Date
22 September 2017
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is defined by a set of shared values including “openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice”. Photo: Reuters
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is defined by a set of shared values including “openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice”. Photo: Reuters

How Canada goes against the tide and embraces openness

As the world is drawn to right-wing conservatism, it appears Canada under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has become the only western developed country that is still embracing left-wing pluralism.

In fact, when Trudeau, who represents the Liberal Party, came into office in November 2015, he declared that Canada would become the world’s first “post- nation state”, where the conventional sense of national identity based on race is replaced by the common values of openness, respect, industriousness, compassion and justice shared by all Canadians.

Some critics said the concept of “post-nationalism” is subverting conventional wisdom about what is meant by “nation states”.

As Canadian author Charles Foran put it in his recent article published in The Guardian, Canada is a country built purely by immigrants, and today the number of newly arrived immigrants each year accounts for 1 percent of its population.

Since Canada doesn’t vet its immigrants as rigorously as other western countries, as much as 85 percent of new immigrants who arrive in Canada will eventually become naturalized citizens, almost the highest percentage in the West.

As a result, Canada has become probably the most diversified and pluralistic country in the developed world.

According to Foran, the sense of being a Canadian is based not on any racial, ethnic, cultural or religious identity but on values such as freedom, respect for cultural differences, acceptance and social justice.

In other words, Canada as a country is defined by a set of values commonly shared among its people rather than by any racial or cultural identity.

Since the 18th century, early European settlers who arrived in Canada had reached a consensus with the North American natives that as long as they respected each others’ differences, they were able to co-exist peacefully.

And for centuries, such a consensus has become a source of unity and cohesion among Canadians.

Like many other countries, Canada faces the challenge of separatism, such as the Quebec independence movement.

However, unlike other separatist movements that are often characterized by confrontation, hostility or even violence, Quebec separatists have taken great pains to find common ground with the federal government in Ottawa, thanks to that longstanding consensus on peaceful co-existence that dates back to the early days when the country was founded.

Despite the fact that the experience of Canada may provide some insight for countries in Europe that are getting increasingly ambivalent about pluralism and acceptance of immigrants, it is unlikely that the Canadian model can be easily copied elsewhere.

Canada has its own uniqueness: on one hand the country is far away from the “old world” and thus free from historical entanglements; on the other, the military protection and the vast market provided by the US have guaranteed its national and economic stability.

As a result, Canada can focus almost entirely on its internal policies without having to worry about external geopolitical factors, a luxury that most European Union members don’t have.

At a time when the conservative right is bestriding the political scene across the West, the fact that Canada is going against the tide and insisting on pitching the values of acceptance, tolerance and pluralism may turn out to be a tremendous boost to the country’s international image and soft power.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 27

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/RA

Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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