Loyalties of the left

Loyalties of the left
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There’s a certain weird problem that keeps popping up in the backgrounds of the men seeking to lead the forces of opposition to Stephen Harper. It’s happening so frequently, in fact, that I’m starting to wonder if it may be a symptom of some larger problem with the state of the Canadian left, rather than a mere quirky coincidence.

Thomas Mulcair, the Quebec MP who is currently the favored candidate to replace the late Jack Layton as leader of the federal New Democratic Party, is a dual citizen of Canada and France. This was a status he voluntarily sought following his marriage to the French-born Mrs. Mulcair (who is also, weirdly, a one-time failed conservative candidate for the French parliament) and he has gone through the effort of repeatedly renewing his French passport over the years.

Now that Mr. Mulcair sees himself as a future Canadian prime minister, his open willingness to declare loyalty to a nation other than the one he seeks to lead has raised more than a few eyebrows. In his typically passive-aggressive way, Prime Minister Harper has already made his own feelings on the matter known.

“Obviously, it’s for Mr. Mulcair to use his political judgment in the case,” he said last week. “In my case, I am very clear. I am a Canadian and only a Canadian.”

We may recall Harper offering similarly passive (and not so passive) put-downs to former Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff, who, though not a dual citizen himself, had lived many years in both the United Kingdom and the United States, and openly self-identified as an Englishman and American during both periods of exile.

We may also recall that Mr. Ignatieff’s predecessor as leader of the Liberal Party, the now-long forgotten Stephane Dion, also faced a Mulcair-style controversy over the fact that he too held French citizenship, though in this case it came via his immigrant mother, rather than wife.

So that’s literally three opposition figures in a row, each facing a dual-loyalty scandal. Dion nipped his quite quickly, renouncing his French citizenship prior to the 2008 federal election. Iggy, whose problem was somewhat less resolvable, did not, and had to basically spend his entire election being hammered on the issue. Mulcair, for his part, has simply doubled-down, insisting he has done nothing wrong and has nothing to atone for.

There are two basic ways to interpret a leading politician who elects to hold citizenship in a second country, and in my view, neither of them reflect very well on the individual’s character or politics.

The first is the obvious symbolic problem. Canada may not be in the midst of war with France, but the two countries are separate, and have different interests, priorities, and goals. In cases where their interests clash, we expect Canadians — especially the prime minister — to side with Canada without having to perform any complex mental calculations beforehand.

Granted, when framed like this the issue seems far more melodramatic and dire than it’s ever likely to be in practice. We can only assume that a politician who seeks to become prime minister of one country and not another has established his hierarchy of allegiances pretty clearly, and to imply otherwise is to cling to a overly literal interpretation of the situation. But this too is problematic.

A hierarchy of allegiance reduces citizenship of any nation to a mere hobby or passing interest, something no more substantial than a lifetime gym membership or frequent shopper card. You take it as seriously as you want it. It automatically calls into question the allegiances of all other Canadian dual citizens, as well. Who’s to say a lot of them don’t have the same nonchalant attitude towards Canada that we expect Mulcair to have for France?

These varying levels of seriousness lead directly into issue number two, which is the larger question of why. In practice, the only real reason to hold dual citizenship — especially if one is, in fact, more loyal to one country than the other — is to pull some sort of scam, either financially or bureaucratically. Mulcair, for his part, claims that he sought French citizenship mainly so he can get through European customs faster, which, if true, really brings the idea of flags of convenience to new heights.

Many EU-Canadian dual citizens retain their passports in case they “want to work in Europe someday” and thus step over all those poor suckers who had to immigrate to the continent in the traditional grueling way. Others may retain their second identity because their second country has better tax rates, or a better pension plan, or better health care, or cheaper post-secondary education. Something to watch from afar until the moment is right to return to and milk for all it’s worth.

