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Multiculturalism & Diversity

Speech to the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada

Posted on May 10, 2010
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Toronto, ON.

Thank you.

Please join me in congratulating Thomas (Saras) and his team on this week’s exhibition.

I also want to recognize Minister (Eric) Hoskins from the Government of Ontario.

Cette semaine est un véritable témoignage sur la force de la liberté de la presse.

Quand vous êtes à votre mieux, vous rassemblez notre pays. Vous jetez des ponts entre les différentes communautés et à l’intérieur même de celles-ci.

This week is a living testament to the power of press freedom.

Through newspapers and magazines, television and radio and new media, you speak to 12 million Canadians in the languages and cultures that enrich our country.

You inform and educate New Canadians about our democracy, and our rights and responsibilities as citizens.

By encouraging Canadians of diverse backgrounds to pursue public service, you do an immense public service yourselves. But we still have work to do. Our Parliament, our courts, our boardrooms, and our public service do not yet reflect the full diversity of our people.

And so I need you. I need your readers, your listeners and viewers. As candidates. In high party office. In Parliament. And at the Cabinet table.

I’m proud that the former Liberal government broke new ground in its diversity. I’m proud of the diversity in my party.  With a name like mine, I have to believe in diversity.  But I want to lead a truly national government—one that truly represents our country.

We will create opportunities—in education, in party politics, and in public service—and we will encourage young people from every community to seize those opportunities.

And, with your help, we will succeed.

I’ve been attacked by my political adversaries for living and working outside of Canada. But I’m proud of what I achieved. And I don’t think that living and working outside of this country makes you any less Canadian.

Je souhaite voir plus de jeunes canadiens se mettre à l’épreuve autour du monde. Créer des amitiés et des contacts. Et revenir à la maison avec un sentiment de fierté renouvelé d’être canadien.

I want more young people to test themselves against the world, and come home with a renewed sense of pride in being Canadian. That’s a goal worthy of this great country.

My opponents don’t talk about what I actually did when I was living abroad. For 20 years, I was a print and broadcast journalist, working freelance. Like many of you,  I was raising a family, and at any one time I couldn’t tell you where my next paycheque was coming from.

So we share a profession, you and I, and I know the challenges you face.

Some of you lead major news organizations, with a large full-time staff. Others work another job, and put out your paper on top of that, devoting energy and love to serve your community. I see the results, because I’m one of your readers.

You shape the debate in Canada and in your homelands. You hold the government to account and you seek to protect Canadians abroad—and I thank you for that.

We need to find ways to make you stronger. We can start by listening to this Council. We will examine how the government’s Public Works department buys advertising space—to make sure it’s fair and representative and reaching Canadians broadly.

We can’t have a truly free press until we have financially-secure media organizations that speak for our diversity. If we can help make that difference, then we should.

I’m glad that press freedom is the theme of this week’s exhibition. A free press is a press that bites, even bites the hand that feeds. Believe me, I’ve felt the bite myself, but sometimes we politicians need to be bitten.

As a journalist and a human rights teacher, I’ve travelled to so many countries where great peoples are suffocated under the blanket of censorship. Countries without press freedom cannot breathe. They cannot progress. They cannot right injustice.  Canadians must always stand with those who fight for press freedom everywhere.

But our greatest obligation, as a free country, is to stand at home for the same openness we seek abroad.

Let’s be frank:  some of our leaders say one thing about openness and transparency in opposition and another in power.

A year ago, the Prime Minister spoke to this Council. He said, and I quote:

“Our government does not tell journalists what to say or attempt to intimidate those with whom it disagrees. Instead, we believe strongly that Canadians’ freedom is enhanced when journalists are free to pursue the truth, to shine light into dark corners, and to insist on the process of holding governments accountable.”

A few months later, he shut down Parliament.

His government has turned Access to Information into Denial of Information to the press and public alike.

He fought disclosure of documents relating to the Afghan detainee scandal until the Speaker ruled against him.

He leads the most secretive government in Canadian history.

Last Monday, on World Press Freedom Day, a Conservative senator told groups that work for the rights of women in the poorest countries in the world to just “shut up”—that if they dare oppose the Conservative Party, they will be silenced.

The next day, 11 groups lost their funding.

We have to do politics differently. We will not follow Mr. Harper’s example. We will not tell you one thing in opposition and another in government. We will not just talk about openness, we will practice it.

Let me make another commitment: we will not divide communities for political gain.

