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History Table of Contents
1998 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1998
Rethinking Canada for the 21st Century

The Canadian Essence: What will it mean to be
a Canadian in the 21st century?

Sen. Donald Oliver, Nova Scotia

My thesis is this: Canada is not ready for the reality of a multiracial, nonwhite-controlled society and unless we come to grips soon by the year 2000 we can have massive social unrest in our major Canadian cities [as] envisioned in two of Michael Adams’ scenarios last night.

For Canada to survive as a united country, radical surgery is required of two major public policy areas — immigration policy and multiculturalism. And, in addition, there must be a massive re-thinking of who we are and what we have become.

In essence, we must quickly learn and earnestly desire to do something never before achieved in Canada; to learn to live together as a people in equality. To be truly Canadian in the 21st century means we must find within ourselves a new tolerance and we must fight a latent desire or need to be racist.

Our federal politicians, who must thoroughly revamp immigration and multiracial policies, must ask:

How can we lead a physically diverse collectivity of Canadians to a mutual recognition of a shared relationship to something called "a nation?*

Can we fashion an enduring concept of citizenship and identity that will unite the people of this country, separated not only by vast stretches of land, but by language, race, religion and culture?

We must abandon the established traditions of white, Anglo-Franco-dominated culture. We must accept an identity of Canada that includes difference; an identity that is fluid, changing, migrating, an identity that reflects the lives of all Canadians, and not just the white majority.

From all corners of the globe, people are now immigrating to Canada. Our stories are the stories of Canada. Some are over a 100 years old and others a day.

Our problem is that we are reluctant to let go of our European heritage, our British-French heritage. This tenacious attachment to European traditions is manifested in our history of immigration policy.

During the 1930s, non-British immigrants, including Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, were denied entry on the grounds their admittance would alter the essential "British character" of the country. This sentiment was endorsed by Prime Minister MacKenzie King, who said: "We must always remember that Canada is a white man’s country".

So how has Canada fared since these King remarks of 50 years ago?

In the ‘40s and ‘50s came change in Canada’s immigration policies. And with change, a new generation of immigrants.

Statistics Canada reports that Canada was home to some 3.2 million visible minorities in 1996.

One in three of these visible minorities were born in Canada. Similarly, 18.3 million people (64 per cent) reported one ethnic origin, while 10.2 million (36 per cent) represented more than one.

These numbers are growing. A recent poll claimed that visible minorities would become the majority in Metropolitan Toronto shortly.

But is hasn’t been an easy change.

Here are the important statistics: Ekos Research conducted a poll in 1993-94 for the federal government.

Its findings, as reported in The Globe and Mail, were that "four in 10 Canadians believe there are too many members of visible minorities in Canada, singling out Arabs, Blacks and Asians for discrimination.

Toronto, which at that time had an immigration population of 38 per cent, was found to be the most intolerant.. Indeed, 67 per cent said there were too many immigrants; up 21 per cent from a poll conducted just two year prior.

In January of this year, a new report came out in Toronto and I want to quote six paragraphs.

"The city’s visible minorities are growing so quickly that unless the problem they face is addressed, tension with the white population is likely to increase.

"Although the city currently does much to help its diverse population, there must be more done to meet the special needs of the non-white population, which will become the majority in less than 18 months."

The study, titled, Together, We are One, predicts that visible minorities will make up 54 per cent of Toronto’s population by 2000. They now account for 48 per cent.

However, some members of Toronto Council say the changing face of the city will cause resentment and anger among some people.

"It will be a shock for some people, especially the older generation, as they look around and no longer see themselves."

But at the same time, it [the study] notes that immigrants face poverty, low education and unemployment.

"If this situation is not addressed, as well as the incidents of hate activity and discriminatory practices and prejudiced attitudes that unfortunately continue to plague the city, it can only lead to a growing sense of frustration."

"Although non-whites are nearing majority status, they are under represented tn positions of influence and on issues and policies that affect their lives.

"Part of the racism against visible minorities reflects a personal deficiency or weakness, but there is an over-riding public policy problem and that is multiculturalism."

I don’t have time to go into that now and I will perhaps get into it in my later remarks, but I wanted to make [the points] about visible minorities. It’s a major problem that this conference has not addressed.