It was the wops, specifically the Italians, when I was a kid growing up in north Toronto. I wasn't allowed to call them that, it was just the term that my father used when he was describing what was wrong with the city or in particular the neighborhood.
Of course being a TTC bus driver, he had a wider range of groups that he referenced daily, coming home with stories about the damn kikes, coons, micks or spicks, depending which route he was on that month. I had no idea what these people looked like or if they had horns sticking out of their heads, all I knew was that they had done some injustice to my dad.
Despite that fact that many of my buddies at school were Italian or that my dad's best friend from work was Irish, every nationality that was more recent to Canada than those previous was given their own racial name.
During my time in Toronto the Italians were followed by immigrants from India and Pakistan, then Jamaica, and then so many different countries, that we seemed to run out of distinctive names to describe them. That's the way our country grew, depending in which neighborhood, major city or which province you were raised in.
Canada is a country of immigrants and each nationality has had it's own impact on Canada and not just in the so called melting pots of our major cities. Take Saskatchewan, please. (Sorry that was a Henny Youngman line to see if you were still paying attention). It was Ukrainians that introduced Red Fife wheat to Saskatchewan. At one time Saskatchewan was a bilingual province with both English and Ukrainian schools.
Although I had doubts about my father, I never considered my self to be a racist. At best I am a second generation Canadian, with my father being a first generation Orangeman and my mother migrating from England at age six. Unless you are a member of the First Nations or the Inuit, all of our families came from somewhere else.
I tried to raise my kids differently than my father raised me and they and their generation as a whole seemed a lot more tolerant than I ever was, or so I thought. Then Preston Manning led his Reform Party into Ontario during the 1993 election.
The Reform party had a large list of narrow views that they wanted to instill upon Canada
decentralization of federal government powers, senate reform, free market deregulation and reduction of government provided services, the ever popular cutting of taxes which seems to go along with eliminating federal powers and resulting social services, dismantling of Indian Affaires, removing Quebec's special status, criminalizing abortion, opposing gay and lesbian rights and introducing an immigration policy that was based solely the economic needs of the country.Sound like a familiar list.
Manning didn't elect any Reformers in Ontario during that election, but he got a lot more support in Ontario that I thought he ever would, especially with the younger people that I worked with, my son's generation. It wasn't the elimination of health care or abortion services or gay bashing that caught their attention and no one seemed to care about government powers or Quebec for that matter (hell we work in Toronto, the center of the universe). It was the proposed changes to the immigration rules that they found appealing.
Apparently immigrants were taking away Canadian jobs and although no one could give me a specific example, immigrants apparently had a special status and were being hired because they were immigrants and as far as the other policies that were included in the Reform Package, well the immigration problem needed to be addressed.
It is called Nativism or Political Nativism.
Nativism favors the interests of established Canadians as compared to claims or the interests of newcomers or immigrants. It is based on the belief that our ethnicity or culture is important to sustain and that all other groups should be measured in relationship to ours. Politically it manifests itself as opposing open immigration or imposing specific rules or status to the specific ethnic immigrants. It involves measuring the language, behavior, customs and religion of immigrants in comparison to our own.
It is the only Reform policy that Harper has so far been able to openly get away with.
A year ago our immigration minister Jason Kenny sat in on an immigration meeting in New Delhi where he met a woman who had been a Canadian citizen for twelve years, and determined that she couldn't conduct the interview in English. The fact that she was in India or that English was her second or third language didn't matter to Kenny. It became the example for why we have to bring language reforms to immigration.
Selling nativistic policy reform also requires that Canadians understand that our system is too open and subject to abuse. Kenny has tried to accomplish this many times. The one that I liked was comparing our increasing number of refugee claims to the declining numbers in the US. The assumption being that they have proper controls and our system is too open. Of course the minister and the article both forget to mention that the US model is broken, illegal and has caused greater problems.
However Harper's and Kenny's political nativism is more than just tightening the rules on language it is about new immigrants accepting our culture and values. Since values are subjective and vary across cultures and are in many ways are related with individual or group belief systems, whose culture and values are we accepting as the norm.
Is it the Italians that I grew up with, who have now moved to Woodbridge or the Pakistanis that moved into Brampton, or Toronto's gay community on Church Street. I guess it could be communities out side of Toronto (sorry just checking again if you are still paying attention), maybe the French Canadians in Quebec or the Chinese in Richmond or hey the church that Harper goes to.
In short our nativist immigration minister takes every small event and uses it to describe why we need new tougher immigration policies. It is the only reform policy that they can get any leverage with and they are hammering it home at every opportunity.
Here is a recent example from the Vancouver olympics. Before the giant beavers or hockey game players from the closing ceremonies were packed up, Kenny was ranting about refugee claims following the Olympics. Based on this example Kenny is now proposing designating countries as safe countries. The safe country list will be made up of countries where most of the refugee claims are likely false.
Of course the reality is that only twenty two people claimed refugee status in Vancouver after the Olympics. The last time BC held any international games, there were 730 claims. Maybe we are just not such a desired country anymore, but it was a big enough sound bite for Kenny to propose designating countries as safe countries. Of course which countries are listed as safe is decided by the minister.
Nativism works for Harper and his minister Kenny and it is easily promoted and spread to the provinces. Look at the recent spiel from Kenny about the provinces being too generous to refugees, or Quebec's niqab debacle.
Yes it appears that we Canadians want political nativism.
My father died young or at least I think he did, since I have now outlived his age by two years and similar to the city that he drove a bus for his views on immigrants and immigration changed as he aged. They somewhat had to since his fellow drivers, unionists and friends were now white, black, brown, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, and even Jewish.
In his later years he still ranted about passengers, but he no longer labelled them with a racial tag. He once said he was surprised that I never turned out to be racist, based on the way I was raised. He believed it was passed on from generation to generation and realized that he had to change.
He would not have understood the word nativism, hell I never heard of it until today. If my father was still alive today I truly believe that he would look at this Harper government and the nativistic changes that Kenny is proposing to immigration and call them out for who and what they are.
A group of racists, spreading racism and he wouldn't vote them either.