Making Sense of It All

Do you ever wonder at the chaos and disruption going on all around us during these tumultuous times, and wonder what to make of it all?

I certainly do, and the only way I seem able to make sense of it is to examine things through a very simple example.  A long, long time ago, I attended elementary school in a big city where everybody looked like me.  And as every Christmas season rolled around, the entire school was festooned in merry decoration—more of the Santa Claus variety than church décor, mind you.

Gaily-festooned trees inhabited every classroom, and carols of the season played before and after class on the public address system.  Every pupil in the school understood everything about the rituals and the reasons for marking the occasion because, almost without exception, we were a middle-class, white, Christian community.

Years later, I found myself employed as a teacher, then principal and superintendent, in the same school system.  But oh, how things had changed.  The schools were populated still by Christians, but in ever-diminishing numbers, as the city grew to include people from all over the world.  They were of all colours, from a multitude of nations, speaking different languages, practicing different religions.

By the late 1980’s, the school jurisdiction included not just Christians and Jews, but students who were Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and more.  We welcomed them, of course; they were all children, all happy to be in Canada, all eager to learn, all wanting to belong.  We made a point to celebrate our differences, even as we rejoiced in our togetherness.

Our mission was to empower every student to learn, to achieve success, and to participate responsibly in a pluralistic, global society.

Christmas was still important, naturally, to our Christian families, but equally important to the newcomer families were the religious celebrations of their different faiths.  And because there were many of those, the schools gradually moved from their previously-universal focus on only one to smaller-scale acknowledgements of them all.

In short, we changed.  We encouraged coexistence and tolerance.  And to me, immersed in the evolving culture, the change seemed both natural and justified.  But to some, particularly among those heretofore part of the WASP establishment, the transformation was abhorrent.

Those people are taking our country away from us!  If they come here, they should follow our ways!  If they don’t like it, they should go back where they came from!

Racism and bigotry—which had always existed, if not always visibly—became ever more prevalent.

In the 1990’s, I moved to a smaller, rural jurisdiction well north of the city.  To my astonishment, I found the schools under my aegis there to be almost identical to those I had attended in the 1950’s.  As I visited the schools at Christmas, I felt as if I had stepped backwards in time.  Almost everyone was white; almost everyone, including the Indigenous families, was Christian.  As opposed to the seventy-six languages spoken by the families of students at the high school where my wife had worked in the city, the entire community spoke only three—English, French, and Ojibwe.

To my dismay, however, I found the same racism and bigotry among some (although by no means all) of the local populace.

Why do the Frenchies get their own schools?  They should go to Quebec if they want to speak French!

How come the Indians get a free education?  Us taxpayers are paying for it!

Today, more than twenty years later, as I look at events going on in the larger world around us, I hear and see many of the same sorts of things, most often from those who have always enjoyed the privilege and advantage that come from having been part of the establishment.  Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia—expressed in all manner of vile ways across social media, particularly.  And too often voiced, or encouraged, by people who purport to be leaders.

The reason such things happen, I believe, is fear.  It is our fear of change—the fear of being displaced, overtaken, cast aside.  Collectively, we seem unable to recognize that there is enough here for all of us, that hoarding what we have from others diminishes, not only the hoard, but the hoarders, as well.

 So, I try to remember how, back in those long-gone, halcyon school-days, we tried to accommodate each other—people of all races, all religions, all genders, all socio-economic circumstances.  I try to remind those of my cohort from that era of the same thing.  And I try to convince the younger generations, those who have grown up in a meaner, less-tolerant, get-it-while-you-can society, how it could be so much better if we put ourselves in the shoes of the other.

That really is the only way I can make sense of it all.

By the Numbers

By demographic definition, I am what is sometimes not-so-flatteringly referred to as a WASP—a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant.  As such, I am in a sub-group of white-skinned people currently comprising approximately 80% of Canada’s population.  Not all white people are protestant, of course, nor are they all of Anglo-Saxon descent.  And neither are they all native-born.  But a good many of us are aging.

