canada in the 1930’s

I painted for my skeptical friend the story of Canada’s first mosque that was built nearly 80 years ago in the Alberta city of Edmonton, at a time when the number of Muslims in Canada was less than 700 . With such a small number of Muslims, most of whom had migrated from Lebanon and Syria, the community didn’t have a lot money.

They worked on farms, and some of them learned to trade in fur, the main commodity in Canada at the time.

As Edmonton’s Muslim community began to grow and prosper, they felt that their religious life was being hampered. After several meetings, they concluded that a mosque is urgently needed to accommodate the small number of Muslim families who wanted not only to guard their traditions, but also have a place to socialize, party, and give back to the community as well.

The real heroes were actually heroines, the wives of those hard-working Muslim men. These women, who had challenges with the English language, knocked on the doors of businesses in their community. They were led by Helwi Hamdoun, who managed to fund-raise exactly $5,750, despite the dire economic circumstances caused by the Great Depression.

They managed to raise money for their project and get donations from non-Muslim business owners, lawyers, politicians and members of the community who donated generously. Thanks in part to support and land from the then Edmonton mayor John W. Fry, the community broke ground for the mosque in May 1938. 

To me, as an Arab immigrant to Canada, the story of the first mosque is essential to the fabric of Canada. Without Christians, Jews and other non-Muslim Canadians, the mosque wouldn’t have existed. I’ve read that I.F. Shaker, a Christian Arab, was the master of ceremonies at the opening.

The building itself was inclusive. In addition to the prayer hall, it had a social and recreational venue in the basement, with a donated piano to also entertain guests from different faiths. The mosque also housed ovens to make baked goods that could be donated and served free-of-charge to neighbours and friends.

Canada of today

I compare that with what I see today.The issue is not in Islam as a religion, but rather with some of today’s Muslims who choose freely and willingly to migrate to Canada, but have a different approach, with goals that are irreconcilable with Canada’s diversity and multiculturalism.

Here’s what I have witnessed first-hand:

·         Some Muslims believe that – only because they’re Muslims – they are better than everybody else

·         Some of them teach their kids not to greet people from other faiths on their religious occasions or holidays

·         Some feel offended when they see Christmas decorations in public places

·         Some of them will not send their kids to public schools and will provide them with home schooling or other forms of secluded education

This leaves us with a new reality, a new ideology within our society, which brings me to my second character study: Nabil Warda, the Montreal real estate developer who wants to build a community exclusively for Muslims.

Most disturbing to me was a statement he made in an interview he gave to the Montreal Gazette in which he was quoted as saying, “We would share services between us and live with people who believe that life on Earth is not only to eat and sleep but that there is something else, and to try to live as close as possible to the monotheist ideals which started with Abraham.” 


Diversity, peace and equality

Why don’t these people just follow the Koran, which has lots of verses that suggest co-existence (“diversity”), kindness (“peace”) and the principle that all individuals are equal before God (“equality”).

To me, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can literally be found in the Koran, which was written thousands of years ago, and yet many of today’s so-called followers deny others the right to live peacefully.

Let me just cite one verse from the Koran that has been interpreted as follows:

"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”

I sincerely wonder why Warda decided to immigrate to Canada in the first place.

This sort of narrow-mindedness bothers me. I don’t find it surprising that lots of people in Canada now feel that it’s important to screen newcomers who want to live in our countries. Are these anxious people to blame?

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is proposing a values test for all new immigrants. I suggest that we should seriously consider the factors that have led her to make such a proposal.

Unfortunately, we'd rather debate the fallout from her proposal, rather than examining the root causes that may be behind it.

Khaled Salama is an Egyptian-born journalist, columnist, radio host and reporter for Arab media. 

Published in Commentary
Monday, 17 October 2016 15:02

The Senate’s Champion of Diversity

by Mackenzie Scrimshaw in Ottawa

With mere weeks remaining before the U.S. presidential election, which could see the victory of a candidate who has vowed to implement “extreme vetting” for immigrants, Independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar, long an advocate for diversity and inclusion, suggests that Canada is mostly, but not entirely, safe from similar issues.

“We’re a far more polite society. We have far more civility,” she said in a recent interview. “I think there are some things that Donald Trump says that nobody would say here, frankly.”

