Multiculturalism doesn’t divide. It encourages belonging
Friday, September 14, 2018

Michael Adams is the president of the Environics Institute and author of Could It Happen Here? Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit. Ratna Omidvar is an independent senator for Ontario and distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University.

Maxime Bernier has argued that multiculturalism is a divisive policy that encourages Canadians to identify with their own “tribes” at the expense of their wider society. But there’s abundant evidence that, far from dividing Canadians into factions and hyphenated identities, multiculturalism (or “interculturalism” in Quebec) actually encourages belonging, participation and integration. Critically, it does this by treating all Canadians – not just immigrants – as part of the country’s multicultural fabric (with the exception of the 5 per cent of people in Canada who are Indigenous, few of whom would see themselves as part of the multicultural experiment).

Let’s clarify our terms. “Multiculturalism” refers to a specific policy framework with a history – it was adopted in 1971 – and a budget. The 2018 federal budget allocated $23-million for “multiculturalism” programs over the next two years, primarily the development of a national anti-racism strategy and support for community groups working to help newcomers integrate. That sum is a fraction of 1 per cent of the total federal budget expenditures of about $338-billion.

But multiculturalism is also something less concrete and more powerful: it’s a sensibility that millions of Canadians have adopted as they navigate diversity in daily life in their communities.

We believe that in most places the sensibility of multiculturalism boils down to two key elements. One is simple respect for diversity of race, ethnicity, culture and religion: the sense that diversity is normal, not a problem to be solved. The other is acceptance of the idea that integration works best when it works both ways: Newcomers should do their best to adapt, and those who came before have a role to play in creating environments that support that integration. You can’t integrate into a group that refuses to accept you or treat you fairly.

The idea of multiculturalism pervades Canadian institutions: public schools, neighbourhoods, workplaces, civic life and politics. And this is true far beyond Canada’s three largest cities. Resource jobs have drawn tens of thousands of newcomers to smaller centres in Alberta and Saskatchewan; Atlantic Canada has been courting settlement aggressively; and the Northwest Territories recently recorded its largest-ever immigrant inflow. As communities across Canada become more diverse, they begin to draw on the formal practices and informal habits that constitute day-to-day multiculturalism.

Source: The Globe and Mail, By MICHAEL ADAMS AND RATNA OMIDVAR Read full story