In an age of creeping xenophobia and border anxiety, Canada is the most immigrant-friendly country in the western world. Unlike the Americans, the British, the French and the Germans, Canadians are comfortable with a steady influx of people of various colours, cultures, faiths and ideologies. A recent poll of nine western countries confirms it: 73 per cent of Canadians think immigrants, all immigrants, are a good influence. (In Britain, by contrast, 60 per cent of those polled said immigrants are a problem.) Our rate of immigration, per capita, is twice that of the US and shows no signs of slackening. But there is a fly in the ointment. Because, for all their benevolence, many Canadians still have not quite come to terms with one of their own founding nations. The French landed in Canada 400 years ago, but for a lot of Canadians living west of Hudson's Bay, French remains a foreign language, and even an irritant. On the streets of Vancouver, you will hear far more Cantonese than French. Canada has been 'officially' bilingual since 1969. It was a dream of the flamboyant Pierre Trudeau, who was convinced that if Canadians embraced two languages it would help glue the country together. But like Hong Kong's 'one country, two systems', it was more slogan than substance. In fact, some feel it further divided the country. Canada's 7 million French speakers - who would get access to all government services in their mother tongue - thought it a fine idea. Many of the 16 million English speakers thought otherwise. In fact, Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper, a westerner and possible future prime minister, has called bilingualism 'a god that failed'. What really galls those against the policy is that under the law, the top jobs in the federal civil service are open only to people who speak both languages. Thus, it favours French-Canadians, who are far more comfortable with a second language. This gives Quebecers an edge, and this in turn further alienates western Canadians. Most of Canada's recent prime ministers - Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney, Trudeau, even Paul Martin - are from Quebec. The law does not force anybody to learn a second language, but those who do, have a greater opportunity. One would think that would be incentive enough for all Canadians to embrace bilingualism. It is not. The pushes and pulls of language and culture, in fact, have only exacerbated political tensions. It makes one wonder how the next generation of Canadians will deal with the fastest-growing languages of all in the national mosaic. And those, of course, are Putonghua and Cantonese.