Canadian exceptionalism: Joseph Heath | In Due Course

Joseph Heath, of UofT’s department of philosophy, in a recent post paints an overly simplistic picture of “Canadian exceptionalism.”

While many of his points are valid, there is a surprising lack of a historical perspective in his treatment of integration and limitations to his analysis of the numbers and politics.

Historical perspective: Heath seems to anchor his post on the shift towards greater support for immigration in the mid-1990s – the inflection point when more people supported immigration than opposed.

But this ignores the longer term factors that are central to Canada’s relative success. First among them is a “culture of accommodation” that, however imperfect, reflects an early accommodation between settlers and First Nations (e.g., Royal Proclamation of 1763) and between French and English settlers (e.g., Quebec Act of 1774). While more observed in the breach than the observance for most of our early history, it nevertheless provided a way of thinking that underlies Canadian discourse.

The emphasis on integration, as distinct from assimilation, emerged in 1959 as Canadian citizenship articulated that integration was a voluntary process, respect for cultural traditions was compatible with loyalty to Canada, and that the host society was ultimately responsible for newcomer acceptance. The “Other groups” chapter of the Bi and Bi Commission provided further elaboration of the integration process.

The “other groups,” such as Ukrainian Canadians, pressed for multiculturalism in order to recognize their distinct identity and contribution to the building of Canada. The end result was the multiculturalism policy of 1971 and Act of 1988.

It was not merely “inadvertently” that Canada ended up being more successful in newcomer integration, but a series of earlier actions and policy choices – immigration, settlement, citizenship and multiculturalism – that enabled us to do so.

Numbers: While Canada does have more diverse newcomers than most other countries at the national level, the same cannot be said at the regional or municipal levels. The various controversies that emerge from time-to-time in places such as Brampton, Surrey or Richmond illustrate that.

Political system:

Similarly, his treatment of how Canada’s political system lacks understanding of the numbers of new Canadian voters and their relative concentration in ridings.

The more fundamental reality is that no political party can win a majority (and would be hard placed to win a strong minority) without the support of new Canadian voters, particularly those in the suburban areas of Toronto (the 905) and Vancouver.

Moreover, he overstates the impact of the first-past-the-post system on the far right given that UKIP, at least in the 2015 election, was able to attract almost 13 percent (but less than two percent in 2017).

Personally, I find Keith Banting’s recent analysis of “Canadian exceptionalism” at a “Big Thinking” Parliament Hill event more convincing (see Big Thinking video).

The five factors of Heath:

1. Very little illegal immigration

2. Bringing people in from all over

3. A political system that encourages moderation

4. Immigrants are part of larger nation-building project

5. Protection of majority culture clear from the start

Source: Canadian exceptionalism | In Due Course

There is room in our circle for Joseph Boyden: Kinew

There has been considerable commentary on Boyden’s ancestry and claims to an aboriginal voice, ranging from defenders (Konrad Yakabuski’s Attacks on Joseph Boyden’s identity should set off alarm bells) to critics (Hayden King’s Joseph Boyden, where are you from?, Denise Balkissoon’s Why the facts behind Joseph Boyden’s fiction matter from the broader cultural appropriation perspective).

Wab Kinew emphasizes a more reconciliatory approach, one that recognizes better the complexity of identities and belonging:

…Today my friend Joseph Boyden is the one in the centre of our circle being stripped of an identity. Though his disrobing is happening in the feedback loop of social media instead of a traditional arbour, as with the man at the sundance, many of the questions asked are legitimate.

Joseph Boyden will be changed by this. He owes some of our friends apologies for apparently misleading them. Media outlets will lose credibility if they present his as the voice of indigenous peoples. When he promotes his next book, he will be asked about his identity and this episode.

Already some non-indigenous readers are asking if they should read his work. His novels remain powerful. But they were always the work of a talented outsider. Even if he is Anishinaabe, he is not a member of the nations he wrote about – the Mushkegowuk, the Huron, the Haudenosaunee. Recognizing the distinctions will inform readers. So, yes, read Joseph Boyden. But also read authors who have lived a more indigenous experience.

The indigenous community also has questions to consider. First, why did we so quickly embrace someone who has long said he has little biological connection to us?

