Diversity, Narrowly Defined (By Father J. de Souza, Column in The National Post)

August 12, 2005: Diversity, Narrowly Defined (By Father Raymond J. de Souza, Column in The National Post)

Diversity, narrowly defined

Father Raymond J. de Souza
National Post

Friday, August 12, 2005

CALGARY – In the week since the announcement was made, Michaelle Jean's appointment as the next governor-general has been both praised and criticized on diversity grounds. Given her modest record of accomplishment for such an august office, the Prime Minister stressed instead her extraordinary story — Haitian refugee rises to become governor-general. Her appointment tells us something important about how we think about diversity today.

Not belonging to that thin sliver of the population which watches CBC documentaries and talk shows, I know nothing about Madame Jean, save for what has been reported this past week. Perhaps she will make a great governor-general, perhaps not. I rather think that as regards governors-general, it's been all downhill since Georges Vanier died in 1967. My choice would have been Ken Dryden, if only to liberate that thoughtful Canadian from the humiliation of having to sit beside Belinda Stronach in the House of Commons.

So while I reserve comment on Madame Jean herself, her appointment does clarify how much our thinking about diversity has changed. The argument in favour of ethnic, racial and gender diversity used to be that it brought forth different ideas, introducing new experiences and perspectives. Indeed, the Prime Minister said as much when announcing the appointment.

But of course Madame Jean is strikingly similar to her predecessor, Adrienne Clarkson. Who would have thought the ranks of CBC broadcasters were so deep as to be able to provide two successive governors-general? Imagine if two successive governors-general were chosen from the oilpatch, let alone from the same company. Or from the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. Or from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Of course you can't imagine it — it is simply impossible.

So we have two women who work for the same company, share the same general outlook of the CBC, and, for good measure, are both married to generally leftish intellectuals. There is no reason why someone like that shouldn't be governor-general. But it is a little much to have two back-to-back and hail it as a move toward diversity. Replacing a Toronto-based CBC broadcaster with a Montreal-based one hardly qualifies.

But as her appointment indicates, diversity is narrowly defined. Madame Jean is a black Haitian. Madame Clarkson is Hong Kong Chinese. Romeo LeBlanc is an Acadian. Diversity marches on, but is there any appreciable difference in how any of them think? The irony is that diversity now means only race and colour and ethnicity — it is no longer about bringing different perspectives forward.

For those of us who work in the university environment, this has long been evident. Diversity mandates have been in place for almost two decades now, with a serious — and successful — effort to include more women and visible minorities in the faculty and amongst the students. But it would be hard to find any environment in which thinking is more uniform than on an elite university campus. Indeed, sometimes the colour of the skin is the only real diversity present, as the parameters of acceptable opinion are quite narrow.

A recent American study revealed that, by their own description, 72% of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15% are conservative. At elite schools, the imbalance is even more severe, with 87% self-described as liberal, and only 13% conservative. Yet at the same time, it would be difficult to find an environment — save for the CBC newsroom — more committed to diversity in the superficial sense.

Here in Alberta, the current lieutenant-governor is Normie Kwong, the former football great who succeeded the much-beloved Lois Hole, a former gardening expert. The move from the garden to the gridiron reminded me of the succession of lieutenant-governors in the 1970s, when Ralph Steinhauer, the first native Canadian to hold the post, was succeeded by Frank Lynch-Staunton, a long-time rancher. The latter quipped upon his appointment that the cowboys were taking over from the Indians.

True diversity includes differences in opinion and philosophy as well as race. And given the high-profile of the governor-general's office, diversity at Rideau Hall should highlight the various fields of Canadian achievement — whether it be sports, horticulture or ranching. Instead, stretching back 30 years we have had politicians, and now CBC broadcasters. It would not be a bad idea to insist that the next governor-general be someone who has earned a living outside the public sector.

We are told that Canada is a diverse country. It is, and it would be good to see that truly reflected in our highest office.