The Pursuit of Division

By Martin Loney

Canada, it is often said, is too hard on itself. Despite its frequent ranking as one of the best countries in the world in which to live, it regularly accuses itself of such evils as systemic racism, discrimination in the workplace, and gross gender inequality.

In this provocative new study, Martin Loney, a social policy consultant with an academic background, answers these critics. The idea that Canada is a country deeply divided along lines of race and gender is, he claims, without foundation in empirical studies. It follows that our attempts to provide legislative and institutional remedies are misguided.

Take the example of employment equity. The assumption behind such programs is that preferential hiring is necessary to redress historical inequities. This assumption, however, has been borrowed wholesale from the American experience, where affirmative action was a response to the legacy of slavery. There is nothing comparable to this in Canadian history.

Furthermore, and leaving aside the problem of definition, there is not evidence to suggest that all visible minorities are disadvantaged. Japanese Canadians, to take just one example, have suffered some of the worst discrimination in Canada this century. Yet in 1991 they enjoyed the second-highest median income of any ethnic group, earning over $4,000 a year more on average than Canadians of British origins, and almost $10,000 a year more than those of Portuguese origin. Is this a group in need of a legislative leg up?

Then, as always in these discussions, there is the university.

Is there a gender problem at Canadian universities? Yes – the number of male students, both in terms of enrolment and graduation, has been falling steadily for 20 years. In fact, it was recently reported that the incoming first-year class at the University of Guelph this year will be 62% female! Such a problem as this, however, is unlikely to get much attention from the grievance industry. Instead, there is only the predictable call for more women faculty members.

Meanwhile, despite warnings to the contrary, the percentage of women on the faculties of Canadian universities is rising at an entirely unreasonable rate. Indeed, if one takes into account the number of women within the pool of qualified candidates for each job, women are doing very well.

Warming to his task, Loney goes on to challenge the hypocritical and selfish politics of university ideologues, the infamous tenured radicals “whose idea of social justice never seems to involve a personal contribution.” Harshest of all is his judgment on the York University faculty strike: “A fitting epitaph to the politics of the progressive elite, a monumental comment on their irrelevance to low income Canadians and the confusion of personal advancement with social progress.”

A book that advances such positions might be assumed to be pretty far to the political right, and in some of its assumptions (particularly in the area of economics), it is.

But this only obscures the basic point Loney is making – that the real dividing line in Canada “is not between races or genders but social classes.” To put it bluntly: Whatever happened to the Canadian Left? In a time of growing social inequality, why has the grievance industry been allowed to take over the debate? There is, after all, nothing progressive about “skin politics.” Race- and gender-driven agendas bear scant relation to what has always been a strong tradition of Canadian socialism. It cannot be emphasized too much that gender and racial issues do not address social and economic inequality. Rising child poverty and the dismantling of social welfare programs co-exist quite comfortably with victim rhetoric.

In fact, the main beneficiaries of the culture of complaint are social elites. A statistical handful of well-positioned professionals may take advantage of employment equity, but this does nothing to help the more numerous and less privileged members of the real underclass. Meanwhile, the pursuit of division rewards the political power that funds it with social peace.

Well researched and passionately argued, The Pursuit of Division is guaranteed to stimulate a debate that is long overdue. Whether you agree with him or not, Loney makes a case that demands a response.

Review first published August 22, 1998.


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