Diversity, Fragmentation and Opinion Polls in Canada
Someone at the Globe and Mail seems to have decided it’s necessary to hold up a journalistic microscope to the fault lines in Canadian society. First there was a piece by Daniel Stoffman on the balance between multiculturalism and integration, ably dissected by our own Renee, and a somewhat rambling response by Rick Salutin. Now we have an essay by Michael Valpy on “the end of the age of our social cohesion”.
At first Valpy merely appears to be worried that Canadian public opinion is has undergone too much “fragmentation” to generate meaningful poll numbers for the likes of Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff, which I would regard as no bad thing. However, Valpy soon quotes Ignatieff’s own book True Patriot Love to bring out some deeper concerns:
We need a public life in common,” he writes, “some set of reference points and allegiances to give us a way to relate to the strangers among whom we live. Without this feeling of belonging, even if only imagined, we would live in fear and dread of each other. When we can call the strangers citizens, we can feel at home with them and with ourselves.”
Although I haven’t read True Patriot Love, I can’t help wondering if Ignatieff was thinking of Rudyard Kipling’s bleak poem The Stranger, which must be one of the most eloquent appeals ever written for xenophobia or at least xenoskepticism. A particularly evocative stanza runs:
The Stranger within my gates,
He may be evil or good,
But I cannot tell what powers control–
What reasons sway his mood;
Nor when the Gods of his far-off land
Shall repossess his blood.
However, Valpy seems remarkably unconcerned with strangers from other lands in his account of declining social cohesion in Canada (who knows why – I cannot tell what reasons sway Valpy’s mood). Valpy frets about generation gaps, rural/urban divides, and even declining newspaper readership, and I wouldn’t dispute the importance of these points. But on the one reality that most conspicuously promotes social fragmentation in Canada, Valpy is eyebrow-raisingly silent. He simply never mentions the fact that we have gone from the traditional two solitudes of British and French Canada to a multitude of potential solitudes with roots all over the world.
I don’t think the gods of far-off lands are about to repossess anyone’s blood – if nothing else, I hope it will be a while before the Morrigan repossesses mine. However, it seems almost axiomatic that, whatever the official line on multiculturalism or integration, mass immigration must have reduced the number of loyalties, sensibilities and cultural reference points that the Canadian public can be presumed to hold in common. Diversity and fragmentation, at least if diversity is more than skin deep, are just two ways of saying the same thing. This isn’t to say that such fragmentation is without advantages – but if Valpy really wants to know why pollsters can’t get a decent answer out of the Canadian people, part of the answer surely lies in Kipling’s poem.