Our national fixation on the unlikely ascent of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency has taken Canadians back to a familiar place, where our southern neighbour’s business drowns out our own.
It’s been 45 years since Pierre Trudeau established the Metric Commission to convert this country to the world standard of scientific measurement, and the job is nowhere near complete. Two generations on, I’ve met few Canadians who know their own weight and height in kilograms and centimetres, or could understand a police suspect description using metric measures.
Why? America won’t let us. Their culture rules ours, without even trying.
While Trump-mania and Trump-phobia fill Canadian news media, life here goes on quietly.
A gaggle of Conservative candidates held their first leadership debate amid the Trumpeting down south last week. I searched national media, and there was basically one story reported: that nasty ex-cabinet minister Kellie Leitch is still talking about screening immigrants to Canada.
OMG, as the young people say. We have our very own racist demagogue. This ambitious pediatric surgeon wants immigration candidates screened for “Canadian values,” a term that causes our city media to pounce. Finally, a Trump angle!
Before you grab a torch and pitchfork, here’s a bit of background. Canada has one of the highest immigration rates in the world. It increased under the Conservative government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau aims to increase it some more. That’s good, not just for cultural diversity but for a population and economy that would be shrinking without it.
Currently, immigrants to Canada are screened for employment skills and given written tests of English or French proficiency. Few are interviewed, and certainly there is no systematic effort to determine if they favour throwing gay people off rooftops or treating women as livestock, to name two current immigration challenges.
Should we consider such screening? You’re not even allowed to bring that up in polite company. It’s like questioning the extent and causes of climate change. Shame on you.
In a December profile on Canada’s new prime minister, the New York Times Magazine recounts Trudeau’s thoughts on the country he now leads: “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,” Trudeau said. “There are shared values — openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice. Those qualities are what make us the first post-national state.”
If there is no unique Canadian culture or identity, Canadian “values” can only consist of a generic niceness, as per Trudeau’s list. We’re “post-national” now, and that’s why we’re cool.
So forget about the Huron Carol, and Sudbury Saturday Night and Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen. Forget the art of Bill Reid, son of an American man and a Haida woman.
Forget Canada’s proud military history. We’re “peacekeepers” again, hall monitors to the world.
And whatever you do, don’t go trying to fashion some sort of “core identity” out of this old-stock Canadian stuff. That would be racist.
The younger Trudeau at least comes by this nonsense honestly. It’s part of the DNA of the federal Liberal Party, stemming from the elder Trudeau’s multiculturalism project.
Defending that project in 1995 was Sheila Finestone, multiculturalism and status of women minister in the Jean Chrétien government. “In my view, there isn’t any one Canadian identity,” Finestone said. “Canada has no national culture.”
This is an odd position for a Canadian politician to take, as Ottawa spends ever-larger sums on the CBC and the arts, in a losing struggle to keep Canadian identity alive.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @tomfletcherbc