This sort of thinking represents a fairly perverse and greedy attitude towards the state; the idea that governments exist simply to offer goodies to those savvy enough to find them — loyalty, allegiance, and sacrifice be damned. In an era of deficits, over-spending, and an unsustainable handouts, this is a particularly troubling worldview for any politician on the left to be openly spouting, since it personifies so much of what’s been wrong with the last three decades of entitlement politics. If one buys into the idea of politician-as-role-model, then a worse example of personal restraint and self-reliance vis-a-vis the welfare state would be hard to find.

Dual citizenship is legal in Canada, and considering the difficulty in enforcing the alternative, probably always will be. It remains a policy without any obvious benefit to the country, however, other than lowering what are already very meagre bars to entry and residence, and reinforcing a permanent “ask what your country can do for you” culture. Mr. Mulcair is entirely within his rights to dig in his heels and demand to be judged by the same standard by which the law judges everyone else, but it doesn’t say much about his ability to be a Canadian leader of great principle or pride.

Legal loopholes are rarely the stuff from which inspiring political careers are formed, after all.


  1. Billy the Kid

    Should be "Republique Francaise"

  2. Yannick

    I suspect JJ writes terrible french on purpose for comedy's sake.

  3. Wyatt Tessari

    I tend to agree with this approach for politicians, but for regualr citizens I would be less judgemental: In the 21st century, nation-states are becoming less and less relevant.

    If you grow up in a dual-national family, I believe it is every bit as honourable to have two passports as for a single-national person to hold just one. If we don't want Canada to get 'milked' by people playing the system, then do as the Americans do and tax everyone who has a passport, regardless of residency.

  4. Paul

    I can't really say anything here, I'd like to have two passports, for Canada and the country my mother is from – and it doesn't mean I'm disloyal to Canada – but this gives me a bias, because I see no problem with holding dual-citizenship.

  5. @Kisai

    I've never considered people with dual-citizenship (particularly with the US, UK, or Australia) as a problem, as it does give a "flag of convenience" particularly to those workers who work for multinationals. Have you ever tried to legally work in the US as a Canadian, or work in Canada as an American? Unless you hold a degree in something (no matter how useless, for NAFTA) the answer is no. Your only legal alternative is to marry a foreign citizen, and even then you aren't automatically given citizenship, there's usually long waiting lists before you can even enter the country if you didn't get married in that country.

    I have looked back through my family tree to see what kind of possibilities there are in foreign citizenship laws, and there is indeed at least two countries that potentially have a way, but since I don't speak either countries languages and have no desire to live in either place, I wouldn't go through the effort.

    But when someone holds dual-citizenship with a country that is not in a stable part of the world, I'd view it with skepticism that they really want to be a citizen of our country and are simply waiting for the strife to end. As far as I can tell, all my great-grandparents arrived as immigrants or refugees, but none of them held dual citizenships.

  6. loroferoz

    Of course, a citizen of a country from a not-stable part of the world may never come to appreciate, and even love the stability and civility of his new home. An immigrant is an opportunist looking for a short term fix… Quite the contrary!

    If they go through the usually high and fire-covered hoops reserved for people not from pedigreed countries, they actually deserve citizenship with an expert's certificate . They might not erase their origins, they have acquired a new identity and should not be asked to lose one of the two.

    Immigrants, if accepted, become steadfast new citizens, settle down and have children who become natives of the country: language, customs and street smarts. Passport, if justice be served, too.

    Expats and most people who have it easy to come, on the other hand, may come for a job, leave when it's over, send their children to international schools, bring in more tax revenue short term, and then might just up and leave. Immigrants contribute for a lifetime, their own lives, they also contribute new real-deal citizens, themselves and their children.

  7. @ThePsudo

    "Others may retain their second identity because their second country has better tax rates"

    My understanding is that this doesn't work if the USA is one of the countries, because US citizens pay US taxes regardless of where they live.

  8. SES

    Most US citizens overseas pay nothing or very little in federal taxes. Foreign residents can earn up to $91,500 tax free.

  9. drs

    If one belongs to a dual-nationality family, then dual citizenship means one can easily visit or move to all of one’s relatives. The cads!