Our community hungers for reasons to celebrate, so when a brilliant artist claimed us, we claimed him. I am not sure this cost us much. While he should not accept award money meant to encourage writers who experience the very real challenges of growing up indigenous in Canada, his success did not prevent a half-dozen indigenous authors from releasing bestsellers in the past few years.

The second, and perhaps more important question, is what does it say that many of us have so quickly turned on him?

I am reminded of the man at the sundance. It could not have been easy, but he has returned year after year since his shaming. In the countless ceremonies since, all participating have repeated the prayerful Lakota words Mitakuye Oyasin (all my relations). The Anishinaabe and other peoples recite similar maxims. These axioms articulate the belief that every being is related to one another.

If we are to live this ethos, then perhaps the issue of how Joseph Boyden gained access to our circle does not matter as much as the fact he is present in our community now.

His place among us was built by writing about, giving back to and befriending us. Some, such as myself, continue to claim him. I can not give him a status card or confer on him the right to identify as Anishinaabe. But I can tell you if he keeps coming back, he will have a place in our circle.

I say this wishing he behaved differently. I want him to rescind the UBC letter, apologize for his comments about missing and murdered women, and be direct with us about his ancestry. If he is not native, he should confess. If he has one ancestor generations back, he should explain who they were.

Not long ago, a Lakota grandmother and I were teasing each other about that man from the sundance. “He’s your relative.” “No, he’s your relative,” we said to one another. But when the conversation turned to the now ailing man’s health the woman surprised me with her genuine sadness. The man was imperfect. He made us cringe sometimes. Yet, he was still a part of us.

There is room in our circle for everyone, even those who do not behave as we would like. We include them not just to make our circle bigger. We love one another as relatives because it frees our hearts from hurt and allows us to embrace the goodness in each of us. When we do that, we are stronger.

All my relations.

Source: There is room in our circle for Joseph Boyden – The Globe and Mail

Joseph Heath: How to beat racism

More Joseph Heath, this time on racism. Helpful to have so much of his book in the National Post, not sure if this is helping book sales for Enlightenment 2.0 or substituting for them:

… What matters is not so much the differences between individuals but which differences we choose to invest significance in. This is the good news on race. It suggests that the best way to overcome race may simply be to distract people from it. If there is nothing else to attract people’s attention, the set of physical characteristics that distinguish race will be regarded as significant, but this can be overcome by reducing the salience of these characteristics. There is probably nothing we can do to stop people from classifying others into groups and developing animosity toward those whom they regard as belonging to an out-group. Yet even if we are unable to change this basic feature of human psychology, we can develop an effective work-around, by manipulating the environment so that people classify each other in ways that are less socially pernicious. For example, instead of allowing people to fixate on inherited features of individuals — such as skin colour — we could encourage them to focus on arbitrary or symbolic features — like hair style. The advantage of hair style is that it can easily be changed, and so does not translate into permanent disadvantage for any class of individuals.

This may explain why the military and sports teams have been far more successful at creating racial integration than many other institutions in American life. What distinguishes both of them is that they cultivate very intense, particularistic loyalties. There is good reason to think that these forms of group identification simply crowd out the other ones based on race. This can be far more effective than asking people to subscribe to some universalist ideal, one that forces them to overcome or suppress their “groupish” instincts.

From this perspective, the real problem in America is not so much racism as it is race consciousness. (Indeed, to any non-American, the most oppressive feature of intercultural relations in America is not that people are racist, but just that they talk and think incessantly about race, even worse than the way the English talk and think incessantly about class.) And yet this feature of American culture seems to be one that everyone, white and black, conservative and liberal, is involved in a giant conspiracy to sustain and reinforce. This is because most Americans who are progressive on the subject believe that racism must be overcome directly, and that this can only be done by increasing sensitivity and awareness of racial difference. A lot of progressive black politics has done the same, by rejecting the older ideal of a “colour-blind” society and insisting upon the recognition and affirmation of a positive black identity. This winds up being an inadvertent recipe for the reproduction of racism. Even though the intention is to create a positive group identity, its dominant effect is to make race salient as a basis of group identity, which means that it will also, inevitably, become a locus of negative valuation for some.

Joseph Heath: How to beat racism | National Post.

