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Where is the 'extreme multiculturalism' Bernier complains about? Not in his riding

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier has on numerous occasions taken issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's embrace of diversity. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here  and we'll deliver it directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Quebec MP Maxime Bernier used Twitter to assail Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's 'extreme multiculturalism.' People in his home riding of Beauce might wonder why.
  • A Taliban attack on the Afghan city of Ghazni has caused mass casualties and dire warnings from the UN of food and medicine shortages. 
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Feeling the Bern

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier is accusing the Trudeau government of following a policy of "extreme multiculturalism," warning that "ever more diversity" is threatening Canadian values and freedoms.

In a series of tweets posted last night in both English and French, Stephen Harper's former minister of foreign affairs sounded off about the country's increasingly diverse make-up, suggesting it will ultimately lead to a "cultural balkanisation" that will bring distrust, social conflict and perhaps violence, ruining Canada in the process.

Residents of Beauce, the riding south of Quebec City that Bernier has represented since 2006, might reasonably ask what their MP is talking about. According to 2016 Census data, even as the face of Canada changes, La Beauce remains remarkably the same.

The riding's population grew by just 2,360 people between 2011 and 2016, a 2.2 per cent rise, which was well below Canada's five per cent overall gain, and even Quebec's 3.3 per cent population increase.

(With just over eight million people, Quebec remains Canada's second-largest province, but its growth rate has lagged behind the national average for 40 years, and its share of the total population has fallen from almost 29 per cent in 1966 to just over 23 per cent.)

In 2016, 76.3 per cent of Beauce's 108,750 residents described themselves as unilingual Francophones, while 22 per cent spoke both French and English. Just 80 people in the riding spoke neither of the official languages.

A total of 720 people — or 0.66 per cent of the riding's population — reported having a non-official, non-indigenous language as their "mother tongue," which includes 365 Spanish speakers. The remaining 355 people grew up speaking a variety of languages from around the globe, including 65 Arabic speakers, 40 people from the Niger-Congo region, 25 Mandarin speakers and 15 Italians.

Beauce had 1,515 people — or 1.4 per cent of the population — who described themselves as "immigrants" in 2016. That compares to almost 22 per cent, or 7.5 million people, who identified themselves as immigrants across the whole of Canada.

In Bernier's riding of Beauce, which is south of Quebec City, just over per cent of residents described themselves as 'immigrants' in the last census. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The census numbers show that 295 of those Beauce immigrants arrived between 2006 and 2010 and 395 between 2011 and 2016, suggesting a slight uptick during the latter half of Bernier's nine years in the federal cabinet.

However, this is little indication that his riding is experiencing the sort of demographic change he is warning about.

Among Beauce's immigrants, 670 came from "The Americas," including 320 from the United States, and 400 were from Europe, including 245 citizens of France. A total of 215 people arrived from African nations and 205 from Asia.

Nor is there much evidence that immigration has been a hot-button concern in living memory. Just under 3,600 people — 3.3 per cent — in Beauce describe themselves as first- or second-generation Canadians, compared to 41.5 per cent of the country as a whole.

It could be that Bernier is concerned about other places. In addition to his condo in Beauce, he maintains residences in Ottawa and on Montreal's Île-des-Soeurs, which was ranked the fifth-most expensive area to purchase a single-family home in Quebec in 2017, with an average price of $852,500.

The 55-year-old Bernier is now 13 years older than the average resident he represents.


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The intractable Taliban

Afghanistan's government says it is close to breaking a four-day Taliban siege of the city of Ghazni, even as the UN warns that the continued fighting has caused mass civilian casualties as well as shortages of food and medicine.

In a surprise attack that began Friday, Taliban forces advanced on the city from four sides, trapping its close to 300,000 residents and cutting off communication. Control of Ghazni, located on the country's main highway, about halfway between Kandahar and Kabul, would be a major victory for the militant group, as it would cut the south of Afghanistan off from the capital.

Afghan volunteers carry an injured woman on a stretcher to a hospital in Ghazni province after a recent Taliban assault. (Mohammad Anwar Danishyar/AFP/Getty Images)

At a news conference in Kabul todayWais Barmak, the Afghan interior minister, said that more than 100 police and soldiers have been killed in the fighting, but maintained that "Afghan forces are in complete control of the city." Another 100 Afghan commandos are said to be missing in action, although the government denies the reports.

A thousands more troops have been sent south to join the fight, and the U.S. military has launched more than two dozen airstrikes at Taliban positions, directed by Special Forces soldiers on the ground. An American spokesman characterized the fighting as "clean-up operations," and said that there is no threat of the city falling into Taliban hands.

The government message differed sharply from the reports coming from civilians who have escaped the fighting and tell of hospitals overwhelmed by casualties, closed roads and militants still occupying many strategic buildings.

And today, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan released a statement warning that the situation in Ghazni is worsening by the minute.

U.S. forces launched airstrikes on Aug. 10 to counter a major Taliban assault on Ghazni. (Zakeria Hashimi/AFP/Getty Images)

"Many families have reportedly taken shelter in their houses and are unable to leave their homes," said Richard Peeperkorn, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan. "Vital telecommunications networks and the electricity supply are down in the city of 270,000 people, which has impacted the water supply, and food is also reportedly running low."

The siege comes as Britain sends off 440 troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, doubling its military presence four years after the UK withdrew from combat operations. The U.S. currently has around 14,000 soldiers in the country, following Donald Trump's 2017 decision to beef up American military support to the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The heavy fighting deals yet another blow to hopes for peace negotiations. In recent weeks, the Americans have been trying to entice the Taliban to the table for direct talks with the government in Kabul, but to little avail.

Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak, left, and Defence Minister Gen. Tareq Shah Bahramiin, detail the latest developments in the siege on Ghazni. (Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press)

Last winter, a BBC study estimated that the Afghan government was in full control of just 30 per cent of the country. Other estimates, like this rolling tally of the fighting, suggest that the situation has hardly improved in the last eight months, with the Taliban now active or in control of 245 of the country's 398 districts.


A few words on …

One boy's touching tribute to Fredericton's victims.


Quote of the moment

"He promised me he was never going to die. He promised we were never going to die, we were always going to be together."

- Jackie McLean, the spouse of slain Fredericton Police ConstRobb Costello, struggles to come to grips with the fact that he is never coming home again.


What The National is reading​

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Today in history

Aug 13, 1994: Woodstock '94: 'Cleaner and more corporate'

Haagen-Dazs stands, golf carts for staff and "over 1,000 payphones" — yes, Woodstock '94 was better organized that its namesake music festival 25 years earlier. But there was still rain and mud, people eventually ripped down the fences and there was pot — lots of pot. Travel back in time and see reporter John Northcott's hair.

25 years after the celebrated 1969 festival, Woodstock '94 tries to invoke the spirit of the original - but falls a little short. 1:52


That's all for today.

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