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Quebec, religion, and White Canada’s growing intolerance with “other” peoples

September 8, 2013

In an increasingly globalizing planet, ‘multiculturalism’ is perhaps one of the most complex social issues facing the world.

Hundreds of millions of people now jet around the world on a daily basis. A quarter-million people come to Canada every year. And we need them. As a middle-income economy, our citizens have fewer children, and now we do not make enough babies to even replace ourselves as a population. It’s pretty hard to have a growing economy if there are fewer and fewer people living here.

Japan, perhaps one of the most xenophobic cultures in the world, is ironically shrinking the fastest, and at current rates, if left to themselves, they will disappear as a people sometime early in the next century. (If China was smart, it would not get into any dispute with Japan on anything for the next 50-60 years. After that, they could just move in, and take over.) 

When I first heard that the ruling P.Q.’s in Quebec were going to ban all religious paraphernalia from the workplace (of all provincial civil servants) – and that no one would be allowed to wear a crucifix, turban, hijab, etc. – I was like “WTF!”? How is that even constitutionally possible?

And then when Quebec’s P.Q. Premier Pauline Marois equated “multiculturalism with terrorism” in an interview on Friday, I did another “WTF!”, followed by a “are you kidding me!?”.

And then I just got sad for her, and for conservative Quebecers in general.

Here I am, coming as I do from Toronto, where on any given Saturday night I would see, talk to, drink with, people from a hundred different cultures. Or that I would see at the movies, at the gym, or who came into the bookstore I once worked in (where we would talk about authors from around the world).

I’m not saying that life in Toronto was/is perfect; I’m not saying that at all. Plenty of race shit still happens in Toronto. But to equate multiculturalism with terrorism is simply absurd.

If I had stayed in Toronto, rather than have come to Halifax, I would have simply read my newspaper articles, and I would have called Ms. Marois a bigot, or a racist, or both.

But I didn’t stay in Toronto. I came to the Maritimes, and I live amongst a people, who not unlike conservative Quebecers, feel that they are under cultural threat from the “outside” – and particularly under threat by people who do not speak our language, or believe in our religious traditions.

The Maritimes are an economy in decline, as well as a population in decline. And they have been shrinking for decades.

Anglo-Saxons (the nice way of saying white people) statistically still make up 93% of the population, but that’s dropped from 98% just a decade ago. 

Conservative Maritimers, like their Quebec counterparts, are also trying to batten-down-the-hatches, are turning in on themselves, and looking for ways to protect their ideas of tradition, religion, and culture.

Euro-Quebecers, who are now not only a diminishing minority within Canada (and Francophone Quebecers even more so), can now see a day when they will not even by the majority in their own province. Ditto for the Maritimes.

So, what do cultures do when they feel under threat? They lash out in cultural ways, in vain attempts to save themselves. These can be outright hostile attacks on others (on the rise on Quebec), or they can be political or economic.

How do Nova Scotians deal with the threat of the “other”, with the “outsider”? By noting in job postings that one must have 5 years experience working in Nova Scotia to apply for the posted job. (Note how this targets all outsiders – not just “immigrants”.)

You have to bring it all back to where the impulse comes from. It’s too easy to just say that Marois is racist.

When people feel that their cultural identity is under threat, they react with what we could call “tribal responses”. That is simply human nature. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying it’s intuitive.  

Go to any small town in rural Ontario and listen to what people have to say about multiculturalism in Toronto. They do not share my joy of riding the subway and hearing 50 different tongues. Rather, the very thought of it makes many of them quite angry. I go home to rural Ontario every summer. I hear it all the time.

Social statisticians know that Canada’s demographics are changing, and are changing faster than most of us realize, or are able to cope with. And while Anglo Saxons may still be the majority across the land – Holy White Maritimes! – they no longer are the majority in Toronto, nor will they be nationally in just a few short decades.

So, if you seem surprised by Quebec’s apparent bigotry, if you read the English newspapers/TV/radio and if you hear a small smug condescension in English (Urban) opinion aimed at the apparent cultural backwardness of Quebecers, know that Quebec is just the tip of the iceberg. And that, in fact, there is more support for what Marois is doing than you’d like to believe.

Why do you think Stephen Harper recently asked that the general public have a direct say in how many immigrants we should allow into the country. When all the angrey racists are done having their say about how their are already too many immigrants in the country, he can shut the doors and say “see, I’m just doing what the people want”. He knows an ideological polical winner when he sees it. (Populism is always the hammer behind racism and bigotry.)

Just wait a few years until there are more non-Christians in Canada than there are Christians. Or when there are more people-of-color than there are whites. Just wait until there are enough people to challenge the white urban power structures. Then you will see just how smug English Canada is.

Canada has a major culture war coming on the horizon.

Racism and bigotry are’t things “we dealt with” in the ’50’s and ’60’s and can now take pride in in our Grade Ten Canadian History classes.

Not by a long shot.

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