By Jensen, Randy on July 3, 2020.
Premier Jason Kenney was asked this week to reflect on the turbulent social times we are traversing at the moment with the Black Lives Matter movement, with the calls for justice from Indigenous people, and how Canada continues to lag behind in affording equal opportunities to all its citizens as systemic racism continues to persist despite sweeping attempts at reform over the past few decades.
“Governments and leaders must play a role in combating all forms of hatred, but I don’t think a government program can remove hatred from somebody’s heart,” he says. “I think the most effective antidote to prejudice is personal relationships that break down negative stereotypes which form racism and the injustice which flows from it.”
Calling racism a “sickness of the soul,” Kenney, who once served as Canada’s Minister of Multiculturalism and Minister of Immigration while in the Harper government, says he believes the best thing leaders can do is build bridges in a society so that better understanding and relationships can emerge between peoples.
“For some reason throughout history there have been people who seek to prejudge others based on negative stereotypes, and that leads so often to personal injustice, but also institutional and systemic injustice toward people,” he says. “I think building bridges, outside of cultural, ethnic or religious silos, to find common meeting ground is what we try to do aspirationally through Canadian multiculturalism, albeit imperfectly.”
Kenney says institutional racism continues to exist even though in most cases it is much more subtle, and perhaps sometimes even unconscious, than in past eras.
“I think the real thing governments can do, institutions, employers, is to break down barriers to the full inclusion of people from minority backgrounds,” he states. “When I talk to new Canadians, the number-one concern they tend to raise to me are very practical things like not being able to get their education, skills or credentials recognized by Canadian employers or professional Canadian licensing bodies, and I believe often in that lies perhaps an implicit prejudice. And that’s why central in our platform has been this Fairness for Newcomers Action Plan to compel licensing bodies to offer a much fuller and faster recognition of credentials and experience.”
Citing the example of First Nations peoples in particular, Kenney feels the best thing a government can do to advance the cause of social justice and equality is to create policies which foster full equality of opportunity.
“Often economic empowerment is the most powerful way of raising people up out of the poverty that often comes from racism or social exclusion,” he says. “That applies particularly to our First Nations people, who have suffered historically many great injustices. But the greatest injustice today, I believe, is their economic exclusion in a pretty prosperous society.”
That’s why Kenney says his government created the $1-billion Indigenous Opportunities Corporation -to not just talk the talk but also walk the walk when it comes to his government’s belief in fostering equality of opportunity for all peoples.
“We are moving beyond talk to real action for economic development, business ownership, entrepreneurship, skills training,” he explains. “I think you have these really tough cultural and moral issues that we must grapple with in our own hearts, and as a society. But when I try to think as a government leader what practically can I do? I think breaking down barriers to full economic participation and social participation, that is for me the most fruitful way of creating real equality of opportunity.”
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