Canada has accepted about five million new immigrants in the past 25 years and they have irreversibly changed our political dynamics.
Twenty-five years ago, Quebec’s place within the Canadian federation was almost all we ever talked about. Today, the Quebec question has faded from the national agenda. All we seem to talk about now is diversity.
For most of us, this means ensuring that more women and minorities are represented in all spheres of Canadian life. We have branded ourselves as an immigrant nation that embraces people of all origins. “Diversity is our strength” has become our national motto, replacing A Mari Usque Ad Mare (from sea to sea) everywhere but on our country’s official coat of arms.
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What our political elites have a hard time admitting, however, is that diversity is not a one-way street toward harmonious living – what the French call le vivre-ensemble – but a multilane expressway of competing and often colliding values, norms and ideas. Nowhere has this become as apparent as in the emergence of social conservatism as a political force in Canada.
Doug Ford’s election as the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party would not have been possible without the mobilization of social conservatives. That a strident anti-abortion activist – Tanya Granic Allen – was even on the ballot was proof in itself that this is no longer your father’s PC Party. That Ms. Granic Allen captured almost as much first-ballot support as the centrist Caroline Mulroney, and that her supporters propelled Mr. Ford over the top on the final ballot, was especially sweet for social conservatives.
The latter are now celebrating their new-found political clout — in dozens of languages. Immigration has swelled the ranks of Canada’s social conservatives. Polls shows that Canadian-born voters are less religious than ever, even when they claim to belong to a particular faith. That is not true of immigrants, who often identify more with their religion than their country.
Immigrants have increasingly shaped our communities, our schools and our self-conception as a country. So, it was only a matter of time before they began shaping our politics, too. It is unlikely Ontarians would be debating the province’s new sex-education curriculum at all if only Canadian-born voters were concerned. Resistance to the new curriculum has been strongest among immigrant parents. Some even pulled their kids out of school in protest.
Ground zero for the anti-sex-ed movement is Thorncliffe Park, in Toronto’s inner suburbs, where 70 per cent of the population was born outside Canada and almost 60 per cent of residents speak neither English nor French at home. They’re far more likely to speak Urdu, Farsi and Tagalog.
Campaign Life Coalition, the anti-abortion activist group that has led the fight against Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s update to the sex-ed curriculum, publishes some of its literature in 10 languages. The group claims to have signed up 9,000 new PC Party members during the leadership race to support Ms. Granic Allen as their first choice and Mr. Ford as their second.
“New Canadians are extremely important to CLC. It is probably our fastest growth segment in terms of general supporters and activists,” CLC spokesman Jack Fonseca said in an e-mail. “I do believe that their mobilization could shift public policy momentum on life and family issues.”
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Not all social conservatives are religious. Chinese immigrants, whom Mr. Fonseca said have accounted for “a lot of growth” in his group’s membership, are among those least likely to practise a religion. But for most social conservatives, religion is the motivating factor in their political mobilization.
More than half a million Muslims immigrated to Canada in the 20 years to 2011, according to Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey. The 2016 census showed that Canada accepted more than 150,000 immigrants from Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria— all Muslim-majority countries – between 2011 and 2016. Tens of thousands more came from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
Almost 200,000 Filipino immigrants came to Canada in the five years to 2016, replenishing the pews of the country’s Catholic churches. As with most Canadian Muslims, these Filipino newcomers take their faith ultraseriously.
A 2016 Environics poll showed Canadian Muslims voted overwhelmingly for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015. But that was likely a result of the uproar surrounding Conservative attempts to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies and the party’s pro-Israel foreign policy. The same poll found that, among Canadian Muslims, “religious identity and practice are important and growing, in contrast to the broader secularizing trend in Canada.”
How long can these two trends co-exist without colliding? Doug Ford’s leadership win may just have given us the answer.