Political Science Research Paper on Canadian Multiculturalism

Before starting the discussion on the complexity of correlation between Canadian multiculturalism and idea of the strong Canadian identity, it must be noted that such argument cannot be assessed in the absence of a clear understanding of political processes related to the strategy of nation-building. This qualification is particularly salient in the Canadian case, where the precarious nature of pan-Canadian identity has traditionally been in itself somewhat of a ‘national symbol’ due to the persistent existential question in Quebec. (Taylor, 1994) Indeed, as will be shown below, policymakers at the federal level charged with defining the bases of belonging in Canada have not only faced the challenges associated with the incorporation of diverse cultural identities but have been confronted with a national minority with established political institutions within a well-circumscribed territory.

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After careful research on the subject outlined, it is apparent that Canadian multiculturalism has been and continues to be a product of nation-building efforts and not a genuine commitment to the main tenets of strong Canadian identity. In other words, it is an element of a political strategy by the central state to forge a strong commitment, by its citizens, to Canada as a single and unified political community. Canadian multiculturalism should not be viewed as an example of the emerging ideology of multiculturalism and its implications for the redefinition of the legitimacy of nation-states in the case of polyethnic societies.

“The main tenets of Canadian citizenship status are not that far off from those of the United States.” (Carens, 2000) Indeed, the place of culture in Canadian conceptions of citizenship is liberal – it is about building a nation based on universal principles. A model of cultural pluralism along the lines of Quebec interculturalism makes a more serious effort to balance the prerogatives of unity with the preservation and flourishing of minority cultures. The enduring problem confronting the Quebec model, one that would have to be taken into account in any future attempts at empirical verification, is the idea of competing interpretations of citizenship by those targeted for integration in the first place. (Carens, 2000)

As Joppke makes clear, each society’s actual response to immigration and polyethnicity does not merely stem from an abstract model that is subsequently applied to the real world: “The concrete meaning of multiculturalism and its linkage to immigration differs significantly across these societies. These differences are conditioned by distinct traditions of nationhood, the specific historical contexts in which immigration has taken place, and the existing immigration regimes.” (Joppke, 1996)

As such, the case of Quebec, although formally a province of Canada, nevertheless merits independent consideration as the Quebec state has negotiated broad authority over immigration. Moreover, Quebec constitutes a distinct political community with a well-defined collective cultural project that includes the integration of immigrants into that plan. Canada’s other provinces, by contrast, have been content to leave this policy area in the hands of the federal government. In short, Quebec should be viewed as a host society in its right, with its own historical and cultural development, its sense of nationhood, and a distinct discourse with regards to the general orientations and choices of society.

There are indeed political imperatives at work in such policy outcomes. An assessment of Canadian multiculturalism cannot forgo the fact that in the final analysis, it is a policy and not an ‘ontological’ principle devoid of contingencies. (Taylor, 1994) The idea of multiculturalism must not be confused with the Canadian policy, as this is prone to stifling debate concerning the value of the policy in framing citizenship status.

Returning to the normative backdrop for evaluating integration as developed above, it is clear that the Canadian strategy was related to both the goal of unity and the fostering of citizen dignity through the recognition of particular cultural affiliations. First, it seeks to achieve unity through a pan-Canadian nation-building project that emphasizes the primacy of individual rights in a constitutional Charter of Rights and a choice of language use, between French or English, across the country.

Superimposed on individual rights is the official recognition of all constituent cultures, equally. Such attention, however, is largely a symbolic concession – the fabrication of an identity marker based on the voluntary adherence to particular cultural allegiances. In Weinfeld’s words: “In the absence of any consensus on the substance of Canadian identity or culture, multiculturalism fills a void, defining Canadian culture regarding the legitimate ancestral cultures which are the legacy of every Canadian: defining the whole through the sum of its parts.” (Weinfeld, 1981)

By forging a collective identity throughout the country based on the ‘sum of its parts,’ it was hoped that the identity marker for unity could be universal – the equal recognition of all cultures, within a regime governed by individual rights and bilingualism. In this way, adherence to particular cultural attachments could be voluntary for all individuals, while at the same time claiming to ‘empower’ citizens of minority cultures through reductionist means – Canada’s symbolic order was to be based on the negation of any particular cultural definition.

Webber argues that the Canadian response, by conceptualizing citizenship in such terms, has in effect altered social relations to the point of damaging the exercise of democracy. The Canadian political community in this sense is predicated on the judicialization of social interactions, to the detriment of the deliberative aspects of representative democracy. The idea of public space for citizen participation, reflection, and deliberation within the political community is reduced to a small forum of rights-bearers.

