Will 2019 be the year of white backlash in Canada?

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Photo: proacguy1/Flickr

This is an election year in Canada, federally and in Alberta. Climate change -- and what to do or not do about it -- will be one unavoidable issue in the campaigns to come. The sniping on that has already started in earnest. The federal Conservative leader stands shoulder-to-shoulder with four provincial premiers promising to resist the carbon tax with all the force they can muster.

But the climate and the environment will not be the only big issue.

Identity and its twin, migration, are also shaping up to be major sources of political dispute in 2019. Again, it is the Conservatives who are on the attack, evoking the spectre of a flood of what they call illegal migrants into the country.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has even tried to sow panic about an innocuous United Nations agreement Canada just signed.

The Global Pact on Migration engages us to the not-very-radical idea that the nations of the world should treat all migrants humanely. As Sheer sees it, however, this bland, motherhood document, which affirms the need to respect migrants’ human rights while discouraging xenophobia “could open the door to foreign bureaucrats telling Canada how to manage our borders.”

Such tactics are not new.

The Harper Conservatives made an art form of trolling for votes by scapegoating targeted groups of migrants. They proudly and truculently cancelled funds for a small-budget refugee health program – since restored by the Liberals – and almost daily lashed out at “queue-jumpers” who supposedly abuse Canada’s refugee system to gain backdoor entry into the country.

White Christians fight back

There is, however, a newer and more disturbing noise we can expect to hear this coming year, and it is unabashedly and openly focused on race, quite specifically the white Christian race.

The man who went to a Justin Trudeau town hall in Regina to tell the prime minister that “Christianity and Islam don’t mix” and that Muslims are “coming here to kill us, yet you let them in” might represent nobody but himself. But there are plenty of others, with substantial followings, who are ready to stir the pot of white resentment.

Maxime Bernier, leader of the breakaway right-wing Peoples’ Party of Canada, is one of those.

Bernier does not merely take issue with the UN Migration Compact; he dismisses the UN itself as a “useless joke.” The world body, he says, and tweets repeatedly, seeks to impose a “world government on Canada.”

Earlier, as Bernier prepared to exit the Conservative party and found his own, he made his position on Canada’s multicultural personality clear, when he said: “Why should we promote ever more diversity? More diversity will not be our strength. It will destroy what has made us a great country.”

The most fully elaborated statement of white backlash, of late, has come from veteran Quebec journalist and broadcaster Denise Bombardier, who is currently a columnist for the popular tabloid daily, Le Journal de Montréal.

Bombardier has had a long and distinguished career in Quebec media, but of late she has taken to expressing anger and angst over foreign-born critics of white, North American -- and, in particular, Québécois -- society.

Most recently, Bombardier reacted with fury and contempt to an open letter to the premier of Quebec penned by the anti-racist activist and supporter of the progressive Québec Solidaire party, Amel Zaazaa. In that letter, published in the newspaper Le Devoir, Zaazaa says the current and fashionable Quebec notions of the neutrality of the state and of secularism are, in truth, the guises in which a racist system cloaks itself.

Zaazaa talks about racial profiling by police services, which count pitiably few racial minorities among their members, of the lack of diversity in Quebec media, and of the fact that the Quebec National Assembly is almost entirely white.

In particular, the activist points to prejudices and practices that exclude Muslims, especially Muslim women, from many positions.  A large number of veiled Muslim women find work in daycare centres, Zaazaa writes, even though they are over-qualified, because they can find no other job. Now, she adds, the new Quebec government wants to deny them even that employment, simply because they choose to cover their faces.

Go out and discover ‘white’ Quebec

In her column of January 4, Bombardier goes after Zaazaa hammer and tong. Bombardier tells her readers that Zaazaa’s narrow focus on the “multicultural Québec” minority community in which she lives prevents her from realizing that Quebec, as a whole, is very much “in the majority white.”  

The columnist then offers a little history lesson to the immigrant activist.

“Quebec was discovered by white French people,” she writes, “and, in 1759, conquered by the white British.” (She makes no mention of the Indigenous people who lived in Quebec when it was ‘discovered’.)

Bombardier accuses Zaazaa, who is of Tunisian origin, of behaving like many members of the “bourgeoisie” of ex-French colonies, who claim to be “implacable anti-colonialists,” while having benefited from the “advantages of the colonizer.” She never specifies what those advantages are.

Zaazaa, Bombardier says, should be careful not to impose “foreign models” on the society that has welcomed her. The Tunisian immigrant should broaden her knowledge of that society beyond her own ethnically diverse urban enclave to “Quebec outside of Montreal” – in other words, to “white” Quebec.

In her next column, of January 5, entitled “The Québécophobes,” Bombardier broadens her attack to all minority groups that “demand rights for themselves” while they “denigrate white Québécois” who are, in their eyes, “ill educated in the realities of the world.” 

These “trouble makers,” Bombardier writes, are “dangerous … social pyromaniacs.” The Muslims among them, she says, give a bad name to the “majority of Muslims in Quebec who behave like respectful and grateful citizens.” There is an “urgent need,” Bombardier concludes, to “extinguish” the “intolerance” promulgated by these “minority groups” who “howl like wolves.” 

Whites will soon be minorities in the countries they ‘discovered’

Less than a week later, Bombardier offers yet another column in the same general theme. This one is starkly entitled “The Decline of the whites.” 

The veteran journalist opens by noting the demographic fact that in many U.S. cities whites are already in the minority, and that by 2050, in such countries as Canada, New Zealand and the U.S., whites could become a minority group.

She then quotes Canadian-raised and educated political scientist Eric Kaufman, author of Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities, who recently told the Radio-Canada television program Le Point that “white identity must be considered an identity like the others, not an invention designed to maintain power. It is a set of myths and symbols with which whites identify.”

Bombardier concludes this polemic by castigating “those who denounce the whites and refuse to recognize the whites’ legitimate worries about their own identity.” Those unnamed denouncers, says Bombardier, affirm their own “black” or “yellow” or “Indigenous” identities, which they call “racialized,” while they inevitably characterize whites as “colonizers, slave-owners, racists, Islamophobes and other hurtful epithets.”

There you have it. Virulent white backlash is alive and well and living in Canada.

The year 2019 has barely begun, but in Bombardier’s multiple expressions of anger and resentment, and in her wild and scattershot ad hominem attacks and condescending generalities about minority commentators, we can see the beginnings of a very uncivil and explosive political debate to come. 

Fasten your seat belts.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Photo: proacguy1/Flickr


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