Notwithstanding that observation, Omidvar has some questions about Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s proposed “anti-Canadian values” test for immigrants.

“Will someone tell me what is ‘Canadian’ outside rule of law and our values that are expressed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?” Omidvar said.

Omidvar also pointed to a recent poll by CBC News and Angus Reid, in which almost 70 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Minorities should do more to fit in with mainstream American/Canadian society.”

“The CBC poll, I think, in a sense, was a reflection of language and discourse coming in (from the U.S.),” she said.

The senator sat down with iPolitics on October 6 in a vacant office at the University of Ottawa’s Fauteux Building after giving a keynote speech to a group of law students, interested in refugee law, from across Canada. The address was part of the first student-led conference of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

Although she isn’t a lawyer, Omidvar has worked for years on issues of immigration and diversity. Prior to her Senate appointment, Omidvar chaired an organization called LifelineSyria, which helps resettle Syrian refugees in the Greater Toronto Area. She also headed up the anti-poverty Maytree Foundation for a time.

Now, the rookie senator is a distinguished visiting professor at the Global Diversity Exchange (GDX), a “think and do tank” at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management. Omidvar is also the GDX’s founding executive director.

Recognized widely for her contributions, Omidvar has many accolades, including membership to both the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada.

Omidvar spoke candidly for more than half an hour, sharing with the students her wisdom — such as, ‘tell human stories’ — and her experience fleeing Iran and arriving in Canada in 1981.

Following her address, the senator told iPolitics that Canadians cannot take our experience with multiculturalism for granted.

“I think we have to be aware that our story of ‘Canadian exceptionalism’ is one that continues to be strengthened,” she said.

The government’s citizenship bill

Currently, Omidvar is supporting the government’s citizenship bill, C-16, which she moved to a second reading on September 27. Now, about a year-and-a-half after the former Harper government passed its controversial Bill C-24, known as the Strengthening Citizenship Act, the new piece of legislation is intended to revert the changes the Conservative bill made to the Act.

The senator’s office outlined in a recent news release some of the “significant changes” proposed by the bill:

–          Repealing the authority to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens on national interest grounds;

–          Repealing the requirement for citizen applicants to declare an intent to reside in Canada;

–          Reinstating previous, reduced residency requirements to obtain citizenship;

–          Reinstating residency credit for temporary residents; and

–          Reinstating previous age requirements to meet language and knowledge criteria to obtain citizenship.

Going forward, Omidvar says she thinks it’s going to be difficult trying to reinstate the previous age requirements, exempting those between 14 and 18 and 55 and older. Already, Omidvar is facing questions about evidence to support this change, which she says she’s trying to gather.

“I’m really concerned, here, about people who have a disadvantage in either having the capacity to learn the language or having the opportunity to learn the language,” she said.

Technically, the opportunity exists to learn an official language, given that there are classes, she said. “But when you have to work three jobs to put [food] on the table, please tell me when are you going to find time to learn English?

“I have a great deal of sympathy for immigrants who are in what I would call ‘precarious work situations,'” she said, adding that this is the case for many immigrants, especially those in cities.

Plus, Omidvar is very concerned about refugee women.

“I have a family that I’m sponsoring: I can see everyone — everyone — in the family is moving ahead by leaps and bounds. Except the mother,” she said. “Imagine if after three years, everybody else becomes a citizen and she doesn’t.”

Don’t pigeonhole her

Following her appointment last March, Omidvar told CBC News that, “There are issues that concern me that I have not been able to work on.”

Omidvar elaborated on this point while speaking to iPolitics, saying that she won’t limit her work as a senator to issues of migration, diversity and inclusion.

“I don’t want to be known as the senator [for] refugees, immigrants,” she said, adding, “It’s a big part of the country; it’s not all the country.”

Instead, “I’m pretty keen on working on issues that are of vital importance to the not-for-profit and charitable sector.”

These issues, she suggests, involve a lack of public respect for the sector, as well as its relationships with provincial/territorial and federal governments and the Canada Revenue Agency. However, Omidvar says she hasn’t yet determined her focus.

“This is an area in my eight years I would like to leave a legacy in that field, as well,” she said. “I’m interested in this because I don’t think there’s a single senator who is not associated with a not-for-profit or a charity, so this is something that we may well have common cause on.”

