Events in recent days have made it clear that after three years of divisive, identity politics by our federal government, it is time we had an honest conversation about who we are as Canadians and where our strength truly lies.
In 2013, I wrote an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail following a political scandal in British Columbia involving public servants allegedly wooing the ethnic vote. It is as relevant now as it was then.
Multiculturalism in Canada is a fraud used for political gains.
The Liberal Party of Canada created multiculturalism in the 1960s to integrate new immigrants into Canadian society. The stated goal was to encourage and celebrate cultural diversity within a bilingual Canada.
But beneath any good intentions was a political strategy to buy ethnic votes. Multiculturalism became a state-financed marketing program. The government used tax dollars to buy photo ops with ethnic leaders — usually in culturally diverse cities such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. It would translate into broader support in general elections.
Although the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Liberals introduced the strategy, successive governments of different stripes led by Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper also embraced it to exploit the voting potential of so-called ethnic Canadians. The policy has been around for half a century and its results paint a disturbing picture. Although we Conservatives refer to it as "outreach" to the ethnic communities, I'm afraid we're continuing the Liberals' policy of profiling Canadians based on race, colour and religion.
My parents were targets of the policy when they arrived in Canada in the 1950s. Like most Canadians who aren't of French or British origin, they learned the policy was not only misguided but derogatory.
Its biggest achievement seems to be the creation of hyphenated Canadians. My parents remind me that people — usually politicians — always call them Greek Canadians. Others are called Italian Canadians or Chinese Canadians. They went through a period of "integration" with this label that created more confusion and challenges than any benefits. The hyphenated labels made it harder for ethnic communities to adjust and achieve success in their new homeland.
I am a Canadian who is of Greek origin — my nation is Canada, my nationality is Canadian and my cultural origin is Greek. Canadian governments should not tolerate the classification of our citizens based on racial profiling.
Canada is a bilingual, multicultural and multifaith society but one made of equal citizens. We should replace multiculturalism with a policy of integration. We should find ways to help newcomers settle in Canada and assume their responsibilities as citizens. We should be more rigid in expecting new Canadians to share a commitment to uphold our fundamental liberties, to respect the rule of law and to respect human rights.
Members of various ethnic communities are fed up with platitudes. They are active members of our society at all levels, and they demand no special status — they just want an equal opportunity to contribute to the continued development of their communities. That's what they should expect and that's what we should demand of them.
Our policy of multiculturalism is outdated and doesn't respond to the challenges faced by new immigrants to integrate and adapt. Multiculturalism insults our status as Canadians. The most recent statistics reveal that 28% of the population is of British origin, 23% is French, 15% is European, 6% is Arabic, 2% is Amerindian etc. Yet, the most remarkable statistic is that 26% of the population is of a variety of mixed backgrounds — should these be double-hyphenated Canadians, or should we abandon this demeaning policy?
Senator Leo Housakos represents the Wellington division of Quebec. He is a former Senate Speaker.
This article appeared in the March 11, 2013 edition of The Globe and Mail.