    As for being able to move to jobs, we live in a world that openly celebrates the mobility of capital; conservatives in particular celebrate this. Why begrudge what little effort labor can do to keep up?

  10. J.J. McCullough

    Unless your family lives in North Korea, how hard is it to visit a foreign country on a Canadian passport?

  11. @theqpundit

    I have a dual citizenship, Israel and Canada. Israel by birth, Canada by immigration. I have travelled many times to Europe with both and never had a problem.

  12. Ryan

    It is quite ironic that Harper keeps getting to attack opposition leaders on loyalty to Canada when he was attacked several times for being an American puppet.

  13. @Cristiona

    I think you're being a little harsh on people with dual citizenship. My brother was a dual American/Belgian citizen because he was born in Belgium while my father was stationed there. His attachment to his Belgian citizenship was purely sentimental and because it was something kind of special.

  14. Denise

    I also hold a dual citizenship and for me, it represents having a piece of my heritage. Sure, it has it's benefits like speeding through the customs line when I go visit the country where I was born. However, it's very personal for me as I am proud to say that I am from both Canada and Hong Kong. If I were forced to choose, then I would feel that the country was forcing me to lose a part of who I am.

  15. drs

    “Unless your family lives in North Korea, how hard is it to visit a foreign country on a Canadian passport?”

    Easy to visit most places for a while, but a lot harder to stay for more than 3 or 6 months. And why should one give up half of one’s rights and heritage?

  16. Yannick

    And besides, what's *wrong* with having more than one citizenship? Isn't it good that our opposition leaders are wordly people?

    I think it's just awful that Dion was forced to relinquish something so important because we Canadians are too close-minded to accept dual identities.

  17. guest

    Our current Prime Minister was born in Wales – and AFAIK no one has accused her of divided loyalties. Indeed she has referred to her birth country a few times quite fondly.
    However, she is also cringe-worthily ocker so being a little more Welsh might actually be a good thing for her.
    Can i see the advantages of having dual-citizenship? Of course. Do I think it is acceptable for a national leader – less than ideal certainly. I don't want there to be even a hint of divided loyalties.

  18. Dryhad

    Perhaps you're focusing specifically on cases like Mulcair in which a person specifically seeks out dual citizenship, but as you don't actually say this I really must take exception to your implication that those of us with dual citizenships are somehow perpetrating an injustice by failing to renounce one of them. Actually I'd take exception to that implication even for those who obtained a second citizenship by marriage, like my mother for example who became an Australian citizen because she married an Australian and lived in Australia but didn't renounce her US citizenship in the process because why on earth should she? And why should I, who carry both Australian and US citizenships by birthright, renounce one of them? No, seriously, why? You just kind of take it as given that everyone should have one and only one citizenship, or that citizenship is something so sacred that dual citizenship should only be held by those whose lives are absolutely devoted equally to both nations. I don't even care that much for Australia, I just happen to live here! Don't tell me you have some profound love of the arbitrarily divided patch of dirt that you happened to be born on, J.J. Are you patriotic enough to deserve a Canadian citizenship?

  19. Bill Steamshovel

    Given the treatment of David Hicks and Van Tuong Nguyen, you could say that Australia doesn't care that much about it's citizens either.

  20. bificommander

    I have one friend who has an American passport, not because she or any relative is American, but because she happened to be born while her parents were in the U.S. and it isn't possible NOT to get a U.S. passport if you're born there. She could give it up, but she's a particle physicist, and might very well want to work in the U.S. in ten, twenty years, especially if the LHC experiment wraps up and the next big one will be based in the U.S. And she's been given to understand that it is very very hard to get a U.S. greencard if you once had a U.S. passport but voluntarily gave it up. If you renounced your allegiance to the greatest country in the world ™, you're viewed with great suspicion by immigration. So she's not at all happy with the Dutch movement against dual nationalities (not stated, but clearly implied, to be aimed at Turkish and Morrocan immigrants, even though the latter couldn't give up their Morrocan nationality if they wanted to, and the former will be hard pressed to ever visit their relatives) I think J.J. for once is giving national governments too much credit by assuming that refusal to give up nationalities can only be motivated by disloyalty and convenience on part of the people.

