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February 26, 2011 / mike54martin

A Conservative Enclave

                               A Conservative Enclave

Judging by his recent remarks the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism would like to drop the “multiculturalism” part of his portfolio. It would also appear that he is unaware of the efforts of newcomers and their families to integrate fully into Canadian society. Finally, for someone who professes that he would like to see ethnic “enclaves” dissipate, his Department’s recent and on-going funding cuts to settlement agencies are taking away one of the main measures that newcomers can utilize to fully integrate.

I am really struggling with what exactly the Minister means by “enclaves”. Is he talking about the various Chinatowns that have existed for years in most Canadian cities? Probably not, he has been working hard for the last five years at trying to bring the Chinese over to the Conservative party. Is he talking about the fact that some immigrants choose to live in the Greek, Italian, Jewish or Polish part of a particular city. No, those are also targets for his small “c” conservative audience that he hopes to convert.

No the truth is that he is probably talking about the areas where “they” live. You know the Africans, the Somalis, the Arabs, the Muslims. Those are the people that he wants us to consider as the “other” They are the ones who in his view are not pulling their weight and hiding behind their language, religion, customs, even head scarves.

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of immigrants who come to Canada try very hard to adapt to their new language, culture and customs. They often arrive with only their personal belongings and it is natural that would initially seek out family, friends and communities from their own culture to get over the first wave of integration. After that they start looking for services and agencies that can help them become more proficient in one of Canada’s official languages, how to find work, and get their children into the education system. To get these services and aid in their integration they turn to the various settlement agencies which have been established for this purpose in every major centre in Canada.

With this support they can learn to navigate the Canadian “system” and many quickly make the transition from newcomer to productive member of society. Without these services some immigrants can easily be dismayed and that is when they run the risk in being trapped in Mr. Kenney’s ethnic “enclaves”. So it is very surprising to see Mr. Kenney cut funding from the very sector that would accomplish his stated goal. One would hope that this is not a self-fulfilling prophesy on behalf of the Minister but like his references to a “big push” for private immigration sponsorship it is hard not to believe exactly that.

Canada is a country built and populated by immigrants. In each successive wave newcomers have battled and won against ignorance and discrimination. We hope that the Minister is not planning to erect new barriers to their full inclusion into the Canadian family. They may need a little more support when they first arrive but if the past is any experience they soon become valued and positive contributors to our social, economic and political life.

We must strongly resist the bait that Jason Kenney is offering to both those of us who have been fortunate to have been born here or have been part of an earlier migration and to those newcomers who happen to share some of his conservative or religious views. We cannot let them make a division between “them and us”. We have survived and prospered as a country because we asked people to leave their conflicts behind. We will only do the same in the future if we reject the Conservatives vision of who deserves to be a Canadian.

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