Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Half an Hour, Sept 07, 2016

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has proposed that immigrants be subject to a test for their adherence to what she calls Canadian values.  "It's not intolerant to believe in a set of values we expect everyone to share," she says. There are two things we could talk about: what those values actually are, and whether we should screen for them.

Her intent is to protect Canada from what she has in the past called "barbaric cultural practices". She now regrets that wording. I would too. But one wonders whether her current formulation reflects the same sentiment as her previous formulation. "People who believe women are property, that they can be beaten, bought or sold, or believe that gays and lesbians should be stoned to death because of who they love, don't share our Canadian values," she said on CBC this morning.

What, then, does Leitch believe are actually Canadian values? She says she wants to have this debate: "I believe in a unified Canadian identity." Take the following items as a starting point (quoted form the broadcast):

  • hard work and equality of opportunity - I want everyone to know ... if they work hard, they actually can get ahead (especially our young people);
  • generosity - Canada is a place where hard work and generosity can come together;
  • freedom - a Canadian identity that permits freedom and tolerance that allows each and every one of us to pursue our best lives and our best selves;
  • equality - equality of rights, equality of women;
  • tolerance - it is a Canadian value to respect religion other than those that you might follow yourself, to respect other cultures, to respect sexual orientation that's different from your own.

I have to confess that I am a bit sceptical about testing immigrants for their adherence to a set of values that would be rejected by most members of her own party.

And in fact, I believe there is an interpretation of each of these principles which is close-minded, narrow, and expressed in code to people who are concerned about immigration and the assimilation of people from different cultures.

Consider 'hard work', for example. The emphasis here is on people who contribute to the economy, and those who might not - children, the elderly, refugees, socialists - have the wrong 'values'.

Or consider 'tolerance'. The point here is suggests that some cultures are more pro-tolerance than others. The reference is to the well-known differentiation between men and women in Islamic society, and of their sanctions against homosexuality of any kind.

When we view the record of her own party on each of these points - hard work, generosity, freedom, equality, tolerance - it is a record of failure. And, indeed, the very act of judging people according to whether they share the right values is more typical of the Conservative mindset.

In Canada, if there is any unifying principle, it is the principle that people are free to adhere to whatever set of values they want. Canadian society isn't about forging a single identity. It is not about creating a unity of purpose.

In Canada, we expect the following: peace, order and good government.

These aren't values per se. These are principles of law, of the structuring of society. It is to these we will expect immigrants to adhere, and the proof of this will be in the doing, not some sort of morality test.

  • Peace: violent acts are prohibited by law, and will be penalized. We construe violence fairly widely, so as to exclude most forms of harm. The basis of tolerance, as a governmental policy, is that factionalism and sectarian conflict destabilize society as a whole, and create conditions inhospitable to a good and full life.
  • Order: people are expected to behave in a way which enables the smooth function of society. This includes things like taking your turn in line, driving in a single lane on the highway, not cheating on tests, and a host of other behaviours, mostly enforced through social sanction, that allow that others' interests are as important as your own.
  • Good government: we do not believe in survival of the fittest; we expect government, which represents our ability to work collectively, to be proactive, to support essential social functions such as policing, health and education, and to ensure the general security and prosperity of all Canadians.

On these principles it is arguable that Leitch's Conservative Party fails as well. The Conservative Party picks sides in cultural and religious disputes. It engages in lawless and disorderly behaviour - everything from questionable election practices to sending people to be tortured in Syria. And it prefers a disengagement of government from civil society, rather than proactive engagement to ensure the security and well-being of all.

If Leitch really believed in equality of opportunity, she would support much more progressive taxation, pro-union policies to ensure quality wages and working conditions, generous support for the poor and disadvantaged, much greater support for aboriginal communities, and equality of access to legal representation, education and health care. But she appears to support none of these things.

If Leitch really believed in generosity, and especially of the responsibility of the rich to help the poor, she would support more open borders to refugees, a significant increase in international aid, support for United Nations agencies such as UNESCO and UNICEF, and a taxation and royalty regime which recognizes the principle that the wealth of society is to be shared among all its citizens. But there's no sign of support for this.

If Leitch believed in freedom and tolerance, she would respect the desire of people to live more simply, to pursue philosophical or artistic lifestyles, and to travel freely. She would ensure that everyone had access to legal, cultural, health and educational resources regardless of means. And she would support people who adopt causes other than their own personal welfare: the defense of the environment, for example, the pursuit of science, or public advocacy. But there is no sign of support for these.

If Leitch believed in equality, she ensure wage parity, she would support the right of any person to marry anyone, and she would support the right of a woman to choose what's right for her own body. She would prohibit discrimination (even in the private sector, and even by insurance companies) based on age, gender, culture, skin colour, language, or genetics. She would revise laws that favour people of means and ensure all people equal access to government services. But of these measures, not a whiff of support.

And if Leitch believed in tolerance she would not characterize other cultures as "barbaric", she would not generalize their practices with allegations of "stoning", she would not require that immigrants to Canada "assimilate", and she would not find it necessary to implements a "values test" for new Canadians.

So let's be very clear about what Leitch wants with her values test.

She wants a country where people must work hard in order to get by, and where society is structured such that some people "get ahead" and other people are left behind.

She wants a country where supporting and caring for the well-being of others is optional, characterized as "generosity" rather than as social responsibility, where people are the recipients of support as charity rather than as their civil right.

She wants a country where people are 'free' to trample over each other, where they are free to exercise bias and prejudice, where they are not under constraint of 'political correctness', and where community organization and collectivism are prohibited from protecting people from these abuses.

She wants a country where 'equality' prevails and where, therefore, differences in individual conditions and circumstances are not accommodated at all.

And she want a country in which her own religion and culture are afforded special privileges, under the heading of 'religious tolerance', but where the practices of others can be classified as "barbaric" and therefore prohibited.

I disagree with all of these. I find these values to be fundamentally at odds with Canadian society. But I would not prohibit her entry as an immigrant on that basis, nor even prevent her support for and defense of these values in a public forum.

Kellie Leitch's values are not Canadian values, and the ultimate proof of this is that she would even consider the possibility that there would be a values test for new Canadians. Or for people, generally, at all.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Mar 30, 2021 7:13 p.m.