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Multiculturalism

Last week, I had the honour to participate in a Ditchley Foundation conference. The conference brought together 40 experts from different professions representing 14 countries.

Ditchley Foundation conferences stress open, informal discussions that reflect personal thinking and take place under strict rules of confidentiality.

The overall aim of this conference was to look at ways in which domestic issues around multiculturalism and religion inform and influence the development of foreign policy in different countries across the world.

We examined what multiculturalism means today, how religion is used in motivating or justifying certain policies, and what role both of them play in foreign policy.

We studied examples from across different regions and different political traditions.

Colleagues, the experiences of countries represented around the table were enlightening. It became very clear to me very quickly that Canada has thus far avoided the kind of huge ethnic conclaves or parallel communities that exist in some European countries.

In Canada, multiculturalism versus melting pot is not a new argument. It is has been going on for more than a century. Let’s not forget what Sir Wilfrid Laurier said in 1907:

Quote “Any man who says he is a Canadian, but something else also, isn’t a Canadian at all. We have room for but one flag, the Canadian flag. And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the Canadian people.” End of quote.

The federal government, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, declared in 1971 that Canada would adopt a multicultural policy. The debate has rarely let up since.

In Quebec for example, “reasonable accommodation” has been the topic of heated discussion and study since 2007.

When the Harper government took power, the then Immigration Minister Monte Solberg believed that Canada should not be in the business of cultural preservation.

Jason Kenney became Minister of Immigration and Citizenship in 2008.  He too was for less multiculturalism and more melting pot.

Mr. Kenney set out to tighten the definition of what it means to be a Canadian.He felt that immigrants should do more to conform to Canadian standards. He moved quickly to introduce a more comprehensive study guide for Canadian citizenship and he implemented a new citizenship test.

These changes were undertaken to ensure that new citizens could demonstrate a thorough knowledge of Canada’s history, symbols, institutions and values, and a thorough understanding of the fundamental concepts of meaningful citizenship.

I am proud of the changes that Canada has made to prevent some of the serious societal issues that we heard about at the conference.

Our policies have thus far discouraged isolation of new immigrants and maintenance of ancient animosities.

To paraphrase Premier Jean Charest – Immigration to Canada is a privilege. And welcoming immigrants is a responsibility of all Canadians. Between the two, you have to know where to draw the line.  Thank you.