This is the fourth in a five-part series on Diefenbaker's vision of Canada
“I have a dream,” Martin Luther King said on August 28, 1963.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
© Library and Archives Canada
John G. Diefenbaker
King’s famous speech was a forceful articulation of the classical liberal philosophy that Canada’s 13th prime minister, John Diefenbaker, passionately believed in.
Society must be “colour-blind.” A person must be seen as a unique individual first -- not as a member of a group.
It was that belief that led Diefenbaker to support blocking apartheid South Africa from the Commonwealth; to remove racial discrimination from Canada’s immigration policy; and to give aboriginals the right to vote.
By the early ’70s, however, a different concept of equality had emerged.
“Identity politics” argued that, in order to truly avoid discrimination, ethnic differences had to be recognized, respected, supported and promoted by the government.
That approach became official in Canada with the adoption of the Multiculturalism Policy in 1971, which, in effect, redefined Canada as a mosaic of cultural groups.
Various levels of government -- all of which have adopted multicultural policies – encourage immigrants to take pride in their ethnic ancestry, on the assumption that doing so will engender loyalty to Canada.
It is the very opposite of Diefenbaker’s plea for a common, “unhyphenated” Canadian identity.
“One never thinks of United States citizens according to their racial origin,” Diefenbaker said approvingly. “One never thought of Roosevelt as a Dutch-American.”
Diefenbaker had always spoken of Canada as multicultural, but his use of the word did not have the same meaning that it does today, said Salim Mansur, political science professor at the University of Western Ontario and author of Delectable Lie: A Liberal Repudiation of Multiculturalism.
“Canada was and still is an immigrant country,” Mansur said.
However, immigration 100 years ago was a completely different phenomenon.
“People (today) sit on a wide-bodied jet airliner and fly out of Dar es Salaam or Hong Kong . . . and within a few hours they’re in Canada.”
In contrast, the immigrants who settled Western Canada had to cut connections, uproot themselves from the land of their birth, travel for months and, finally, “absorb the New World,” Mansur said.
“What they were absorbing was not only the geography. They were also absorbing the ethos of the New World. The ethos of the New World was the ethos that Mr. Diefenbaker was articulating. That was the ethos of classical liberalism. That is, ‘We are a free people and we are escaping from societies and cultures where our freedoms are denied.’”
That experience involved a conscious effort to leave behind one’s cultural baggage, Mansur added.
“They wanted to be a Canadian. And to be a Canadian meant something.”
Immigrants integrated into a core Canadian identity that was based on individual rights and rooted in centuries of political and cultural evolution that went back to the Magna Carta.
“That was the history that defined Canada,” Mansur said. “People from different parts of the world, they wanted to become part of that history.”
Multiculturalism is based on shoddy philosophy, prof says
Multiculturalism, as a philosophy, is based on a critique of the classically liberal view that everyone should be treated equally. It argues that the effect of treating everyone the same is to marginalize those who don’t fit the cultural mould.
Moreover, the argument continues, Canada’s laws and institutions might appear egalitarian, but they function to maintain the cultural dominance of the white majority.
Mansur’s response: “The multiculturalists and their apologists create false arguments to confound the issue.”
“When we say ‘individual rights’ or ‘individual freedom,’ we’re not qualifying the individual. You’re not saying you respect only the individual rights of the black man, or the yellow man, or the white man. You’re saying ‘individual’ without any qualification.”
“We shall never build the nation which our potential resources make possible by dividing ourselves into anglophones, francophones, multiculturalphones, or whatever kind of phoneys you choose. I say: Canadians, first, last and always.” John Diefenbaker in the House of Commons, June, 1973.
“On the opposite side are people who don’t see the individual; they see the colour, they see the religion, they see the gender, they see the sexual orientation. They don’t see the individual person. They see the forest but not the tree.”
The underlying assumption of multiculturalism is that all cultures are equal, Mansur said.
It is a “lie” because it wrongly assumes there are no standards by which to judge one thing or another, he added.
“The standard that the Western tradition takes is freedom.”
Advancements in human rights -- from Britain’s abolition of the slave trade in 1807, to the expansion of voting rights to women, to the end of segregation -- all happened under the philosophical umbrella of classical liberalism, Mansur said.
“The great reform acts of the British Parliament were a series of evolutionary movements that took place in this period of 500 years, as rotten boroughs and rotten Parliaments were reformed and democratic rights were slowly crafted and won.”
On the other hand, the worst evils of the 20th century -- Nazism, Communism, apartheid in South Africa -- all followed philosophies that calculated an individual’s worth according to the group that he belonged to, Mansur said.
When Diefenbaker told Parliament his rationale for a Bill of Rights, he said, “Freedom is founded on the sacredness and dignity of the human being.”
From that view, the most important thing about a person is the common humanity he shares with everyone else, whatever his ethnicity, race or religion happens to be.
In contrast, multiculturalism encourages Canadians to view immigrants merely as members of ethnic groups, Mansur said. That has led to a “bigotry of lowered expectations.”
“Bascially, multiculturalism is saying, ‘You coming from other parts of the world, we don’t expect you to become Canadian because, you know, we respect your culture; you be what you are.’
“And so instead of that Afghan becoming enriched, becoming equal, becoming part of ‘One Canada,’ that Afghan living in Toronto is living the life of an Afghan in Afghanistan. And we know the results of that.”
The logical outcome of the assumption that all cultures are equal is that cultural groups with their own legal systems should be able to set them up in Canada, Mansur said.
“We then have the situation of not having one country with one law; we will be several countries with several sets of conflicting laws. And that’s exactly where we have arrived at.
“Muslims in Canada say they have their law, called the Sharia. And why should the Supreme Court and the Parliament of Canada not recognize the Sharia? And people are already pushing for that argument, and we might come to recognize it.”
Multiculturalism divides the "body politic," undermines common good
While embracing classical liberalism, Diefenbaker (paradoxically) was also a classical conservative.
From the philosophical perspective of 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli -- whom Diefenbaker cited as an intellectual influence -- society should function as a unity for the common good.
The assumption is that there is such a thing as an objective good for society as a whole, said Ron Dart, a University of the Fraser Valley professor and historian of High Toryism in Canada.
Multiculturalism, in contrast, assumes that there is no objective societal good and leaves ethnic communities to define the good for themselves.
“Essentially, then you just get little tribes, or what (Hugh) MacLennan talked about – ‘the Two Solitudes’ -- now we have multiple solitudes,” Dart said.
“You can’t hold a nation together on that level of fragmentation.”
In 1981, two years after Diefenbaker’s death, Canada had only six ethnic enclaves --defined by Statistics Canada as neighbourhoods where more than 30 per cent of the population is a visible minority. Now there are more than 260.
“(When you live in an ethnic enclave) you don’t see what is the relationship between your ethnic group or your cultural community and the bigger good of your state,” Dart said.
“Diefenbaker is thinking, okay, you come from these backgrounds, but what is the greater good?”