Senate modernization

The special committee on Senate modernization this month released its first report, with more than 20 recommendations intended to move the institution forward. The final recommendation, on committees, aims to make the process of assigning senators to standing Senate committees more inclusive in order to guarantee representation for Conservative, Liberal and independent senators.

“We should have voice and we should have standing as members of committees at the same scale of our presence in the Senate,” Omidvar said of the independent senators. “I was pleased to see some of this reflected in the Senate modernization report.”

Currently, however, this isn’t the case for the independents, who are underrepresented on committees.

“That’s simply, I think, unfair,” Omidvar said. “And that’s the first thing that has to change.”

Now, she says, there should be aggressive timelines for implementing some of these recommendations.

Life inside the chamber

Now, after roughly four months in the chamber, Omidvar says she was “naive” about parliamentary procedure and still has much to learn — which isn’t easy — in this area.

Meanwhile, she says she loves working on legislation — from the bill on Air Canada’s centres of excellence to physician-assisted dying to citizenship.

“I love the fact that at the Senate we get to see how the country really works and we are able to put our finger on it,” she said. “It’s absolutely fantastic.”

The third part, Omidvar says, involves learning how “to be more of a politician,” which is “completely new” to her.

“So, I have a very steep learning curve that I’m just beginning.”

In order to climb that curve Omidvar says she’s going to ask some of her colleagues to coach her on parliamentary procedure, an approach she thinks will be the most effective for her.

Plus, “I will keep open lines of communication with senators who oppose my point of view or support my point of view,” she said. 

This goes for senators in any of the three camps — Conservative, Liberal or independent.

“I’ve been appointed as an independent and I intend to use that independence to create alliances…where I can.” 

Beyond legislation

Although she introduced the government’s citizenship bill on the first day of the Senate’s fall sitting, Omidvar says she doesn’t have any plans to move another piece of legislation.

However, the rookie senator says that legislation is only one instrument — and that she’s currently trying to learn about each of the tools in her figurative toolbox. Senators can, for example, launch inquiries, ask questions and write or lead reports.

“I think it’s easy to go to legislation, but I think there’s lots one can do along with legislation.”

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Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 22 September 2016 20:19

Conflating Cultural Values with Secular Ideals

Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver

Though I have family’s roots in B.C. going back a century, I stumble when cataloging the “unique” values underlying Canadian culture.

The default list reads like a dating ad: Canadians are compassionate, polite, enjoy nature. These, however, are hardly unique to Canada and when stirred together in our post-national pot, the parts fail to congeal into a distinct culture, complete with unwritten rules on family and community interactions.

The sad reality is that Canadians are increasingly a world unto themselves. According to the 2011 census, for the first time ever there were more households of people living alone than there were of couples with children.

If there is a social fabric in this country, it is a giant sheet of bubble-wrap stretching from sea to sea, as both young and old increasingly live, consume and exist in their own disconnected worlds.

Kellie Leitch, a Conservative MP from Ontario, however, disagrees with these cold statistics and trends of social fragmentation. For the former labour minister and minister for the status of women, there is one Canada with one set of distinct values.

The aspiring candidate jockeying for Stephen Harper’s vacated office as Conservative leaderwants to test all immigrants for “anti-Canadian views that include intolerance toward other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms.”

The statement reads so smoothly it is difficult to discern any sinister edges, such as whether one can wear a burkini at a beach or paddle a canoe in a turban. The ambiguity, however, is reaping rewards for Ms. Leitch.

The dark-horse MP has surged ahead of the Conservative Party leadership pack and into the eye of the news-cycle. The media attention has already started pulling the leadership contest to the right – Tony Clement is now also calling for “enhanced screening” as part of his national security platform.

Ms. Leitch’s policy position, however, is flawed on many counts, starting with redundancy. New immigrants are already subject to numerous checks through an arduous process that can take years. In addition to this, the immigration process intensely screens for any links to criminal or terror groups.

Once an application has been approved, immigrants swear a citizenship oath to uphold Canadian laws – again duplicating Ms. Leitch’s statement.

A robust values-screening test would require exhaustive probes, interviews, possibly polygraph tests and yet, these measures may still fall short in detecting thought crime. Of course, a practical shortcut would be to racially profile applicants but that would be distinctly un-Canadian by Ms. Leitch’s standards.

