On the one hand, the past weeks spent deconstructing Scheer’s now-definitively failed reign have been largely shallow, devoid of data and, as the Toronto Sun’s Anthony Furey put it, “incredibly boring.”
On the other, the conclusion reached by Canada’s commentators and consultants — that the religious Scheer was too “socially conservative” to win October’s federal election — represents the elite’s clear answer to an important question: How much diversity should Canada tolerate?
Embracing diversity is said to be one of modern Canada’s proudest accomplishments. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s favorite catchphrase — “Canada is strong not despite our differences, but because of them” — implies a country that finds worth (strength, even) in a population that’s almost defiantly heterogeneous. In a 2018 speech, Trudeau went further, decrying mere “tolerance” of diversity as insufficient.
Tolerance means “I grudgingly admit that you have a right to exist,” he scolded. “So let’s try for something a little more like acceptance, respect, friendship, and yes, even love.”
Such preening has nevertheless overlapped with a growth of ideological conformity in Canadian politics, in which diversity of opinion yields ample hostility, but little love. On abortion and LGBTQ issues in particular, progressives insist Canada is only strong when complete homogeneity exists.
Scheer did not run against same-sex marriage. He proposed no changes to Canada’s regime of unregulated abortion — among the most liberal on earth. Yet because Scheer is often characterized as a “devout Catholic,” calls himself “personally pro-life” and won’t answer “no” when asked if homosexuality is sinful, the self-appointed guardians of Canadian public life have declared him representative of a type of diversity that’s flatly unacceptable.
Or, as New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh bluntly put it, “You cannot have Mr. Scheer’s beliefs and be the prime minister of Canada.”
Singh has ample diversity credentials of his own. He is an orthodox Sikh, so the significance of his prime ministerial candidacy was easily apparent. Yet Singh’s worse defeat has not been widely interpreted by politicians and pundits as proof of the repulsiveness of his nonconformity. This is because Singh has resisted all opportunities to present his faith as something that makes him philosophically different, as opposed to just physically.
On CTV News last month, host Evan Solomon gingerly asked the socially progressive Singh how he balances “your religion’s beliefs and your personal beliefs.”
“They’re completely in line,” insisted Singh with trademark vigor. “My beliefs spiritually are fully aligned with supporting same-sex marriage, supporting a woman’s right to choose. I have no — any — sort of ambiguity with my personal spiritual beliefs.”
The notion that orthodox Sikhism is “fully aligned” with social liberalism is debatable, to put it mildly.
In the spring of 2017, when Singh was first rising on the national scene, I emailed the World Sikh Organization of Canada asking for clarification regarding where the faith stands on same-sex marriage. “The Sikh Rehit Maryada (Code of Conduct) does not permit same-sex marriage, and the Sikh’s highest authority, Sri Akal Takhat has made it clear that gurdwaras cannot conduct same-sex marriages,” the organization replied.
More recently, I asked my friend Jonathon van Maren, who is one of Canada’s most strident antiabortion activists, if it was true his side has been making inroads in the Sikh community, as pro-lifers often claim. In response, he said his group, the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, has “knocked on thousands of doors in the Sikh community” and found a lot of natural allies.
“In our experience,” he says, “they are almost universally pro-life, and we’ve received invitations to set up tables in Sikh temples by supportive faith leaders.”
Singh is obviously free to follow his religion in any way he chooses, and it’s certainly not the role of non-Sikhs to police his dogma. But as a politician, an extraordinarily liberal Sikh like Singh hardly tests the limits of Canada’s progressive status quo established by old-stock grandees like the Trudeau family.
Unless, that is, embracing the sharp differences among Canadians was never really anyone’s objective. Conspicuous, surface-level diversity — turban-wearing party leaders, gender-balanced cabinets, pride parades and so on — personify a diversity that is easy to “love” (in the prime minister’s words) because it is a diversity no one but the most hardened bigot will find threatening. It makes Canada seem vibrant and interesting without posing any real challenge to its reigning ideological consensus.
Difficult diversity, by contrast, comes from a society whose component groups produce cultural conflict in the course of asserting their differences. A conservative Muslim who does not want the public pool to feature mixed-gender swimming. A Hasidic mother who opposes state-mandated vaccinations for her children. A Roman Catholic politician who presumes a right to privately object to socially liberal policy on religious grounds, even while publicly upholding it in his official capacity.
It is possible, in cases like these, to simply assert that the majoritarian interest is right and the resisters are wrong — even slightly sinister. But whatever that is, it is clearly not an unqualified love of diversity for its own sake, and progressives should stop pretending otherwise.