The results of the first round of the French presidential elections came as no surprise: the two favourite candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Holland, will face each other in round two on May 6, 2012. The only “surprise” was that the Front National, the anti-immigrant party, ended up at the third place with a record 17.9 per cent of the vote.
The Front National went from being a marginal party in the 70s to being the third largest political force today. Considering the party’s history and its platform, that’s rather scary. For instance, some party officials have occasionally promoted historical revisionism, specifically related to the Second World War, and the party’s opposition to immigration and immigrants has never been stronger.
Frankly, if such a party existed in Canada, I’d be really annoyed. Fortunately, here, the influence of such fringe parties is very limited, so limited that I never hear anything about the Heritage Front or the Nationalist Party of Canada.
Canada is a very multicultural country: in fact, multiculturalism was adopted as the official policy of the Canadian government and the 2006 Census reported more than 200 different ethnic origins in the country. Few politicians even question the need for immigration, and the debate is usually around immigration quotas.
Oh, we do have a bunch of nuts here too. There are mostly linked to their U.S. counterparts, from religious fanatics who want to reopen the abortion debate in Canada to those who would love to see creationism taught at school.
But I don’t see Canadians are racist—that should be pretty good news for most immigrants.
Admittedly, I may not be the right person to judge whether Canadians dislike immigrants. After all, French is my first language and I’m not a visible minority. I blend in easily and I’m much less likely to be discriminated against than other immigrants from Africa or Asia.
That said, Canadians can be conservative. I lean to the left, sometime the far-left, and conservatism drives me crazy. For instance, I stay away from the Sun, a conservative rag that typically rant against Liberals, high taxes, socialism, lazy unemployed people, unruly children and “punks” and promote the “not in my backyard” mentality. I wouldn’t even use this “newspaper” to clean my windows. But I must admit I rarely read or hear blatantly racist comments.
Can Canadians even afford to be racist? Canada needs immigrants—to meet demographic challenges and to fill the gaps in the labour market—and the country is well aware of that. Canadians don’t really question multiculturalism. At times, the religion or cultural practices of some groups are under the spotlight but such “diversity dilemmas” are to be expected and they remain relatively low-key compared to other countries (try to talk about Islam with French people…!).
I believe that what some immigrants brand as “racism” is simply the rite of passage most newcomers have to go through, no matter where they are from. The frustration of not finding a job because of having foreign credentials or the feeling of not being appreciated enough by locals can be overwhelming for some immigrants, but it’s rarely racism per se… more like an adaptation period. A Canadian who just moved from Manitoba can face problems finding a job in Ontario or in Quebec simply because he doesn’t have the network and references he used to have in his home province, not to mention that each province has its own vibes.
Immigrants to Canada will sometime hear stupid comments about the immigration system, but most can be chalked up to ignorance. For instance, I remember chatting with a woman in the bus who assured me Canada was being invaded by sick immigrants who just wanted to take advantage of the country’s great health system. Once I explained her that immigrants who had health problems were usually not allowed to immigrate in the first place, and that there was a waiting period to be eligible to get healthcare in Canada, she looked away. Much easier that way. But hey, maybe she learned something that day?
Have you ever been discriminated against in Canada? Elsewhere in the world? Would do be worried if Canada has a major national far-right party, like in France