Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
Fatal Delusions

Culture,Immigration and the Compromise of Canadian Consequence
Beryl P. Wajsman 22 November 2004  

“There is room enough in this country for one great free people ; but there is not room enough, under the same flag and under the same laws for a hundred angry, suspicious and obstructionist nationalities. “

~Thomas D’Arcy McGee


“When collective entitlements take precedence over individual freedoms, and where ideology shapes those collectivities by considerations of race, ethnicity, language or religion, we become shackled by the dictatorship of a social hierarchy of rights without responsibility.”

~Pierre Elliot Trudeau


Last week Federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Judy Sgro announced that she would move “swiftly and dramatically” to open a debate to “revolutionize” immigration and cultural policies based on whether it is good for this country to keep “celebrating our differences instead of concentrating on what brings us together.” It is to be hoped that this review of Canada’s currently flawed foundational principles in these areas will include the requisite political courage to advance contemporary doctrines from today’s fatally delusionary state. A delusionary state that arose from the false altruism of the past two decades that insinuated failed orthodoxies into our national agenda that have compromised  the conscience and consequence of this country.


Political profit has always been the driver. The template for our immigration and cultural policies was set in the early part of the past century with the Sifton plan that encouraged, and financed, Ukrainian immigration to the western provinces. A dozen years later it was decided that more “old stock” settlers were needed to provide demographic balance and the government instituted the “Five-Thousand families” programs that paid for British settlers to move west. Of course when German Jews sought refuge in the thirties the Ottawa mandarins decided that “none were too many” and took in less Jews in twelve years of Hitler’s rule than was Canada’s existing one-year quota for Germans in 1933.


For all the sorry history of the past, post-Trudeau political leadership of all parties took to new levels of pork-barrel cynicism and vote-grabbing sycophancy from the mid-1980’s to the present day. Under the guise of thinly veiled anti-plutocrat vocabulary, successive governments prejudiced what MacDonald called the “Canadian nationality”.




The motivation came from the opportunities to appeal to the growing communities of newly arrived, but not yet established, immigrants. The first move was to debase the point system, by which Canadian immigrants were chosen, to the lowest common denominator. Applicants were effectively penalized for having higher education, language and training skills because they received fewer points for these advantages than they had before. It wasn’t necessarily good for the country, but it was great at the polls.


As the demographics of immigration shifted, new challenges arose. Not only did these “point-system boomers” have to overcome traditional linguistic and cultural barriers, but many in the new waves were visible minorities facing racial and religious bigotry. Their feelings of powerlessness became another opportunity for political exploitation. Politicians showered these groups with attention by funding programs so shallow as to be little more than transparent vote buying schemes worthy of Tammany Hall founder George Washington Plunkitt who would hand out dollar bills to new arrivals as they left the ships in New York harbour to assure Democratic hegemony come election time.


But all this attention had one unexpected result. As regional and national budgets strained to meet the ever-increasing promises of politicians, what had been a one-way street of proffered programs became a multi-lane highway of expected entitlements. The “cultural community” movement had been born and the “boomers” began to exercise newly enfranchised political influence through rapidly formed umbrella organizations. A veritable revolution of rising expectations on the road to social utopia.


Despite an already massive drain on the public purse, more and more tax dollars were doled out to meet the demands of these new organizations for every conceivable kind of psychological, sociological and economic assistance in dealing with the “problem” of “integrating” into the Canadian “mosaic”. Their alienation, normal to any immigrant wave, helped fuel an already rampant national obsession with Canadian “identity” that was due to our continuing insecurities about our neighbour to the south. Fey and feckless politicians, with little sense of our own history, and devoid of any vision of their own past the next election, were hoisted on the very patronizing petards they had been using for years. They found no appropriate manner of response.


They began to question whether there was something wrong with Canada itself. What did we stand for as Canadians? Was this a country or just a “community of communities”? And if it was the latter, then did not these new communities have even the same linguistic, as well as immigration and cultural, rights as the “founding cultures”? There were even those who engaged in the sophistry that official bilingualism should be extended to multilingualism to meet the burgeoning demands of multicultural muscle. The unbearable lightness of political equivalency ruled.


