07/02/2015 05:28 EDT | Updated 07/03/2016 05:59 EDT

The Conservatives Have Changed What it Means to Be Canadian

A woman takes a photograph while holding a Canadian flag as a group of 61 new Canadians take the oath of citizenship during a citizenship ceremony held as part of Canada Day celebrations in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday July 1, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canada Day was supposed to be celebration of all that it means to be Canadian. As a country that regularly tops the list of the best countries in the world to live in, we have a lot to be proud of. As a second generation Canadian I grew up with a proud sense of attachment to our nation. I often listened to stories from my parents about the effort they made to immigrate to Canada so that my younger brother and I could enjoy the many opportunities that this nation has to offer.

For my parents, like most immigrants, Canada was unique in the world. It offered opportunity, but also a chance to keep their culture. Becoming Canadian was not seen as a choice of changing who they were, but rather accepting others while celebrating their heritage.

Born and raised in Toronto, I always felt a sense of pride in our multicultural society. I felt that mine was the story of every Canadian. Then I entered politics. Suddenly, as is often the case for politicians from minority communities, I became a hyphenated Canadian.

I am not the first politician to face this challenge and I will most likely not be the last. Ours is a society that promotes diversity and cherishes multiculturalism, but puts up barriers to those who wish to enter public life. One needs only look at the recent stories about an Ontario minister, the Hon. Michael Chan, to see the challenges some Canadians face when entering public life -- a presumption that we represent only a specific community, as opposed to trying to represent the constituents who elected us.

Politics is about engaging individuals and communities. In Canada, we are a multicultural mosaic. Yet multiculturalism is about more than just celebrating cultural diversity. Politicians of all stripes have an obligation to promote our diversity and engage all communities. Yet, one political party routinely works to undermine the unity of our multicultural mosaic for their own political benefit. The Harper Conservatives have spent much of the last 10 years developing policies that are designed to divide communities and Canadians into political voting blocks. Instead of working to unite Canadians, the Harper Conservatives have exploited fear and divisions.

One needs only look at the recently proposed bill to require women who wear the niqab to show their face when voting. The Conservatives argue that this is a reasonable way to stop voter fraud. You might even be tempted to agree with them, until you hear that you do not need to use photo ID to vote. Without a picture to match with the face of a voter, what benefit does the proposed law have?

Another example is the recently passed Bill C-24 -- the so-called Strengthening Citizenship Act, a piece of legislation that was supposed to "make citizenship more meaningful." In fact, the Act creates two classes of citizens by allowing the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to strip citizenship from new Canadians, and even some second generation Canadians, but not those who have been here longer. I believe a citizen is a citizen is a citizen.

These types of policies do not reflect the Canada that my parents wanted to come to -- nor is this the Canada that I grew up in. Our politicians must focus on what unites us as Canadians, not what divides us. This past March, Justin Trudeau gave a speech on liberty and its meaning for Canadians; he spoke of the need for a change in our political culture. What he was highlighting is the need for Canadians to move past these divisions, to once again celebrate what makes Canada great: our inclusive diversity.


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