Diversity is Not Off-Limits For Discussion

It’s rather troubling to know that at this very moment, after merely reading the headline of this article, there are some who have already condemned me as a racist bigot and an intolerant xenophobe, regardless of what follows in the text, and regardless of what I embody and live. At least, this is what I am led to believe by the overreactions to Maxime Bernier’s most recent tweets.

Mr. Bernier dared question the sanctity of Trudeau’s adoration and mystical use of the D-word, as though it’s mere utterance carries transcendent power. In boringly predictable fashion, and in a fine display of the cultish element Bernier was referring to, backlash from diversity’s religious community was harsh and swift. The ideologically possessed broke out into their usual broken-record songs of “ists”, “isms”, and “phobes”, not realising that their overuse of such terms have eroded much of their meaning over time.

For those who actually want to take the time to discuss and think things through, however, the role of diversity in our national identity is not off-limits for discussion. Diversity, on its own, is a rather vague term. In relation to our national identity, it seems to be only partial in description. We are a nation of people that can trace their ethnic and cultural origins from a great many places, but what is it about this fact that binds us together under a banner of national unity?

The idea that differences among people naturally bring them together is simply untenable; there has to be more to it than that. The world, after all, is a highly diverse place, more so than Canada, and yet it stands terribly divided. Perhaps this is what Bernier was trying to point out, at least in part. “Shouldn’t we emphasize our cultural traditions,” he tweeted, “what we have built and have in common, what makes us different from other cultures and societies?”

Bernier’s questions are reasonable, and the things of substance that truly unite Canadians of diverse backgrounds can indeed be traced back in our history, specifically to the actions of a diverse group of men. Louis-Joseph Papineau and William Lyon Mackenzie led rebellions in the Canadas in an effort to secure responsible government. They set things in motion so that Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin could bring it to fruition, which then laid the foundation for John A. MacDonald, George Brown, and George-Étienne Cartier, to work toward Confederation. In spite of their differences, and in spite of their many flaws, they united to accomplish great things. They were united not by their diversity, but by their shared beliefs in things like self-government, the dignity of the individual, the endowment of liberty and responsibility, the rule of law, equality under the law, and in democratic parliamentary institutions and all of their ancient traditions.

Yes, a fundamental feature of the Canadian identity is its diversity, but more specifically, and certainly more importantly, is its ability to continually transcend differences in order to uphold and protect those greater civic values that bind us together, that have been passed down to us over the centuries, and the promises of which have been extended to all peoples under our flag, regardless of how deep their roots may run in this soil.

No matter how much Trudeau fawns over Canadian diversity, on its own it is simply insufficient as a unifying force, and hence it is not off-limits for discussion. We would do well to openly and respectfully discuss these ideas, and we would do well to celebrate and conserve the successful foundational elements of our nation and its institutions; they are what truly bind us together; they are what give us direction and make us unique in the world. To neglect them is to focus on the many parts while forgetting about the glue that binds them together; and if the glue dries up, it ceases to stick.

(Kevin Richard is a Quebec writer and Discourse Online Contributor. This article was first published by the Montreal Gazette)