This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau changed the names and mandates of several cabinet committees to “make them even more efficient and responsive to the needs of Canadians.” And while the move might just come down to branding, it nevertheless marks a shift in tone for a Prime Minister who came to office in 2015 boasting of Canada as the “first post-national state.”
Gone is the Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. It’s been subsumed by a newly named Cabinet Committee on Growing the Middle Class and Inclusion. The new committee drops the old one’s mandate to “promote Canadian diversity, multiculturalism, and linguistic duality.”
Coming on the heels of a flare-up in the debate over immigration and integration – sparked in part by now independent MP Maxime Bernier’s unbridled Twitter attacks on the Trudeau government’s so-called “extreme multiculturalism” – does this committee reboot signal a realization by the Liberals that they need to ease up on the diversity meme?
The Liberals have had a hard time finding a healthy balance between celebrating our differences and emphasizing what binds us as a people. They best get busy with it, lest they lose the plot entirely and allow people sympathetic to Mr. Bernier’s point of view to seize on it.
“Lib gov is creating social and economic problems with mass immigration, and is now proposing more costly and burdensome bureaucratic programs to deal with them,” Mr. Bernier, the former Conservative MP, tweeted this week in reaction to a Toronto Sun report on a federal proposal to help small businesses hire new Canadians. “The solution is instead to bring down immigration numbers to a SUSTAINABLE LEVEL that will facilitate integration.”
Sentences such as the previous one used to be the domain of far-right politicians in Europe and the United States. Their appearance in everyday Canadian political discourse suggests this country has now joined the rest of the Western world in the identity wars. If so, I fear for our future.
American political scientist Francis Fukuyama argues that the left’s embrace of identity politics over its traditional role as the champion of the working class has forced a redefinition of the terms of political combat along group or tribal lines. This has prompted a shift on the right from promoting small government and free markets to indulging in nativism.
“Democratic societies are fracturing into segments based on ever-narrower identities, threatening the possibility of deliberation and collective action by society as a whole,” Prof. Fukuyama writes in his forthcoming book, Identity, as published in an excerpt in Foreign Affairs magazine. “This is a road that leads only to state breakdown and, ultimately, failure. Unless such liberal democracies can work their way back to more universal understandings of human dignity, they will doom themselves – and the world – to continuing conflict.”
In other words, even if it were possible to create such a thing as a post-national state, Prof. Fukuyama suggests such a country would not be long for this world. Evermore demands from evermore groups seeking state recognition of their particular grievances would eventually overwhelm the body politic. “Democracies,” he argues, “need to promote what political scientists call ‘creedal national identities,’ which are built not around shared personal characteristics, lived experiences, historical ties, or religious convictions but rather around core values and beliefs.”
This is not to say demands for recognition by marginalized groups are antithetical to the survival of a cohesive national identity. Indeed, in a multicultural country such as Canada that has often been a first mover on such issues, we are better equipped than most countries to manage both.
To do so, however, we need to distinguish between legitimate demands for recognition and redress by First Nations and other marginalized groups, which we have a moral obligation to address, and attempts to exploit the resentment of the aggrieved for electoral gain.
Across the Western world, politicians on the left increasingly seek to validate any perceived affront to the dignity of minority groups, no questions asked. Yet, as Prof. Fukuyama argues, “the focus on lived experience by identity groups prioritizes the emotional world of the inner self over the rational examination of issues in the outside world and privileges sincerely held opinions over a process of reasoned deliberation that may force one to abandon prior opinions.”
Concomitantly, Prof. Fukuyama continues, “the right has adopted the language and framing from the left: the idea that whites are being victimized, that their situation and suffering are invisible to the rest of society and that the social and political structures responsible for this situation – especially the media and the political establishment – need to be smashed.”
Not along ago, Canada was being held up as the exception to this trend. It will take more than changing the name of a cabinet committee if we are to avoid succumbing to the same division.