The Canadian political debate played out much as I predicted and all three party leaders either won or lost depending on which pundit you care to believe. It is doubtful if it was the game-changer everyone was waiting for. The most interesting moment, perhaps, was Stephen Harper’s referral to old stock Canadians. He has since explained he means anyone who has been here for more than a generation or two. Hmm. That’s not what most people seemed to think.
No-one is much more old stock than me. My family has been here for eight generations, arriving in the 1770s or so. Other than the French who preceded us and the Aboriginal people who had already been here for millennia, you can’t be more old stock than that. We are, apparently, the English version of ‘pur laine’ those original Francophones who – if it were not for money and the ethnic vote – would have ensured Quebec’s sovereignty.
Was Harper simply being clumsy? Did he use an awkward phrase in responding to a tough question and if so why? What was the purpose of distinguishing between people who came in the 40s (that would allow one or two generations right?) and those who came in the 70s or 90s. Citizenship doesn’t have a best before date does it? (Well, under C-24 it now does if you are an ex-pat like Wayne Gretzky or Donald Sutherland but that’s a different story).
Maybe we wouldn’t be quite so sensitive if the Conservatives hadn’t just hired temporary foreign worker, Lynton Crosby, from Australia to help kick-start their campaign. He has a reputation for dividing people along racial lines and using secret codes – dog whistles – to motivate the racist base. Was this the first in a series of statements that will be used to create fear about the dangerous hordes waiting at the gates?
The sad truth is that there is a racist base. As much as Canadians like to paint themselves as open and liberal, that is a modern construction – largely built by changes that occurred post-world War II, when we were shocked into realizing that our old values – ones that discriminated against Asians and turned away Jewish refugees from the Nazis – just weren’t going to serve any longer.
Modern Canada is multicultural and open. It has been engaged in the world as a peace keeper and as a model for tolerance and cooperation. People came from around the world to study how we did it. And now all the old bogeymen are being raised again.
But surely there is a risk in promoting division and using secret codes to motivate those who should be encouraged to change their ways instead. How do the ethnic communities – wooed so assiduously by Jason Kenney – deal with being told that there are two different kinds of Canadians, those who get accepted no matter what and those who are here on sufferance?
‘Pur laine’ and ‘old stock,’ according to the racists, are the only real Canadians, no matter what the Constitution or the law may say. It’s not the Canada I grew up in but I recognize it nonetheless.
And that’s ten minutes.