- From Difference to Cohesion:The Evolution of Canadian Multiculturalism
For better or worse, Canada is considered the exemplar multicultural society. Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are among the world’s most diverse cities, and the Canadian government appears content that the typical immigrant profile is, and will continue to be, non-European. Furthermore, unlike centre-right parties across Europe that have declared that multiculturalism is dead (e.g., Daily Mail 2011), the governing Conservative Party of Canada has been busy crafting a strategy aimed at courting the votes of “new Canadians,” which has paid dividends for the party in recent federal elections; at the same time, the Conservative Party has introduced “subtle restrictiveness” into Canada’s citizenship and refugee policy to appease its traditional conservative base (Marwah, Triadafilopoulos, and White 2013, 96).
Does this mean that all is, indeed, well with multiculturalism in Canada? The majority of the contributors to the works under review would disagree. A controversy that has continually plagued scholarly analysis of multiculturalism is that the meaning [End Page 238] of multiculturalism is actually quite hard to pin down: “it is simultaneously used as a sociological label for an objective situation of diversity and as a moral stance that cultural diversity is a desirable feature of a given society as well as the different types of ways in which the state could recognise and support it” (Meer and Modood 2012, 179). All of the monographs under review here, however, are clear in their respective treatments of the term. The authors quite diligently define multiculturalism to fit within the scope of their research aims. In Becoming Multicultural, Triadafilos Triadafilopoulos is minimally concerned with state support for ethnocultural groups, but rather explains why Canada and Germany developed into “de facto multicultural societies” by the end of the twentieth century via “liberalizing changes to their migration and citizenship policies” (2012, 2). The framework of analysis in The Multiculturalism Question (Jedwab 2014) queries whether multiculturalism in the Canadian context has a constant meaning, postulating that 1970s ethnicity multiculturalism—promoting the value of ethnic minority identities—has evolved, becoming less about protecting difference and more about promoting cohesion. Immigrant Settlement Policy in Canadian Municipalities (Tolley and Young 2011) shifts the level of analysis downward and considers how the provinces and municipalities in Canada interact to apply policies and programs related to the stages of pre-arrival, settlement, and integration. Among other aims, the chapter authors consider whether immigrants are “permitted (and sometimes encouraged) to retain elements of their cultural heritage” (Tolley 2011, 13) by provincial and municipal governments.
Despite the different concerns of each book, together they weave a narrative that tells a complex story about Canada’s evolution with respect to immigration and diversity. Collectively, these books hammer on the point that Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism has always been more about style than substance, perhaps inevitable because of the obligation to try to satisfy the usually antagonistic demands of various identity groups such as Québécois nationalists, First Nations, ethnocultural minorities, and the Anglo-Saxon majority. Ambiguity in its meaning has enabled elites to evoke multiculturalism as constitutive of Canadian identity whilst leaving flexibility for actors to craft policies undergirded by very different understandings of multiculturalism. The key questions, then, which these books address: Why did Canada open its border to non-Europeans and become multicultural? Why has the meaning and practice of multiculturalism evolved over time? The answers that the authors provide highlight the lack of consensus in Canadian society regarding basic questions of identity: Who are we? Who do...