Joseph Heath: The new nationalism

More excerpts from Joseph Heath’s book, Enlightenment 2.0, on one of the ironies of Trudeau’s policies promoting Canadian symbols. For the Conservative take on successive Liberal governments, see Chris Champion’s Tory History and Its Critics | The Dorchester Review.

So that is how, in a case of not inconsiderable historical irony, Trudeau — the avatar of pure reason — became the father of modern Canadian nationalism, in all of its most boisterous and vulgar manifestations. One wonders how he would have felt had he seen the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, with its giant inflatable beavers, table-hockey players, moose hats, dancing lumberjacks and voyageurs, and Michael Bublé dressed as a Mountie singing “The Maple Leaf Forever.” The phrase “What have I done?” might have sprung to mind. And yet, almost 40 years after Trudeau made the initial moves, one could see the power of the strategy. Quebec artists essentially boycotted the Olympic ceremonies, refusing to participate in what they rightly anticipated would be an orgy of Canadian nationalism. And yet when the curtain closed, they proceeded to complain about the lack of “French content” in the program. A principled commitment to national sovereignty is all well and good, but no one likes to feel left out of a party. As far as political dilemmas go, the shoe had been moved to the other foot.

Joseph Heath: The new nationalism | National Post.

Misunderstanding Canadian Multiculturalism : Joseph Heath

While I would characterize some of the issues differently, a good overview piece on Canadian multiculturalism and Quebec by Joseph Heath of UofT.

The defining debate for the Canadian policy was triggered in 1990, when a Sikh officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) requested a modification of the official uniform so that he could wear a turban instead of the traditional Stetson hat. While this created an enormous backlash in English Canada, observers were quick to point out the good news – to wit, that Sikhs in Canada wanted to join the national police force. The accommodation that was being requested – which the multiculturalism policy was broadly understood to license – was quite different from the type of accommodations requested by many Aboriginal groups, or indeed by the province of Quebec, which wanted to opt out of the RCMP entirely and create its own police force.

This revealed an important ambiguity in the concept ‘reasonable accommodation.’ The kinds of accommodations requested by national minority groups, such as French Canadians and Aboriginals, were aimed at changing things so that they would not be required to integrate into majority institutions – that is, so that they could instead create their own, parallel set of institutions. The demand for modification of the RCMP uniform, however, was a sign of an immigrant group wanting very much to participate in majority institutions, and requesting a change in the dominant practices in order to remove a barrier – conscious or inadvertent – to its full integration. The fact that such demands were being made was a sign that the multiculturalism policy was in fact working.

I think he misses some of the nuances between interculturalisme and multiculturalism but is correct that the similarities outweigh the differences (see Table 9: Diversity Paradigms,  Table 10: Multiculturalism/ Interculturalisme Comparison).

Misunderstanding Canadian Multiculturalism : Global Brief.

And some interesting commentary by Heath on a debate between Will Kymlicka and David Miller, on national vs subnational identities:

It is not the case that by adopting a national identity organized around the federal government, immigrants are simply buying into the national-building project of English Canadians. Walking around a major city like Toronto one could get that impression, but that is precisely because there are so many immigrants in those cities. Many older English Canadians are profoundly uncomfortable with the federal project, as witnessed by the fact that the current federal government – which rules, I should note, with essentially no support in Quebec – is very actively trying to undermine it. Thus there is, in Canada, a distinct national identity, at the federal level, which cannot simply be identified with the national identity of either English or French (or, obviously, Aboriginal) national groups. And so to the extent that immigrants gravitate toward that identity, they are not necessarily “picking sides” in the age-old disputes between Canada’s founding peoples.

More thoughts on Kymlika

Joseph Health on the Public Service

Attended an interesting talk this week by Joseph Heath on the three “poles of allegiance” of the public service: to elected officials, to the public, and to their professional values. Although his working through the issues in each category is a helpful analytical exercise, as a former public servant not sure that helps us much in the end in the Canadian context, where “fearless advice and loyal implementation” to the minister prevails.

My experience, as outlined in Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, was that whenever public servants deviated from serving elected officials, problems emerged. Should they try to serve the public in recommending Grant & Contribution projects, they missed the change in policy with projects being rejected. And should they try to follow their professionalism with respect to providing advice without taking political context into account, public servants were viewed as obstructive.

But alway good to have a theoretical framework challenge the status quo, and be provoked!