The other 20% of the population is made up of visible minorities—mainly South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean, and Japanese—and aboriginal people belonging to First Nations.  Not all of the visible minority people are native-born, either; approximately two-thirds of their number emigrated from other countries.  And many of them are young.

Immigration to Canada originates from almost two hundred countries, and immigrants number nearly seven million people of a total population of 35.85 million today.  Among this cohort is every skin colour imaginable.

ethnics2

Statistics Canada projects that more than half of immigrants in Canada will be Asian-born by 2036, if recent trends continue. At the same time, the share of European immigrants will decline by about half, to about 16 per cent.  More people will belong to a visible-minority group in the next twenty years, and the share of the working-age population who are members of a visible minority will reach up to 40%.  South Asians will remain the largest group, followed by Chinese.  In cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg, visible minorities could become the majority.

These visible minority projections do not include the aboriginal population.  A previous Statistics Canada projection to 2036 found the share of indigenous people in the population will grow as high as 6.1%, from 4.4 % in the 2011 census.

The total share of immigrants in Canada’s population is expected to reach up to 30% by 2036, which would be the highest since 1871.  Canada, as it marks its 150th birthday, already boasts one of the highest shares of foreign-born people in the developed world, and it appears the trend will continue.

Canada may also become more secular as the share of people who report having no religion continues to grow—up to about one-third of the population presently, compared with 24% in 2011.  At the same time, the number of people affiliated with non-Christian religions will reach about 15% of the population, up from 9% now.

religions3

One of the factors influencing these changes is the birth rate in Canada.  The last year the replacement-level fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman was reached—meaning couples, on average, had produced enough children to replace themselves—was 1971. In 2011, the total fertility rate was 1.61 children per woman, up slightly from the record low of 1.51 about a decade earlier.  Data from other studies, when examined, show that non-white mothers have higher fertility rates than the Canadian average drawn from all ethnic and religious groups.

For the first time, a study in 2015 found the number of Canadians over 65 to be larger than the number of citizens under 15.  Throughout the history of our social welfare system, there has been a large base of people at the bottom of the pyramid whose taxes have helped to support those at the top.  Now, that pyramid has been inverted, and the question arises as to how fewer taxpayers will be able to support pensioners who are living longer than ever before.

[Projections based on population models from the 2011 National Household Survey]

So what might all these statistics signify?  Why do they matter?

There are several implications, I think.  First, if Canada is to endure and prosper, immigration must continue apace.  No nation will survive in this age if its population is shrinking, or aging, without replenishment.

Second, our tolerance for religious and ethnic groups other than our own (regardless of who was here first or came later) must continue.  The numbers project a declining percentage of white Caucasians in an increasingly diverse, multi-ethnic Canadian population, all of whom must live harmoniously side-by-side if the country is to survive.  Hatred and vitriol will serve none of us well.

Another effect is a growing need for education, training, and retraining in order to equip citizens for the workplaces they will encounter.  With the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics, many of yesterday’s (and today’s) jobs will become obsolete.  The challenge is to ensure that young people—the workers of the future on whose productivity we will all depend—do not suffer a similar fate.

training

It is not a matter of propounding the concept of a global economy, or abhorring it; rather, it is the need to face the reality that we are irreversibly set upon that path.  The objective must be to maintain Canada’s uniqueness among the nations of the world, even as we become both trading partners and rivals with them.

As a nation, we will not be able to do that if we allow our cherished rights and freedoms to be trampled in endless, internal squabbles among ethnic groups, religious groups, and pro- and anti-immigration forces.  A free society, by its very definition, must evolve to accommodate all those who inhabit it.

I am a WASP, yes.  But first, I am a Canadian, with all that such status implies.  So, too, are my fellow-citizens, whether or not they look like me, worship as I do, speak the same first language, or honour the same traditions.  In Canada, there must be room for all of us.

From sea to sea to sea.