We have now lived through two decades of decay in our national resolve. Official Ottawa’s failure of faith has resulted in the imposition of policies of unwarranted political correctness born out of a contrived egalitarianism and an affected altruism that were nothing more than justifications for buying votes. The “point system boom” has succeeded. It has brought Canada to levels of low limitation and narrow circumstance.




Bilingualism was never meant to open the floodgates and be all things to all groups. Trudeau himself stated that it was simply a practical recognition of a necessary tool in conducting the nation’s business. It did not imply, he said, any superior status to the two founding cultures. It was simply a reflection of the reality, first expressed by Lafontaine and Baldwin in 1840, that Canada is a multinational--not multicultural for there are certainly more than two cultures here-- political entity.  Trudeau warned that When collective entitlements take precedence over individual freedoms, and where ideology shapes those collectivities by considerations of race, ethnicity, language or religion, we become shackled by the dictatorship of a social hierarchy of rights without responsibility.”


Trudeau's vision, which he succeeded in expressing in the Charter, was not about the particularities of collective conformity but about the universalities of individual sovereignty. As he expressed so many times in so many places, “Every individual has an absolute dignity and infinite value based in universal humanity that cannot be constrained or compromised by any ancestral tradition or collective history.”


There is nothing wrong with affording just consideration and equitable opportunities for diverse cultures to bloom in Canada, so long as their petty narcissisms do not overwhelm the overarching values of western liberal pluralism that are paramount in our social compact. A compact for which so many have fought and died precisely because its values of constitutional liberty have proven superior to all other experiments in the history of human social organization.


Let us never forget that though this nation was conceived as nothing more than economic enterprise by European monarchs, it was given renewed vision and revived vigour by the time of Confederation. The founding fathers needed no studies to determine what it meant to be Canadian. They gave us words for the ages that are lasting legacies. Sadly, too many have been forgotten.


Sir Hector-Louis Langevin declared that, “In this new Dominion there will be no question of race, religion, or nationality.… The basis of action will be to do justice to all-- to all races, to all religions, to all nationalities….”  And Thomas D’Arcy McGee emboldened that creed and dared dream that, “The Canadian nationality is not French-Canadian, nor English-Canadian, nor Irish-Canadian. It is a patriotism that rejects the prefix.”


And the conscience and character of that patriotism of which they dreamed was forged in the crucible of engagement in mankind’s struggles for redemptive change. Struggles that carried  Canadians over the decades from the bloody trenches of Vimy Ridge to the steaming jungles of Rwanda.


It is to this land of compassion and courage that immigrants stream. And it is in this patrimony that they want to share.



It is time to break free from the delusion that there is nothing worth trumpeting in the Canadian experience. It is time to bring to an end our cult-like devotion to the impotence of moral relativism. We have a right to demand adherence and fidelity to the values for which we have fought and which sustain us still. And we must not be so rigidly paralyzed by political correctness that we shy away from proclaiming our own success.


The prejudices of social orthodoxy have led to a national mindset so disfigured that politicians view their chances of victory based solely on likeability. The “huggability” quotient as it has been called. In fact our most successful heads of government have always been leaders not followers. They worried about how to serve and protect the broader interests of the country and refused to pander to the tastes and beliefs of all the citizenry.


This policy review now underway involves a most serious subject at a very dangerous time requiring bold and effective resolution. There are 750,000 immigration applications waiting to be processed for 250,000 spaces. Many seek economic relief at a time when it is not at all clear that Canada requires an expanded pool of labour. Many are refugee claimants. Yet the immigration/multicultural complex has become so weighty and burdened with infrastructure and layered programs that it sometimes takes three years for a determination to be made by the Immigration and Refugee Board. Clearly massive program rollbacks and reforms are necessary. Additionally, Canada needs to look seriously at the First Safe Country Convention.


All this is not to say that we need ask immigrants and cultural communities to reject the legacies of long ancestral history. Nor to forget the heroism and greatness and glories of times past.  But neither can Canada be so burdened by their needs; so haunted by their memories; that we are unable to vindicate the possibilities of our own capacities. For D’Arcy McGee’s admonition of over a century and a half ago resonates yet today.


“There is room enough in this country for one great free people ; but there is not room enough, under the same flag and under the same laws for a hundred angry, suspicious and obstructionist nationalities. “