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Editorials Globe editorial: How Justin Trudeau and Maxime Bernier both get it wrong about diversity

Maxime Bernier, the former Conservative MP who plans to start a breakaway right-wing party, says he will unveil the party's name and logo next week. Before he goes to the trouble, there a few places in Canada he should visit. Places like Mississauga, a fast-growing city just west of Toronto.

If the fierce critic of “extreme multiculturalism” spent more time in Mississauga's malls, parks and housing tracts, he might feel less anxious about the “cult of diversity” he feels is weakening Canada and requires the intervention of his new party.

What he would find is a booming exurb where Chinese, Sikh, Caribbean, southern European and WASP families live side-by-side in cookie-cutter homes, all driving their kids to school in minivans, watering their lawns and gathering for family dinner – where, it’s true, they eat chicken cooked several different ways and Skype with grandparents in different languages.

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In Mississauga and its like on the fringes of Vancouver and Calgary, the superficial diversity of skin colour, food and religious practice belies a homogeneity of lifestyle that should be heartening to the segment of Canadians Mr. Bernier purports to speak for.

Our points-based immigration system has given us newcomers who generally share a set of middle-class civic values: a desire to get ahead in the world, an emphasis on family and education, a belief in home ownership and a preference for being left alone to live one’s life.

If immigrants and their children are adhering to those civic values – and our Mississaugas tell us they are – it shouldn’t matter if they hook up a satellite to watch Portuguese league soccer on weekends, or go for dim sum instead of brunch.

These people aren't “forcibly changing” the “social fabric” of Canada, a purported outcome of immigration that Mr. Bernier warns against. Where immigrants bring cultural change, it's often quickly embraced. (See: dim sum.)

The folkways of a young country like Canada simply aren’t as ingrained as those of older countries such as France or Japan. That’s a good thing. One of Canada’s glories is that its social fabric is not overly constricting, that it offers room for each citizen to develop their ideas and personality without the smothering expectations and mores of old-world societies.

Another way of putting it is that we mind our own business. Tolerance of that kind has helped our disjointed federation survive as long as it has.

After all, cultural diversity in Canada long predates the mass global immigration of the 1970s. In many places, French, English and Indigenous have lived side by side for centuries. The cultural memory of a Newfoundlander is very different from that of an Albertan. The hippie and the logger get along in the Kootenays not because of what they have in common, but despite not having much in common at all. You can say that’s extreme multiculturalism, too. Some just call it a liberal society.

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Politicians sometimes get sentimental about difference, which Mr. Bernier is right in suggesting should never be an end in itself. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in particular could spend less time repeating “diversity is our strength” and more time talking about how Canada has the best of both worlds. “Our strength is diversity on the cultural plane and unity on the civic level” makes a less resounding slogan, but a truer one.

It’s also true, as Mr. Bernier observes, that Canada has ethnic enclaves. The Toronto suburb of Markham is heavily Chinese. Parts of Brampton, on the other side of the city, are largely Sikh. But these places are prosperous and economically integrated. They are a far cry from the isolated immigrant slums of European countries such as France, whose spectre Mr. Bernier appears to allude to in discussing a Canadian future of ever more diversity.

We have actually created something like the opposite of the French model, which fetishizes cultural assimilation but pushes immigrants to the economic fringe. There you have endless debates about the propriety of Muslim women wearing headscarves in public, while the teenage sons of those women struggle to find decent work.

Instead, Canada makes room for suburban dads who proudly wear turbans to their engineering jobs. If Mr. Bernier doesn’t like that, he should learn to mind his own business.

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