  21. @ThePsudo

    "it isn't possible NOT to get a U.S. passport if you're born there."

    What? You are automatically granted citizenship at birth, but it still takes some significant red tape and fees to get a passport.

  22. S.S.

    I agree with your main point. If you're going to be the head of a sovereign nation, there is a potential conflict of interest, and a leader must make their loyalties clear.

    However, I think you fundamentally misunderstand why most people immigrate to a place like the U.S. or Canada. They don't come here out of some quasi-religious devotion to a nation they're never set foot on. They come here for economic opportunity. Most of them still love their homeland and maintain strong ties. That doesn't mean they don't grow to appreciate and love their new homes. Does that represent a "a fairly perverse and greedy attitude towards the state"? Are they also pulling "some sort of scam"?

    Dual citizenship is ultimately the same thing. It gives people more economic opportunity: the ability to travel and work in more places without a hassle. On the other hand, there is nothing to be gained from giving up one's second citizenship, aside from heartache and shutting up hyper-nationalists who go out of their way to be bothered by it (again, this may be important if you're a politician).

  23. Jake

    Holding dual citizenship is one thing. But Mulcair WANTS to be French. It's how he goes after his French citizenship with such vigor. He doesn't need it. Most people have it cause of birth or work. He got it because he hates Canada or likes France more.

    And here is the problem with dual identities. Canada is at war with any of the aforementioned countries (although unlikely). Or the more likely one. The Non-Canada countries has a draft. Do you serve the other country even if Canada has said it would not support the war effort and is actively working against it? Sooner or later there will be a conflict.

    One can have dual citizenship but always favor and identify as Canadian above all. The problem is all these politicians seem to want to actively try to get a foreign citizenship and roll in the other country's flag.

  24. Yannick

    Mulcair hates Canada, that's why he fought for the side of the No during the 1980 and 1995 referendums.

  25. PTBO

    As I understand it- this was a total non-issue when John Turner was prime minister and a dual citizen. I think if Mulcair held a British passport then there would be far less media coverage. There is alot of anti-French bigotry in this country.
    I tend to dismiss this media coverage as another attempt to paint Mulcair as secret French separatist.

    His views on Quebec are virtually identical to Jack Layton but Mulcair's last name is French rather then Layton's ultimate WASP name.
    Mulcair began his career as an English-rights lawyer in Quebec, he was a leading member of the only federalist party in Quebec politics for over a decade, and he is considering an Anglo by most Quebeckers due to his English upbringing.

    There are alot better reasons to go after Mulcair- I think he will be far down my list when it come to the NDP leadership vote.

  26. J.J. McCullough

    I don't think John Turner was ever a dual citizen. He was born at a time when British and Canadian citizenship were the same thing.

  27. Yannick

    He was born in the UK, and that is why he has citizenship there. It's actually a stronger tie than Dion's.

  28. @ThePsudo

    Americans decades after the Revolutionary War were still being press-ganged into the British Navy based on the reasoning that they were born in Britain and, thus, were British citizens subject to the British draft. The UK has a history of ignoring material changes to the nature of citizenship, but that doesn't mean we have to share in that denial.

  29. vonPeterhof

    I'm pretty sure Mulcair's last name is Irish – there's a river Mulkear in Ireland, and according to Wikipedia his father is of Irish ancestry.

  30. PTBO

    ahhh- learn something new everyday. It's certainly sounds French and is pronounced the French way rather then Irish so I think my point still stands.

  31. Taylor

    I'd say Dion's situation was much different than the other two. He inherited his Citizenship, and he only ever described it as a sentimental item from his mother. I know he had a lot of critics, but even the harshest wouldn't doubt his devotion to Canada.