Based on an orthodox interpretation of Ms. Leitch’s statement, few of Canada’s 300,000 annual immigrants who currently are admitted as entrepreneurs, investors, tech workers, caregivers, grandparents and so forth would make it into the country. Any followers of a faith that does not endorse same-sex marriages, for example, could be labelled as an “intolerant,” including not only Muslims, but also Jews and Christians.

Suddenly the Mexican farm worker or the Filipina nanny are potential pariahs because of their Catholic faith. The Indian or Pakistani IT engineer may not be welcome given the practice of female infanticide in those countries.

This absurdity cuts to the heart of the flaw with Ms. Leitch’s proposal. Placed under a microscope, every culture across the globe will reveal underlying streaks of intolerance.

Ms. Leitch has conflated cultural values with Canada’s secular ideals. Her formula for Canadian values is a mission statement for the modern secular state – it is not a living, breathing, organic culture.

But the Conservative MP’s intent was never a sincere effort to strengthen our sense of national unity as much as it was to divide it. Her statement was an act of feigning concern for national security to wink at Mr. Harper’s power base of “old stock” Canadians. This is Part II of the Conservative Party’s “barbaric cultural practices” tip line.

Across the West, candidates with far greater ambition than scruples are skillfully wielding tools invoking fear to carve out voting blocks. Ms. Lietch is not the first Canadian politician to cloak discriminatory aims under the guise of a benevolent policy.

But when Ms. Leitch’s subterfuge is rejected for a serious candidate, she may be the first to learn the one true Canadian value is that we can all be one and yet be different – without having to be different in the same way.

Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This comment has been republished under arrangement with the Post. 

Published in Policy

by Lin Abdul Rahman (@linabdulrahman) in Toronto

Two siblings from Saskatchewan are among 10 climbers who have been barred from leaving Malaysia after they allegedly took nude photos atop Mount Kinabalu in the country’s eastern state of Sabah.

A magnitude-6 earthquake rocked the mountain on the morning of June 5. Sixteen people have died while two are still missing.

As the highest peak in the country, Sabahans consider Mount Kinabalu to be sacred; it is a point of pride for many Malaysians. The native Dusun community, in particular, believe the mountain is the final resting place of their ancestors.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As a Malaysian, it is unclear to me what the country’s government hopes to discover in its investigation of the climbers’ alleged crime.[/quote]

Emotions ran high when the climbers’ nude photos on Kinabalu Park Facebook page were brought to light. Reports say they were blamed by many, including Deputy Chief Minister of Sabah, Joseph Pairin Kitingan, for causing the earthquake.

Kitingan told the media that the climbers had “broken native laws”; a number of the climbers have been arrested and are currently being held for investigation.

The Divided Response

Reactions to the incident are divided into two camps. Many feel the climbers had violated the sanctity of the mountain and disrespected the people who consider it sacred.

Others felt the locals’ beliefs were founded in superstition and that the climbers should not be held to those beliefs.

One climber named Emil Kaminski – a Canadian national who claims to have been part of the “mountaintop photo shoot” – has been particularly vocal. He reportedly called Malaysia’s Tourism Minister, Masidi Manjun, an idiot for linking the earthquake to the nude photos.

As a Malaysian, it is unclear to me what the country’s government hopes to discover in its investigation of the climbers’ alleged crime. Even more unclear is what the government hopes to achieve by penalizing them.

The affront is rooted in the climbers’ insensitivity and disregard for what local Sabahans consider sacred. If that’s the case, an extended stay in a Malaysian lockup, coupled with a fine, sounds like poor remedy.

Nonetheless, the climbers’ conduct clearly showed poor judgement that needs to be addressed. Their guide allegedly scolded them for breaking away from the group in order to take the photos. According to one report, the guide was told to go away while the climbers continued.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]There seems to be a prevailing attitude of superiority towards local customs and immunity from the repercussions of violating those customs among Western travellers.[/quote]

Kaminski’s pointedly incendiary social media posts on the matter further reflect the callous attitude I have personally encountered among young travellers from the global West to developing countries.

There seems to be a prevailing attitude of superiority towards local customs and immunity from the repercussions of violating those customs among Western travellers. As in this case, the feelings and sentiments of locals are up for ridicule or outright dismissal when they collide with those of travellers or tourists.

