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  • Comparative Literature:Reading the Canadian Nation(s)
  • Paul D. Morris

Canada is a state in change. Evidence of this change is to be found in multiple contexts, not least in the persistent rumblings of discord regarding the country's current paradigm of national identity: multiculturalism. From across a spectrum of discourses extending from the institutional-intellectual to the popular, the critiques of multiculturalism have been many and varied: in the academy, the government, the media and, one assumes, around the kitchen table. Examples abound: for instance, the "unsettling" account(s) of multiculturalism in the 2011 collection Home and Native Land: Unsettling Multiculturalism in Canada; the editorial title in the Globe and Mail, "Strike Multiculturalism from the National Vocabulary;" in Québec, where multiculturalism has never been accepted by either the class politique or popular society, the positioning of une charte des valeurs québécoises as the principal issue in the provincial elections of 2014; or, finally, the following statement by Hayden King in the context of a debate in the Globe and Mail on the place of Sir John A. Macdonald in Canadian history: "[Canada] doesn't really exist. Certainly the idea of the country pervades the imaginations of millions of Canadians and there are internationally recognized borders, currency, and so on. But it is increasingly difficult to accept that Canada possesses a cohesive and honest narrative of itself." Less a refus total than an accumulation of disparately motivated critiques, collectively they suggest that a government policy intended to foster national unity in the face of social diversity is being openly challenged by the constituencies it was meant to serve. This challenge is a matter of some relevance, despite the abiding social and political stability of Canadian society. Collective dissatisfaction with multiculturalism as a state policy has not affected understanding of the role and functioning of the state in Canada, nor has it significantly diminished the country's collective acceptance of a pluralist society. The latter point, paradoxically, is taken by some as proof of the accomplishment [End Page 172] of multiculturalism, a policy that has contributed mightily to the "normalization" of cultural pluralism. Keith Banting and Will Kymlicka have suggested that multiculturalism has successfully promoted "integration and citizenship, both through its individual-level effects on attitudes, self-understandings and identities, and through its society-level effects on institutions" (62) and is thus, for all the critiques, more successful than its detractors suppose.1 Nonetheless, and despite the optimism from some quarters, from Warsaw to Washington, the Nation—frequently in its more recalcitrant Blut und Boden forms—is experiencing an unmistakable, at times strident, resurgence. Given the apparent historical conjunction of an international return of the nation and a national sense of malaise within Canada, consideration of the state of the national imaginary seems appropriate.

It is against this backdrop of a resurgent and yet conflicted understanding of the nation that the following essay takes the country's perceived multicultural fatigue as a pretext for examining facets of the Canadian national imaginary. The discussion is divided into two parts. The first section turns attention away from the specific policy of multiculturalism to focus on the theory of the nation. Although prompted by critiques of multiculturalism, this study does not seek to respond to them in an evaluation of the strengths, shortcomings, or historical transformations of multi-culturalism as a policy.2 Rather, it addresses current unease with multiculturalism indirectly via a review of selected theoretical considerations regarding the nation, in particular theoretical understandings concerning the nature and origins of the nation. I undertake this review not with the intention of arriving at an alternative paradigm of national unity, much less of the Canadian nation, but in the presumption that dissatisfaction with multiculturalism has its roots in conflicting conceptual understandings of the nation at work in Canada, and, in a related vein, that awareness of the competing paradigms of the nation and nationalism will illuminate some of the particular challenges faced by Canada in the formation of a cohesive national imaginary. Stated briefly here, various communities within multinational Canada adhere to different understandings of the nation, and, further, these same communities are at differing stages in their negotiation of an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1913-9659
Print ISSN
0319-051X
Pages
pp. 172-190
Launched on MUSE
2017-06-08
Open Access
No
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