Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Canadian politicians clueless about cultural diversity

Interesting how politicians and the media fall over themselves to exclude European cultures from Canada's multicultural mosaic as a demonstration of their great respect for cultural diversity.

The Winnipeg Free Press recently illustrated this with a news story, editorial and letter to the editor chronicling a political squabble over the optics of acquiring bloc votes from visibly "ethnic" communities.

The end result is that both the parties and the media appear totally clueless about the realities of Canada's multicultural mosaic.

It starts with the Winnipeg Free Press news story "Liberals miffed as Tories court minorities" which chronicles the insults traded between the two parties.

WINNIPEG Liberals accuse federal Conservatives of vigorously courting ethnic voters who traditionally vote for the Grits -- and they're miffed at what they see as a disingenuous political manoeuvre. ... In Manitoba, Tories have approached leaders of ethnic groups, said Liberal sources, who are angry at what they see as a blatant vote grab rather than a genuine effort to understand ethnic issues.

Speaking of blatant vote grabs, my father can drop some pretty big Liberal names that he recalls having visited the family farm in rural Saskatchewan to enlist my grandfather's help in "reaching out" to neighbouring Ukrainian and Russian-speaking homesteaders. My grandfather, eager to be a "good" Canadian, learned English quickly (without ESL classes or any other government assistance) and became politically informed. He was understandably flattered to be asked to deliver messages from such important people to an assembly of his fellow immigrants in the local community hall.

But, that was then and this is now. Although back at the press office old habits die hard. Hot on the heels of that article comes this editorial that opines on the current political squabble so that, presumably, readers can understand what is really going on here.

SHAME on those dastardly Conservatives. They're vigorously courting the ethnic vote, even though they know those ballots belong to the Liberal Party of Canada. The nerve! ...Since when is it wrong for a political party to broaden its appeal by reaching out to new Canadians or those with a special interest in minority rights? ... A political party is free to snub any group or people, but such a faction is unlikely to last very long. No one needs permission to "learn more" about their neighbours. Indeed, all Canadians should seek such understanding. It is a prerequisite of good citizenship. ...

Unlikely to last very long?? Define "long." The author is either mistaken or being deliberately obtuse. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have snubbed Ukrainian Canadians from the earliest days of immigration and still do today.

This Conservative government, like the Chretien Liberals, steadfastly and studiously refuses to grant official recognition of and restitution for human rights abuses against Ukrainians and other East Europeans during the WWI internment operation.

This is not a request for taxpayer money to compensate individuals. Rather, it is a request for the government to return the equivalent value of money and property the federal government confiscated from innocent, hard-working and loyal immigrants for an education campaign to help Canadians indeed "learn more" about their neighbours. But, perhaps neither party is particularly keen on that actually happening.

Meanwhile, oddly enough the national and regional media has not considered this outright snub of Ukrainian Canadians as the least bit scandalous ... and therefore newsworthy. So the current government continues (like all those before it) to treat Ukrainians, their ethnic identity, and their cultural contribution to Canada as if they were non-existent.

Which is evident in this letter from Canada's most recent Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity). The honourable member wrote:

... Conservatives have a distinguished record of reflecting Canada's diversity. For starters, Conservatives boast a number of firsts: the first Muslim elected to Parliament; the first Hindu elected to Parliament; the first Chinese-Canadian elected to Parliament; the first Indo-Canadian woman elected to Parliament; the first Japanese-Canadian cabinet minister; and the first black cabinet minister. Manitobans can take pride in the remarkable accomplishments of former Conservative senator Paul Yuzyk, who represented Manitoba in the Senate from 1963 to 1986 and was one of the earliest proponents of multiculturalism. ...

Well, good on the Tories for claiming a "Manitoban" as one of their own. How much more diverse can you get, eh?

A tad odd that the honourable Tory member would name just one particular individual in that ethnically diverse list ... and use a provincial instead of an ethnic label to help readers make the connection between Mr. Yuzyk's accomplishments and his interest in furthering multiculturalism.

Did his complexion have something to do with the omission? Who knows. Whatever the reason, it doesn't seem very politically astute to risk offending Canadians who identify even in small part with the missing ethnic label. (I do and believe me, I am offended.) Furthermore, if I were a Manitoban I'd be further offended by the member's clumsy semantics.

Maybe I'm naive, but in light of this latest article citing a big drop in the opinion polls for the Tories, you'd think every single Tory might be rather careful not to snub any potential voter.

However, I don't want to be accused of picking on the Tories. Because in their mad quest to be seen as respectful of cultural diversity, politicians of every stripe (as well as the media) would be wise to consider that Canadians may want to see recognition of their heritage cultures, rather than merely their skin colour, reflected in the "changing face of Canadian society."

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