Canada’s changing face

Canada, whose early settlers were of European – mainly French and British – extraction, is becoming a nation of blended cultures and races in which the old guard will eventually become the new ‘visible minority’ in large urban areas such as Toronto and Vancouver.

Recent news headlines have declared the changing face of Canada as recognized through Statistics Canada’s arguably Eurocentric fixation on tracking new Canadians. According to StatsCan’s findings, by 2031 one in three Canadians will be a person who is not White and one in four Canadians will have another country of origin. In Toronto, 63 per cent of the population will be non-White. (Could this be one of the reasons Ontario Conservative MPP Bill Murdoch has begun calling on Toronto to separate from the rest of Ontario? Murdoch has suggested that Toronto should seek provincial status.)

A number of Canadian institutions have been self-consciously taking polls, trying to come to grips with the changing composition of the country. The StatsCan details were quickly followed by reports on the results of such polls – one commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the venerable ‘Mother Corp’ – that tried to quantify perceptions of racial discrimination. The polls to a greater or lesser degree had the same conclusions about perceptions of discrimination – that discrimination is based significantly on race or, in the case of the CBC-commissioned poll, on religion.

Although Canadians take pride in their tolerance of this country’s ‘cultural mosaic’, the very act of taking such polls signify that there is apprehension among some sectors of Canadian society as the new Canada emerges.

The new Canada had its gestation during the 1960s, a time when there were unsettled relations between Canada’s dominant francophone and Anglophone cultures. That when Caribbean women started coming here, first as domestics and then as nurses. The wave of immigration swelled even more during the 1980s. Over the past six years, some 1.25 million immigrants have settled in Canada.

Now, 49 per cent of the 2.6 million people living in Toronto have come from elsewhere. Beyond our city, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary receive the majority of immigrants entering the country annually. One result is that immigrant enclaves, both residential and commercial, have evolved within the GTA as well as the other major areas receiving immigrants.

Which brings us to a critical point in the integration process: While those who arrived here in the first wave of immigrants – those who came as domestic workers, or nurses, or skilled tradesmen – had a comparatively easier transition into the working stream of Canadian life, the later wave – especially those who are professionals – struggled, and continues to struggle, to merge with the mainstream, particularly in the area of employment.

Ironically, those mainstream information media that point out these changing patterns in our country also maintain, across the board, the face of the old guard, that is, White and mostly male. For more proof of this pattern, take a look at the regular end-of-month Globe and Mail catalogue of congratulations listing those who have been promoted to the top tier of corporate industry.

With the changing pattern of Canada’s composition, what we face is the possibility of two ‘solitudes’. This time, instead of the divide between French and English Canada, it could be between old and new Canada, one in which more recently arrived Canadians set up their own world of industry and commerce that evolves separately from the already established one, and based mainly in the urban areas.

So we may go to each other’s festivals, parades and restaurants, but we may only intersect as separate and distinct business interests. However, given the broader international reach of the new wave, it will be interesting to see how the resistance by the old guard to removing the glass ceiling will play out. Or for how long and in what areas of business such refusal to accept change will last.

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