The problem I have with multiculturalism is the strict and steadfast adherence of preserving cultural identities (through taxpayer funding) at the expense of forging a unified, albeit elusive and confusing, national Canadian identity.
I much rather prefer a pluralist society free of state intervention where citizens are the driving force. And yes, there’s a difference between pluralism and multiculturalism. Creating a “community of communities” organically from a grass roots level is far more meaningful than legislating culture through a bureaucratic hand. But that’s just me. I’m a sucker for power residing in the sovereign individual. Lost concepts of a time…aw forget it.
Of course, thinkers, politicians and people alike have been divided about multiculturalism since it was made a policy in 1971 (and inserted into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Section 27) by the Liberal party.
Proponents will argue the cultural mosaic has been significantly enhanced since its adoption. More importantly, Canada’s success with the policy has become a model for the world. Indeed, cultural violent strife in Canada is almost non-existent.
Detractors claim it perpetuates creating “cultural ghettos” while coming at the expense of carving a true national identity in which the concept of “thinking Canadian first” has become secondary. Who will speak for overall Canadian beliefs and values?
Liberal historian Arthur J. Schlesinger was especially hard on the concept multiculturalism seeing it as a part of the equation where “ethnicity is the cause of the breaking of nations.”
Multiculturalism, once we get passed idealistic rhetoric, does arguably have serious implications for Canada as a nation.
An article in the Globe and Mail caught my eye. In the report, a table displaying various national figures on Canadian immigration and identity, those surveyed were asked “Do you identify as Canadian?” the numbers ranged from 49% to 78% for second generation Canadians. Shouldn’t it be closer to 100%?
The concept of multiculturalism as part of our national policy is most popular outside of Quebec. Already protective of its own culture, it’s no surprise multiculturalism finds its weakest link in this province.
Then there’s the interesting contrast with the melting pot theory (often seen as an Anglo-American conspiracy plot to subdue minorities) which often gets the shaft here in Canada. The idea of absorbing cultures into one American identity goes back as far as Revolutionary America.
John Jay, one of the Founding Fathers and fierce Federalist, explained the American experience:
“This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.”
Debate about multiculturalism in the U.S., interestingly enough, is far more vibrant than it is here. John A. Banks argues, “(multiculturalism) is a movement designed to empower all students to become knowledgeable, caring, and active citizens in a troubled and ethnically polarized nation and world.” Mexican writer Octavio Paz asserts America is already a hybrid nation. “I believe all cultures are richer when they assimilate others and change. I don’t believe in a pure culture.” And finally according to Diane Ravitch - a historian of education, “advocates of particularism propose an ethnocentric curriculum to raise the self-esteem and academic achievement of children from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds will do well in school only if they are immersed in a positive, prideful, version of their ancestral culture.”
The question is: Are new immigrants buying into any of this or do they have their own interpretation of the American experience?
On its path to finding a national identity (and just society), Canada went from resting in the bosom of the British empire, to coddling with American power and culture to experimenting with official biculturalism which eventually morphed into a multicultural policy. In just 104 years (from the BNA Act until 1971) the nation found its immigration mantra manifested into Pierre Trudeau’s “Announcement of Implementation of Policy of Multiculturalism within Bilingual Framework.”
So multiculturalism became a means to an end in defining our values and identity.
All this is great for communities. Not so for Canada as an abstract people. No wonder Canadians have no sense of who they are. We never gave ourselves a chance.
In the 38 years since multiculturalism was made official, the idea of carving an independent Canadian national identity remains elusive.