Andrew Coyne: You can’t be leader of one country and pledge allegiance to another

Apart from the hypocrisy (which many politicians are guilty), it is the sheer obliviousness.

It is not like the situation in Australia, where a number of politicians found out inadvertently there were considered dual citizens. Andrew Scheer filed annual US tax returns as required by US law.

On the second part of Coyne’s commentary, his questioning the concept of dual citizenship is more theoretical than practical. One can make his arguments but one has to be aware of the practical implications, not to mention the political impracticalities.

For some immigrant groups, travel back to their country of origin to visit family or for business can only be done on the country of origin, Iran being an example. So ending dual citizenship would have a real impact on those who immigrated from such countries.

While largely not an issue for MPs and Ministers, I agree with Coyne’s arguments that leaders should not be dual citizenship for symbolic and practical reasons.

In Andrew Scheer’s case, would the public be comfortable with a dual American-Canadian negotiating NAFTA or other bilateral agreements? Even if only from a perception perspective?

If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, virtue must be feeling awfully flattered of late.

Hardly had we digested the news that Justin Trudeau, for all his attempts to tar opponents as racially insensitive troglodytes — certainly next to his own exquisitely sensitive self — had made something of a hobby of dressing up as a black or brown person, when we learned that Andrew Scheer, though he and his party had been quick to criticize other party leaders for being dual citizens, was guilty of the same offence himself.

Well, no, the two situations are not quite the same, are they? For while everyone agrees that wearing blackface is deeply wrong, everyone seems equally agreed that there’s nothing wrong with someone being a citizen of two countries — not even a prime minister. “Over a million Canadians hold dual citizenships,” a Liberal spokesperson began in response. “It’s part of what makes Canada great.”

The problem, rather, was that Scheer had failed to make public that he was one of those over a million Canadians, had indeed been “caught hiding” his involvement in part of what makes Canada great, “even as he was ridiculing others for holding dual citizenship.” The issue, then, was not that he had done something inherently shameful — like, say, dressing in blackface — or even that he had hidden this wholly unshameful fact. The issue was that he was a hypocrite.

And so he is — a flaming one. If he has not made quite the same career out of his personal opposition to dual citizens that Trudeau has made of his opposition to racism, he and his party certainly made hay out of the dual French and Canadian citizenship of former governor general Michaelle Jean, former Liberal leader Stephane Dion, and former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. Just on a level of basic competence: how on earth did he imagine this would not come out?

So all right, he’s a hypocrite — as are those who shrugged at their cases but seem very exercised about his. But beyond the hypocrisy, what is the substance of the issue? Are we right to assume there is nothing wrong with dual citizenship, only with hypocrisy? I don’t think so — as I said then, and as I repeat now.

It’s not wrong on a personal level: none of these leaders have done anything wrong, nor have their million semi-compatriates. It’s the law that’s wrong. It is wrong that Canada values its citizenship so cheaply that it allows it to be held simultaneously with another (or indeed any number of others: the arguments for dual citizenship apply equally to treble or quadruple citizenship). And it’s more wrong that it cannot bring itself even to ask of those who seek to lead it that, at a minimum, they should renounce all other allegiances.

To be a citizen of a nation is not like being a subscriber to a magazine, something you can collect or discard at will. It implies a reciprocal relationship, not only a set of privileges (like the right to vote) but also of obligations — to obey the law, to pay your taxes, even in some cases to serve in war. Mostly, it implies membership in a community — the obligations it entails are not what we owe the state, but what we owe each other.

We agree, as citizens, to throw in our lot with each other, to make sacrifices for each other, to put each other first. It is not possible to maintain an equal obligation to another national community — to put both “first” is a contradiction in terms. Elsewhere this is well understood. In countries as diverse as Denmark and Japan, the condition of acquiring a second citizenship is that you give up your first.

Dual citizenship should not be mistaken for pluralism, or openness. It is to Canada’s great credit and advantage that we welcome so many to join us, from all over the world, as it is that we do not expect them to conform to some rigid official identity. We should do everything we can to make it possible for newcomers to acquire Canadian citizenship. All we should ask in return is that it be their only one.

Or if that seems too much, can we at least ask that of those who would lead us? For as much as dual citizenship raises questions about what it means to be a citizen, it does so even more at the level of leadership — at least, if leadership means anything more than mere administration. In any political community, especially in a crisis, a leader must be able to rally the people to his side, to inspire them to make difficult choices, take necessary risks, sometimes to make painful sacrifices.

If they are to do that, if they are to follow where he leads, they must believe he is loyal to them, and to them only. They are unlikely to be willing to make the sacrifices he demands of them if he cannot himself make so elemental a sacrifice as to cast his lot with them — if not irrevocably, then at least exclusively. The notion that a prime minister, in particular, might make laws for one country while being subject to the laws of another — to the point, in Scheer’s case, of being eligible for the draft — is frankly bizarre.

Membership in a community should have meaning. The parties know this: you cannot be a member of one political party if you are a member of another. Why do they treat Canadian citizenship less seriously? Why do we?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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