June 30, 1995 Halifax Herald

Affirmative action needed until economic gap bridged

Recently, in both Canada and the United States, there have been cries from a multitude of sources to end affirmative action programs. As a result of these cries in the USA, the Congress, the Supreme Court and several States are hot on the trail of bringing that country's programs to extinction. In Canada, several political and private sector entities have made abolishment part of their agendas. As witness to this development, Ontario recently joined the movement to abolish affirmative action by electing a government which has abolishment as part of its program.

Before I make further comment, lets review the reasons why these two economic giants of North America deemed it necessary to implement affirmative action programs in the first place. Until recent times, both countries had on their books racial segregation laws, and both openly condoned other forms of despicable racial discrimination. These practices made them into two of the most intolerant Nations on Mother Earth for visible minorities to reside in. Further, up until recent times, both societies also openly discriminated because of one's religion, sex, etc.

In Canada, among the intolerant practices that were instigated and condoned by the white majority, racism stands out in the forefront. It has been, and still is to an unacceptable level, the most repugnant and distressing of evils for people affected by it to cope with.

In Nova Scotia, and in Canada at large, the two peoples most damaged and punished over the centuries by unreasonable racist persecution have been First Nations citizens and those of African descent. For centuries, in flagrant disregard for our human sensibilities, both peoples were denied the most basic of civil and human rights. For example, we were, with impunity for the perpetrators, denied entrance into many private and public facilities - i.e., schools, hotels, barber shops, etc.

To add insult to injury, among other basics of life in a modern society, we were routinely denied adequate education and employment opportunities and equal access to the justice system. In the employment field, with rare exceptions, only the most menial of positions were open to us. This practice resulted in both peoples being forced to live in abject poverty while surrounded by prosperity.

Today, because of these past practices, there are in Nova Scotia two races of people who are still behind the eight-ball when it comes to competing for jobs and other financial opportunities. For instance, who wants to employ an undereducated person of colour? Let me tell you, in this so-called age of enlightenment, its hard enough to find employment opportunities for our few educated ones, let alone, because of no fault of their own, an undereducated majority.

On the economic front, when we examine the entrepreneurial possibilities open to both communities, the reality is that neither has a viable economic base. The poverty generated from past exclusion from most entrepreneurial opportunities did not generate much investment wealth for either community to build upon.

Chiefly because of the damage done to people victimized by the racism Canada and the US once condoned, governments in both countries decided that positive action had to be taken to begin to repair the damage done; thus, affirmative action was born.

Have affirmative action programs been overly productive for peoples of colour and negative for whites? Without any hedging, the answer is no. What has provided far more motivation for the opening of increased opportunities for our peoples is human rights legislation and the fact that some managerial positions in government, and in the private sector, are now occupied by people who have developed a social conscience.

To give you some idea of how much federal and provincial government affirmative action programs have failed to help people of colour, I offer these two examples. Federally: the percentage of Native Canadians employed by the Department of Indian Affairs in 1995 is still only around 15 percent. Provincially: there still isn't one Micmac employed by the provincial government in any position of importance. Keep in mind here that we are talking about Micmacs, and not Trudeau's 1981 constitutional creation called "Aboriginals."

I suggest to those whites who are worried about it, that they have no cause to worry about racial equalization programs negatively effecting their future job prospects. These programs have had very little effect in this regard; the economic conditions of the country are the culprit, not affirmative action.

Instead of looking for scapegoats to blame for economic woes, Canadians need to continue to mobilize their energies towards building a country that will have, as its cornerstone, equality and justice for all. However, while in the process of doing so, the majority must keep in mind that it will take a long time to undo the harm that the racial intolerance practised by their ancestors did. Don't further victimize the victim. Affirmative action programs for people of colour should not be discarded until economic disparity between the majority and the minority is overcome!

Daniel N. Paul


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