First published: February 26, 2008
The declaration of an independent Kosovo over the last weekend was a striking example of freedom, but it also a strong message around intolerance worthy of the attention of residents in Northumberland County.
While images in the news media of people dancing and flag-waving in the streets of Pristina, the capital city of the new country, other the footage of riots in neighbouring Serbia presented a stark contrast. The actions of the Kosovan government ended two decades of limbo for this region of the world, as it also sparked the desire for one race of people to express their intolerance for the freedoms of another.
Two recent debates within the community have demonstrated an unhealthy intolerance by come members on topics that inflame passions on both sides: immigration and religion.
First, it is important to thank the authors of two letters in this newspaper in the past few weeks for raising the issues around immigration and multiculturalism. The pair sparked a debate within the community, providing ample opportunity for readers to make up their own minds with the arguments presented on both sides. This is far better than the usual places in coffee shops, bars, arenas or street corners and the like where the embers of racism, prejudice and intolerance can be fanned quietly without facts or any challenges. Stereotypes are bandied around in a cavalier manner with little regard to their insulting and harmful nature.
Sadly, the facts don’t support the author’s contentions, but merely continue to mine the anti-immigration sentiments fueled by the Harris Tories dating back to the 1995 election. As Canadian Business magazine reported in its special report on diversity in the workforce, as boomers retire and Canadians reproduce at a rate that does little to help the demands of an expanding work force, immigration helps the economy by supplying skilled workers, not just in trades, but in professions, as well. Visible minorities make up 70 per cent of labour market growth. Experts say companies are more likely to succeed in today’s national and international marketplace when they embrace diversity.
Yet, minorities continue to be underrepresented. A study by CPI Hazell & Associates, a Toronto human resources firm, concludes the three obstacles immigrants face are a lack of experience in the Canadian workforce, difficulty transferring qualifications and language. However, the Conference Board of Canada estimates the country loses $4 to $5 billion a year in tax revenues because immigrants are not working in their own field. Study after study blames a bureaucratic failure rather than immigrants themselves. In fact, some economist praise the waves of immigrants because they provide skilled trades and take up many jobs in areas that are in desperate need. Unfortunately, these people find it most difficult to work in white collar jobs.
But, this is not the only area of intolerance most recently debated in the community. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is proposing to end the use of the Lord’s Prayer for opening the sessions at Queen’s Park. The reason for the change is to better reflect Ontario’s diversity.
According to Statistics Canada, 70 per cent of Ontarians are Christian, while 16 per cent have no religious affiliation, the remainder represents other faiths, including Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh – all well below two per cent of the total population. In Cobourg, 80 per cent are Christian and Port Hope is 79 per cent.
If it were only a matter of numbers, then reciting the Lord’s Prayer should be the practice in all levels of government. But, that is not the point. There must be a clear separation of church and state. Religion has no place in politics and while it might inform personal beliefs, morals and attitudes, it should never be the engine driving our government. Yet, we do expect our leaders to be moral and ethical individuals when making decisions on our behalf. Therefore, it is important to take a few moments to remind politicians to act in this manner. Then, to be fair, a moment of silent reflection can serve this purpose.
It is far too easy to argue the majority should rule, especially in Northumberland. The immigrant population in Cobourg for 2006 is 2,440 out of 17,500 or 14 per cent and Port Hope is 1,725 out of 16,000 or 11 per cent. So, as white, Anglo Canadians, these West Northumberland residents are well within their rights, some might argue.
One only needs to remember Kosovo to see what intolerance does. A great Eastern European country spent the last 30 years falling apart as ethnic violence and religious intolerance abound. The once proud nation of Yugoslavia was shattered by war, violence and abusive treatment as people like Slobodan Milosevic ran rampant before NATO stopped him in 1999. Since then, Kosovan continued to be ill-treated by the Serb majority.
For all the rhetoric around what it means to be Canadian, we are tolerant people. A Sun Media/ Leger Marketing poll released in January 2007 points out 51 per cent of those surveyed said they were not at all racist and 38 per cent said only slightly racist. And, 68 per cent think we are all equal. These results are considered accurate plus or minus 1.8 per cent 19 times out of 20.
The answer is obvious. Those who bemoan issues like immigration and the Lord’s Prayer are truly a minority in our midst. And, while they can inflame us, these people only represent a majority on paper. The spirit of Canadians, and those in Northumberland, favour tolerance, equality egalitarianism and pluralism in our community. Still, it never hurts to reaffirm this so we never forget it.