The Learning Lesson

The fact that two Canadians are caught in this quagmire is symbolic of ongoing conversations around pluralism and diversity in Canada. The intersection where the two beliefs cross paths is a key learning point, particularly for Canada where the immigrant population is increasingly informing the fabric of its mainstream society.

News reports and anecdotal accounts of discriminatory behaviour towards minority faith groups, people of colour and Aboriginal communities show that we still have a long way to go in learning to treat one another with respect.

From the Indian Residential School system’s attempt to “civilize” Aboriginal children to the recent “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” aimed at stopping polygamy and child marriages, there is a clear underlying presumption of minority beliefs and cultures as inferior and of less value compared to Western, mainstream cultures.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Respect, in this instance, doesn’t necessarily mean we have to adopt the beliefs of others. It simply means acknowledging and honouring them to the best of our ability without compromising our own principles.[/quote]

Appreciation for different beliefs can only come from mutual learning and respect through conversation. Respect, in this instance, doesn’t necessarily mean we have to adopt the beliefs of others. It simply means acknowledging and honouring them to the best of our ability without compromising our own principles.

More importantly, respecting the beliefs of others certainly doesn’t mean antagonizing them when we’re in disagreement or are shown to be in the wrong.

Punishing the climbers will probably increase their dislike for local Sabahan customs and beliefs. And to say their behaviour was not wrong because it aligned with their own culture and upbringing is nothing short of cultural, if not Western, imperialism.

The better route would be for both camps to turn this confrontation into an opportunity for conversation.

Since the parties involved are sufficiently tech-savvy enough to metaphorically tear each other down on Twitter, why not tap into social media’s power to transcend geographical boundaries and engage each other in meaningful dialogue instead?

Lin Abdul Rahman is a Malaysian-born freelance journalist and social justice advocate based in Toronto, Ontario.

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Published in Commentary

by Faron Ellis (@FaronEllis), Lethbridge College

In concluding this series, I’d like to offer some context to what happened on May 5 in the Alberta provincial election and some insights on what, if anything, it might mean for federal party prospects in Alberta during this fall’s parliamentary elections.

That the Alberta political culture has much in common with the larger Canadian political culture often surprises many Canadians. The fact that the Alberta political culture is increasingly progressive and libertarian often comes as a surprise to even many within the province.

For the past several decades, my colleagues and I at the Citizen Society Research Lab (CSRL) at Lethbridge College have been measuring public opinion in southern Alberta, and for the past six years, in the entire province. Reports and full tabular data are available on our CSRL web pages.

Political Opinion in Alberta

Over time, we’ve discovered a thoroughly liberal-pluralist political culture – increasingly libertarian on a number of key indicators – that defies the stereotypes most Canadians have of Albertans, and indeed many Albertans have of themselves. 

Each semester we ask six questions measuring opinion on abortion choice, same-sex marriage, capital punishment, medical and recreational marijuana, and doctor-assisted suicide. We’ve summed up the responses to create a general scale of political culture values that provides not only an annual snapshot, but also allows us to track change over time.

 A brief summary of the results shows:

  • Albertans are staunchly pro-choice on abortion (80.9 per cent support)
  • Strongly in favour of legal access to doctor-assisted suicide (77.7 per cent)
  • Strongly in favour of legal access to medical marijuana (79.6 per cent support)
  • Strongly in favour of legal equality for same-sex marriages (78.6 per cent support)
  • Increasingly supportive of decriminalizing recreational marijuana (53 per cent are now supportive, up from only 36.5 per cent six years ago.)

Only on the topic of capital punishment do Albertans indicate a more traditional perspective. But even here, while 59 per cent support reinstating capital punishment for those convicted of first-degree murder, two of every five Albertans are opposed.

Increasing Libertarian-Progressive Views

When combined and placed on a scale that ranges from zero (completely traditional) to six (completely progressive), the average Albertan sits as 3.9, clearly on the progressive side of the centre (3), and increasingly progressive over time (from 3.4 in 2009 to 3.9 in 2014).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]On most issues we have consistently measured a strong individual choice component within the Alberta political culture.[/quote]

The above clearly indicates the libertarian-progressive base of the Alberta political culture, and that it is becoming more libertarian over time. Readers should be aware that although opinion has recently shifted on some issues (in particular on same-sex marriage and marijuana), on most issues we have consistently measured a strong individual choice component within the Alberta political culture.