    Iggy, on the other hand, oi…

  32. loroferoz

    Imagine the tussle that might result when you have a politician whose OTHER nationality is definitely NOT from the OECD. How about Russian, or Chinese, or Lebanese, or Colombian?

  33. SHRIM

    "Whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion … And whether Canada ends up with one national government or two governments or ten governments, the Canadian people will require less government no matter what the constitutional status or arrangement of any future country may be."
    Stephen Harper 1994

    Thomas Mulcair, and Stéphane Dion, who fought for Canadian unity in multiple sovereignty referenda, have nothing to learn about being Canadian from this man – nor from any of his innumerable simpering cheerleaders.

  34. Guest

    "It remains a policy without any obvious benefit to the country"
    Well, the obvious benefit is that people born outside Canada are more likely to consider residing indefinitely in Canada if they are not forced to abandon their legal right to enter the country they were born in, and it avoids some tricky legal pitfalls to do with conflicting definitions of nationality. How does it actively harm the country?

    "I’m starting to wonder if it may be a symptom of some larger problem with the state of the Canadian left, rather than a mere quirky coincidence."
    … or, perhaps, with the state of Canada itself?

    Canada has a long border with the US and its provinces trade more with the US than with other provinces. It only began to have its own foreign policy about a century ago, and its own citizenship less than 70 years ago; it was still constitutionally subject to the UK Parliament until 1982, and to this day its head of state lives in England. It has a substantial minority French-speaking population which maintains strong cultural ties to France, while much of the majority English-speaking population has significant cultural overlap with the US. These two cultures are themselves immigrant cultures from the point of view of First Nations Canadians. Canada has for some time liked to think of itself as welcoming to immigrants generally, and it has recognised dual citizenship since the 70s. A significant number of Canadian citizens do not live in Canada.

    While actual dual citizenship rates are not massive, in order to get the number up to 3, you've had to include a) an MP who is not yet the leader of the opposition, b) an opposition leader who has never been a dual citizen but has, while remaining a Canadian Citizen, in other countries and professed a sense of belonging there, and c) an opposition leader who has dual citizenship on account of a parent but has spent little time in that country. That's actually casting the net of disqualification quite a lot wider to include people with Multiple National Identities of pretty much any type, and especially given the factors listed above, I don't think it's all that surprising to find a cluster. (Despite your 2nd paragraph, they are not even "in a row", as you've omitted Layton. Fine for effect in the cartoon, but there's no reason to do the same in the text.)

    Finally, as a commentary on the Canadian left, it's necessary to also bear in mind that none are particularly left-wing. Perceptions of Dion's leftiness are based largely on his green turn; otherwise, he's a fairly orthodox Liberal. Ignatieff and Mulcair are both firmly on their right wing of their party; Mulcair had served as a Liberal minister in Quebec for Charest, who was previously a federal PC leader.

  35. anon

    Mulcair isn't even Opposition Leader yet, and polls (which are sketchy at the best of times) never have him cracking 40% amongst DECIDED dippers, let alone those who have yet to make up their minds.

    I knnow JJ tends to run loose with his articles every now and then but he's just coming across here as being unashamedly partisan.

  36. tcdh

    I find this "dual" citizenship attack strange, since Harper is a Monarchist. In Canada, they tell you that you are your ancestors, and NEVER just Canadian. You are English-Canadian, etc. Harper has loyalities to the British Monarchy, so how can he criticize people for not being just Canadian, when his pro-Monarchy stance indicates non-Canadianness, or dual-Canadian identity.

    Hypocrisy much????

  37. sniper552

    In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with having dual citizenship unless you want to be in a position of power or leadership within on of the countries. To me it's fairly obvious that the leader of Canada should have Canadian citizenship only. Each of us have our own diverse cultural backgrounds, and we should all be allowed to celebrate those backgrounds openly, but when you apply to lead a nation, there should be no doubt in anyone's eyes that your loyalties fall with that nation first; this is impossible for a dual citizen.