Deliberative assemblies give way to the ‘legalization’ of social relations, preventing parliaments from being responsible for organizing social life and, ultimately, preventing citizens from identifying with others in the political community. (Webber, 1994)

According to Kymlicka, the outcome of Canadian multiculturalism as a symbol for identification is analogous to the United States in its failure to differentiate between national minorities and polyethnic communities. The fundamental difference between the two is that the former strive for self-determination while the latter seek inclusion. Canada’s policy fails to address this distinction – multiculturalism becomes a mechanism to quell legitimate national aspirations – thus it fundamentally shares with the US model a certain homogenization, or universalization, of identity, albeit through cultural relativism. (Kymlicka, 1995)

Kymlicka argues that the American reluctance to recognize minority nations is a direct result of its assimilationist model, a fear that such recognition will trickle down to polyethnic communities and thus undermine the bases for unity. (Kymlicka, 1995) Canada’s policy stems from similar fears. However, Canada’s response was to elevate the status of cultural groups to the same level as that of national minorities. Both are universal, both are bound by nation-building projects which stress unity, and both fail in any significant way to recognize territorially defined group-differentiated rights as a federal principle. (Kymlicka, 1995)

As such, the Canadian response was not predicated on a genuine commitment to the ideology of multiculturalism as a pillar upon which to frame citizenship status. The goal was unity in the face of a national minority challenge. Quebec’s national identity was placed, constitutionally, alongside every other minority culture as a basis for identification.

In Taylor’s terms, multiculturalism as such fails to appreciate the ‘deep diversity’ in Canada, in which difference can be recognized on tiered levels given particular groupings’ political aspirations and historical/territorial/linguistic realities. (Taylor, 1994) In adopting a strategy for unity similar to the American approach – uniformity from coast to coast based on universal principles – the Canadian policy in effect failed to recognize that national minorities, as opposed to polyethnic communities, seek to provide a ‘centre’ for identification, their pole of allegiance necessary for unity and common purpose.

In other words, national identity in Quebec assumes a self-determining project for society. The community of reference for all citizens under the banner of multiculturalism, however, is Canada. Webber summarizes: “This ideology defines itself about the territorial state: it circumscribes a community of belonging to the state within a country – Canada.” (Webber, 1994)

The Canadian constitution protects individuals from collective intrusions. It can be argued that the failure to achieve unity and common purpose is not inherent in the model of multiculturalism adopted. Rather, disunity is a product of federal dynamics – Canada is not a nation-state that can claim the status of a single and unified host society. As such, one can assess the policy independently of the Quebec question, which to a large extent may explain the motivation for the policy but not its actual effects as a model for integration.

If we disregard the variable of multinationality in Canada, has multiculturalism been successful in integrating immigrants and ethnic groups? Indeed, if we begin with the assumption that Canada constitutes a single political community or host society, we can then proceed to evaluate the success of multiculturalism without considering disunity concerning the fragmentation of ‘national allegiance.’ (Carens, 2000) Unity can thus be conceptualized as the extent to which minority groups feel as though they belong to a single community called Canada, and participate in the general affairs of the larger society.

As a response to critics who view multiculturalism as a divisive force in Canada, Will Kymlicka provides some empirical data that demonstrate the success of multiculturalism regarding the integration of minority cultures. (Kymlicka, 1995) Indeed, the line of criticism discussed does not challenge the integrative success of the policy. The claim is that due to the imperatives of nation-building, for unity in the face of the Quebec question, Canada chose to adopt a ‘lowest common denominator’ formula that rejected the recognition of culture as an aspect of belonging altogether. (Kymlicka, 1995)

Trudeau’s ‘just society’ is predicated on the notion that an emotive attachment to a polity is destructive and backward, and that progress requires an emphasis on reason, which is universal, to serve as a guiding principle in any citizenship regime. If we look closely at Kymlicka’s indicators for integration, however, it may be argued that although integration has been rather successful, it came at the expense of the recognition and preservation of minority cultures – which in the final analysis is the defining feature of ideological multiculturalism.

The Canadian model operates along the primacy of individual rights in a constitutional Charter of Rights, with an interpretive clause for the recognition of diverse cultural affiliations. The interpretive clause is the only element of differentiation from American assimilation. There is no democratic imperative for the identification of diverse minority cultures besides a legal/procedural provision that may be invoked if the minority group in question chooses to do so. This is a key conceptual distinction between the Canadian and Quebec models, and it stems from the nature of the expectations of democracy itself.

Public space is based on individual participation via a bill of rights. The success of minority groups within indicators such as ‘naturalization rates’, ‘political participation’ (including the institutional avenues of participation), ‘official language competence’, ‘intermarriage rates’ and lack of territorial enclaves of cultural groups are addressed to those critics who view multiculturalism as divisive to the forging of a strong Canadian identity. (Carens, 2000)

They do not speak to the explicit concern for the preservation and flourishing of minority cultures within the political community – the capacity of such groups to participate and affect the public affairs of the country without shedding their particular group identities. The debate itself thus takes place outside the imperatives of ideological multiculturalism. In other words, these criteria may very well be addressing a regime committed to assimilation.

The fact that Canadian identity – the way citizens relate to each other and the state in determining societal preferences – is predicated on such terms implies that there is no public culture on which minority cultures can make their mark. Again, multiculturalism in Canada does not reflect the recognition of diverse cultures; instead, to be blunt, it refers to the denial of religion altogether in defining the limits and confines of public space.

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