For example, since late in the last century when we first started conducting these polls, we were measuring at least 70 per cent majority support for abortion choice in the southern Alberta city of Lethbridge.

This was at a time when the vast majority of Alberta was represented by Reform Members of Parliament (MPs) who, as a group, tended to be much more socially conservative than the Alberta norm (or for that matter than Reform’s own general membership) and helped reinforce the erroneous stereotype that most Albertans are traditional in their thinking about these issues.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Recent immigrants are somewhat more traditional in their opinions than the average Canadian, but immigrant opinion becomes more progressive (mainstream) over time.[/quote]

A review of national data measuring Canadian immigrant opinions indicates that recent immigrants are somewhat more traditional in their opinions than the average Canadian, but immigrant opinion becomes more progressive (mainstream) over time, lending considerable credence to the Hartz-Horowitz-Wiseman thesis.

Immigrant Values

For example, the Broadbent Institute’s study on Canadian values does a good job comparing opinions of recent immigrants with opinions of more established immigrants, children of immigrants, and children of Canadian-born parents.

On abortion choice and marijuana, recent immigrants are somewhat more traditional in their opinions than are more established immigrants and children of immigrants, the latter being virtually indistinguishable from non-immigrant Canadians. On same-sex marriage, recent immigrants are much more traditional in their perspectives.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It is fair to conclude that if immigrants are having any impact on the Alberta political culture it would be in tempering, ever so slightly, that continuing march toward the libertarian-progressive end of the spectrum.[/quote]

Given that we have no reason to assume Alberta immigrants would demonstrate significantly different patterns of opinions than other Canadian immigrants, it is fair to conclude that if immigrants are having any impact on the Alberta political culture it would be in tempering, ever so slightly, that continuing march toward the libertarian-progressive end of the spectrum.

But it is also fair to conclude that immigrants are likely participating fully in the complex pluralism that is the Alberta political culture and includes the most recent populist-induced expulsion of the Progressive Conservative (PC) dynasty.

Impact on Federal Elections

So what does this all mean for federal politics and the 2015 election? Likely not much.

Given that the federal Conservatives won 27 seats in 2011 based on 66.8 per cent of the vote, the Conservatives have plenty of votes to spare if the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) starts to make gains. But federal politics has many different dimensions than provincial politics and the national NDP is seen as a very different creature than the homegrown provincial party, so direct comparisons are perilous at best.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]But if and when change does come, and these days we don’t rule out anything in Alberta, expect it to be swift, dramatic and widespread, and brought on by Albertans from all walks of life, newcomers included.[/quote]

Further, the federal Conservatives have not yet broken trust with Albertans, at least not to the extent necessary to foretell a seismic electoral reversal of fortunes for them or for their competitors. It took a near complete breach of trust by the federal PCs under Brian Mulroney to provide Reform with the opportunity to send them to the garbage bin of history. 

But if and when change does come, and these days we don’t rule out anything in Alberta, expect it to be swift, dramatic and widespread, and brought on by Albertans from all walks of life, newcomers included. At that point it will be worth remembering that Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan holds the only non-Conservative federal seat in Alberta. And she is a New Democrat.

This is part three of a three-part commentary series examining what happened during the 2015 Alberta elections. Part one looked at the diversity of Alberta’s newcomer population. Part two examined immigrant waves and Alberta’s political culture.

Faron Ellis teaches political science and history in the School of Liberal Arts at Lethbridge College and is principal investigator at the Citizen Society Research Lab. He has published various books, academic articles and op-eds about Canadian and Alberta politics and served as a Lethbridge city councillor.

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Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 23:05

The Conservative “Balancing Act”

by Richard M. Landau (@Richard54) in Toronto 

There was a time when the vast plurality of new Canadians voted for the Liberal Party of Canada. With the exception of some of those who had escaped the tyranny of the Warsaw Pact, immigrant communities, once established, voted Liberal. Some of the thinking was: “I came into this country thanks to a Liberal government. To them I will remain loyal.”