The Conservatives are experts at this. They pick issues that polarize Canadians, that polarize communities, that turn people against one another, and they exploit those divisions to win votes.

Look at gun control. They’ve set urban Canada against rural Canada.

Look at arts and culture. They’ve set Quebec against the rest of Canada.

Look at the Middle East. They’ve made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a partisan issue, for the first time ever.

This is dangerous. Dangerous for our national unity. Dangerous for our national interest. Dangerous for our public policy.

A few months ago, our party held a conference in Montréal. We had more than 25,000 people taking part. One of our speakers was Bob Fowler, one of our greatest Canadian diplomats, and a man who has earned the right to speak his mind.

And speak his mind he did. He had some strong words—for the Liberal Party and for Canada.

He warned us that using foreign conflicts for domestic political advantage is a dangerous game—a game we play at the risk of losing our very soul. Those are his words, not mine.

But Bob Fowler is right. Our duty, as Canadians, is to share the public space in this country, and to measure public policy against the national interest, not partisan interest or community interest.

As journalists, you’re part of this, just as much as I am. My professional duty is never to divide Canadians for political gain. Yours is never to polarize our communities and put our peaceful diversity at risk.

We are all Canadians. And we must all put Canada first. My number one rule in politics is to address everyone as a Canadian first, last and always. The common identity we share is so much stronger than all the old enmities that divided us in other lands.

Old disagreements run deep in many communities in this country. And while we can each honour our heritage in our own way, we can never allow old disagreements to poison our public debate.

We cannot allow conflicts abroad to divide Canadians at home. We cannot tear the threads of mutual respect and common citizenship that unite us as a country.

Let’s be frank with each other: A tiny and unrepresentative minority of extremists does exist in many communities in Canada.

A few weeks ago, one of my Liberal colleagues, Ujjal Dosanjh, was warned to stay away from a Vaisakhi parade in Surrey, British Columbia, for his own safety.

This is the same Ujjal Dosanjh who was severely beaten two decades ago by extremists in his community.

That should never happen in Canada. Extremism has no place in any community. Our democratic stage must never be used as a platform for violence towards others here or overseas. You and I share an obligation to denounce political violence and extremism wherever we find it.

This is the responsibility that comes with political freedom and freedom of the press. We can never allow those freedoms to be turned against us. We can never polarize our communities and our country in order to sell papers or win votes.

We cannot be opposed to separatism in our own country and countenance it in other countries. We cannot preach tolerance and democracy here, and condone terrorism overseas.

Let me go further. Our country’s public space is a space for reconciliation, where communities can reach out to one another. Our starting point is our shared citizenship.

Rather than retrench ourselves in ancient animosities, Canada is a chance to start anew—to open ourselves up—to find common ground. And that capacity—to make a fresh start—is why so many people come to this country year after year after year.

There can be no better way to heal wounds overseas than by binding them up at home—by listening, respecting, and understanding each other, as fellow Canadians.

Multiculturalism is not a pact of mutual indifference, but a binding commitment to stand together as Canadians around the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the key values: tolerance, democracy, respect for each other and respect for the rule of law.

So let me make one final commitment to you this evening, on behalf of my party:

We will say the same thing to all Canadians, whether in a church basement in Rimouski, or a mandir in Brampton, a gurdwara in Vancouver, a mosque in Toronto, or a synagogue in Winnipeg.

We will never make the insulting assumption that the members of a community all think the same way. You only need to read your editorial pages to know how wrong that is.

As politicians and as journalists, we must never address Canadians from different backgrounds as anything other than equal Canadian citizens. You are proud of your communities. So are your readers, listeners, and viewers. But you are also proud of being Canadian.

You want your community to be respected. But you also want to be respected as Canadian citizens.

Vous voulez que vos communautés soient respectées. Mais vous voulez aussi être respectés en tant que citoyens canadiens.

That equality of citizenship is fundamental to the freedom of the press, which we’re celebrating this week. It’s also the soul of Canadian multiculturalism, written into our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We can never pick and choose which groups deserve respect and fair treatment. But we can advance the interests of all our communities by advancing the national interest of our country.

Our country is not a collection of provinces, regions, or solitudes—nor is it a hotel. It is our home and native land.

And tonight, together, we celebrate a simple, shared conviction: that we are one because we are many, that we are greater than the sum of our parts, that we are more than a collection of communities—we are one great people.

This is our Canada. This is what we’ll defend, together.

Thank you.