What are 'Canadian values?' When asked, a majority of Canadians say they expect immigrants and refugees to adopt Canadian values yet, do Canadians actually share the same ones? At first glance the answer seems to be 'no.' How else can we explain the deep and historic differences among Anglophones, Francophones and Aboriginal peoples that has dominated our recent history? Or, the polarization in regional identity between 'Easterners' and 'Westerners' that plays out in every federal election.
If Canadians share the same common beliefs ,why does Quebec feel it is necessary to enact their own charter of values? Why does Alberta think it has the right to impose its energy strategy on the country? Do our respective cultures and belief systems overlap enough to create a common set of objectives and ideals that we can call 'Canadian values?'
Google the term and you get think-tanks and a myriad of news articles.
Should we listen to the Manning Centre, dedicated to building Canada's conservative movement, the Broadbent Institute, an "independent, non-partisan organization championing progressive change through the promotion of democracy, equality, and sustainability," or the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation, which "offers a neutral meeting ground to contemplate and address the major issues affecting our society and our future through research, learning, scholarship and debate"? Each of these institutions have opined on Canadian values with often discordant results.
What is Canada known for internationally? Tolerance, multiculturalism, democracy, the rule of law, public health care, peacekeeping - are these our core values? We could look to our constitutional documents to gain some insight.
Our Charter sets out fundamental freedoms, democratic rights, mobility rights, legal rights, equality rights, Aboriginal rights and language rights which are guaranteed to all Canadians.
Arguably by entrenching these values in our constitution they are important enough to be considered essential Canadian values and a good starting point. What's in the next circle out? Prime Minister Stephen Harper often claims his party, the Conservative Party, best represents Canadian values but that's just political posturing.
Linking Canadian values to party affiliation gets us nowhere but it does illustrate the wide range of values held by Canadian voters.
Each party advocates their own vision of how Canadian values should manifest themselves in society, from the environment to the economy to social programming. Politics is a forum where the evolution, or in some cases regression, of values can be debated by Canadians.
Our own community, ethnic and cultural values inform our understanding of Canadian values and are often the lens through which we see and interpret them.
In an article about balancing cultural diversity with Canadian values in the context of immigration, Wally Oppal wrote "there clearly needs to be an accommodation both on the part of Canadians who must accept the new reality, and immigrants who must adopt Canadian customs and values."
He sees a need for newcomers to become aware of their new country's values and to not isolate themselves in ethnic enclaves.
Given the inherent contradictions in our national identity how can we expect someone to be 'Canadianized?' If you were asked what are 'Canadian values,' what would you say? If your neighbour had a radically different view would you respect his or her opinion? How do we share our stories as richly distinct Canadians with those who have decided to immigrate to our country? This is something we will continue to explore together.
The Province just completed a series entitled Racism in Paradise where people explored these difficult issues; the conversations weren't easy but the discoveries were worthwhile. Let's start our own dialogue on Canadian values - letters to the editor are welcome.
Tracy Samra is an Aboriginal lawyer and consultant with more than 20 years experience working with Aboriginal groups in Canada. She is Cree and recently relocated with Nanaimo to live the Island life. She writes a regular column for the Daily News and can be reached via email at: NDDColumn@gmail.com or on Twitter: @TracySamra
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