In recent years there has been an uneasy alliance between new Canadians and a Liberal Party that is driven by a progressive social agenda increasingly at odds with traditional and fundamental religious values. I remember the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United Nations standing before the General Assembly in 1967 admonishing America and the West for its promiscuity, its miniskirts, its bikinis and its hot dogs, while lambasting Robert Kennedy as the son of a whisky merchant. 

The Conservative Party saw that growing rift and exploited it with a strategy to engage new Canadians. So we saw Prime Minister Stephen Harper visiting the Sikh holy city of Amritsar and the then Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney assiduously executing a policy of dialogue with new Canadians – especially South Asians.  

Here’s what they did. The Conservatives spoke to the values of hard working new Canadians. Instead of avoiding them, the Conservatives embraced their aspirations by emphasizing lower taxes and continued economic prosperity, or, in other words, security. The Tories repeatedly made the case of, ‘we are the best managers of a thriving economy that benefits your families.’  

The Conservatives had a reputation for being a party full of White people who were hard on immigration. So they took steps to ease immigration.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Conservatives had a reputation for being a party full of White people who were hard on immigration. So they took steps to ease immigration.[/quote]

Finding Common Ground

Jason Kenney waded into the Ontario’s 905 area – a ring of ridings just outside Toronto – which had been a sea of Liberal red in the 2008 election. 

His strategy was to persuade the new Canadians who populated these ridings in large numbers. 

Kenney, to his credit, proved himself to be a master of intercultural and interfaith discourse. He gets it. He listens, and he doesn’t patronize.  

It became clear that Liberals thought of new Canadian communities as vote pools whose support they took for granted – not as vital groups of interest. 

Kenney and company understood that there was more to be done than showing up, eating an ‘exotic’ meal and saying a few words in (insert any language here). 

So, they made common cause with new Canadians on their desire to put down roots, start businesses, prosper and preserve their traditional values. 

When the Conservatives spoke to the aspirations and beliefs of these communities, it wasn’t simply a cold vote-grabbing calculation. Some of the Conservative Party’s traditional base values are very similar to those of many new Canadians. They had built a new coalition of values. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Kenney and company understood that there was more to be done than showing up, eating an ‘exotic’ meal and saying a few words in (insert any language here). [/quote]

Speaking of the Conservative base, it has long admired and supported Israel. So it was a calculated move when the Conservative government became one of Israel’s most vocal supporters. That policy allowed the party to make inroads in three of the five Toronto-area ridings with significant Jewish populations. 

Adding it all up explains how the Conservatives have made inroads into the new Canadian vote. The 905 area code went blue in 2011, and the Conservatives went from a toehold to a full-scale incursion.

Not Yet Comfortable With Accommodating All 

However, like the Liberals before them, the Conservatives also have a cleavage problem.  They support the ethical and moral agendas of the world religions.  

But, with an eye on their mainstream support, they are not comfortable with the public expressions of those non-Christian religions and communities they have begun to court.  

Thus, when the Prime Minister opposes the wearing of niqab in a citizenship ceremony, he knows that plays to a rural, small town and suburban Conservative base that may share the moral and ethical values of new Canadians in terms of faith – but is not comfortable with all manner of accommodation.   

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]They are not comfortable with the public expressions of those non-Christian religions and communities they have begun to court.  [/quote]

In regards to this balancing act, Kenney, now Minister of National Defence and Minister for Multiculturalism, was quoted in an interview with John Geddes in Macleans, March 10, 2015

He said: “… There are certain important hallmarks of integration. They (new Canadians) don’t believe that multiculturalism should be construed as cultural relativism. They believe that multiculturalism should mean a positive regard for what’s best about people’s cultural and religious antecedents. But it should not mean a completely unquestioning acceptance of every cultural practice, especially those of the most abhorrent nature.”  

Kenney’s multicultural approach has worked because he carefully avoids toadying or pandering.  New Canadians are continuously less likely to be influenced by tokenism and patronizing gestures.  More new Canadians have responded to the Conservatives because they have actually taken the time to understand and reflect on their values and beliefs.

Richard M. Landau has been responsible for adjudicating disputes and enforcing a television network code of ethics in a religious broadcasting setting since 1992. He is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. A leader in interfaith dialogue, Landau has consulted with the U.K. Home Office, and the White House Office of Community- and Faith-Based Initiatives.  He works closely with leadership in all of the major world religions. He is author of What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue.

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