Saturday, December 09, 2006

Stephane Dion and I have something in common

Besides our good looks, liberal politics and impeccable taste in office furniture, that is.

We're both dual citizens, and while he has more people calling for him to renounce his second citizenship than I do, there's been an increasingly loud drumbeat against the institution as whole recently. The whole thing was sparked, as best I can tell, by the evacuation of Lebanese-Canadians living in Lebanon this summer.

It will perhaps not be a surprise that I'm not a big fan of proposals to restrict or abolish dual citizenship. What gets me particularly annoyed about it is the passively aggressive way the advocates of abolishing it bring up loyalty to Canada. "I'm not saying you have divided loyalties," the line goes, "but if you don't, what's the issue with holding just one citizenship?" In the specific case of Dion, some single citizenship advocates (Andrew Coyne) have had the decency to forthrightly dismiss criticisms of Dion's patriotism, while others (hi there, Ezra Levant!) have dived right in to the deep end of divided loyalties and so forth.

As several people have pointed out, Dion among them, were Stephane Dion to become Prime Minister he would be the fifth Canadian Prime Minister to have some sort of dual citizenship. Most of those guys were emigrants from Scotland who built the country to begin with. More recently, though, John Turner is, like me, a dual Canadian-British citizen. Granted, Turner wasn't in long enough to give MI6 the codes to Canada's nuclear arsenal, but it is striking that an anglophone prime minister didn't have to answer for his dual citizenship while a francophone does. It is especially striking, as Adam Radwanski points out, that Ezra Levant apparently has no problem with dual Canadian-American citizen Ted Morton holding down a "senior cabinet post" in a hypothetical Ed Stelmach ministry. Indeed, the week before he was lauding Morton as the Alberta Tory leadership postulant with "the most coherant and the most conservative" policies.

So which is it? Are dual citizens treacherous fifth columnists for the perfidious French/Americans/British/whomever? Or are we Canadians who can be trusted to participate in civic society like everybody else? Or is there a cut-off point? Is it acceptable, say, for Conservative MP Myron Thompson to serve in Parliament despite dual Canadian-American citizenship, but not Stephane Dion to serve as a dual Canadian French Liberal leader? Is it a federalism issue? Can you be a provincial premier but not prime minister as a dual citizen?

Of less immediate relevance to Stephane Dion, may I say that opponents of dual citizenship often seem clueless as to what it is, exactly, that they're proposing. Andrew Coyne, for example, says that "I think citizens of Canada should be able to live and work abroad." Wonderful. And in the philosopher's kingdom presided over by Andrew Coyne, I might think differently about whether my British citizenship was something I'd want to keep. I mean, I've no doubt that I would resent being asked to give up this particular link to my Scottish ancestors, but I don't have any doubts as to which citizenship I would keep if obliged to choose.

Of course, we don't live in Coyne's enlightened dictatorship, so if I want to work in the UK or the EU I should really keep my citizenship. What bugs me most about Coyne and others' arguments is that they essentially ask me to do myself a harm so that they can feel better about their own sense of nationhood. I agreed with Andrew Coyne's stance against the motion regarding Quebec as a nation, but that was an entirely abstract discussion. This one has tangible consequences, and every tangible consequence that I can see of banning dual citizenship is bad for me and people like me.

Finally, what exactly am I being asked to commit myself to here? Andrew Coyne wants to build a shared Canadian identity. This is fine-I'd like to see that happen too. As I say, I agreed with his stance against the motion calling Quebec a nation, because I thought it stregthened the hand of the separatists and privileged one component of Canadian society over the others. That said, we lost. I'm intensely proud to be Canadian, I love my country, I want to help make it a better place and a leader in the world-all of this with a British passport in my desk drawer. What is this new, improved Canadianism that I'm supposed to give up Britain for?

Returning to Dion, I think at this point he's actually better off not renouncing his citizenship. I mean, doing it now would be seen as a political ploy, which is what it would be. Also, it makes him look as though he can be pushed around. It's not that I think he gains much from sticking to his guns, but I think he loses less this way, and I think there's a fight worth fighting here. Of course, I would say that, wouldn't I? You just can't trust a man with more than one passport...


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