Metropolis Comments on my deck Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote

Good session at Metropolis 26 March presenting my deck Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote to a full room of 60 people. Helpful and thoughtful comments by the discussants and participants, helping me refine the narrative, and this summary of their comments may be of interest:

Joe Garcia of University of Saskatchewan highlighted how the vertical mosaic as described by Porter had become hybridized given the impact of increased diversity. This hybridization cut across different dimensions: ghettoization (or enclaves), social capital, social cohesion, social non-governmental organizations and identity. Society was more complex with more cross-cutting linkages and issues. He noted the significance of the citizenship data and its implications for inclusion.

Specific suggestions to complete the story from the descriptive and analytical approach of the deck included the need to provide an explicit framework, a narrative that both asked and answer questions, address the implications of the findings, discuss the limitations of available data and statistics (e.g., religion vs. religiosity), and identify data gaps and needs. (I noted the book would include these elements).

Annick Germain of the l’Institut national de recherche scientifique (INRS) noted the presentation was helpful in reminding us of the big picture, noting the contrast between the debate and the everyday reality which appears to be working reasonably well, citing the relatively small numbers of religious minorities that yet dominate public debate. More work needs to be done of public attitudes to diversity to help explain this gap. One of the ironies she flagged is that while visible minorities are more well-educated than non-visible minorities, they have higher unemployment rates and lower incomes.

With respect to concentration and dispersion, she flagged how in the past, the contrast was between the island of Montreal which had a large number of visible minorities and the rest of Quebec which had few. However, more immigrants have been settling in the suburbs of Laval and Longueuil, Quebec now has two faces: greater Montreal with its diversity and the “whiteness” of the rest of the province. The increased dispersion of visible minorities across greater Montreal may however reduce the relative political weight and influence of individual communities.

And in response to my remark that it is no longer MTV (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver) but TVC (Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary), she noted that Montreal has a more diverse mix of communities than Calgary even if the overall number is smaller.

David Ley of the Department of Geography, UBC, expressed concern regarding falling naturalization rates and the possible implications for identity. He also found the difference in citizenship test results between visible minorities and non-visible minorities worrisome as it could weaken the connection to and identification with Canada for affected groups.

He found the data on religious minorities valuable, and commented that the present-day vitality of religions was largely due to immigration given the relative strength and vitality of religion in the “South” compared to countries of the “North.” We may be moving towards post-secularism given this shift and how immigration is increasingly defining religion.

He raised the valid point that we may attribute too much power to what multiculturalism can achieve. How far can multicultural policies affect economic outcomes?

Lastly, he noted that segregation into ethnic enclaves is not necessarily a bad thing. Ethnic neighbourhoods can facilitate integration by providing newcomers with existing community support networks in their first years of settlement. However, one needs to guard against ethnic neighbourhoods that reproduce poverty.

Alden Habecon, Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development, UBC, and Publisher of Schema magazine started off by asking what was the intent of multiculturalism, what was its purpose, and what was it trying to achieve. Was multiculturalism sustainable, or are we having less interaction among communities, with stronger community identities? He questioned how inclusive we were, how open to difference?

Employment equity focussed on the numbers of visible minorities but paid less attention to economic outcomes. He was particularly alarmed about the economic outcomes of second generation 25-34 year old university educated visible minorities as some groups remained behind. “We haven’t neutralized race” as any percentage difference was a warning sign.

The disproportionate decline in visible minority citizenship test pass rates was an example of systematic racism.

More attitudinal research was needed and he reminded participants that research had shown that proximity, contact and exposure do not necessarily increase tolerance.

Participant comments were varied and included the following:

  • How has the narrative changed and what effects has that had?
  • Had a changed narrative permeated the public and changed reality?
  • Depending on the narrative, what should be the indicators to measure success (or failure)?
  • More work was needed on employment equity beyond the numbers to include economic outcomes.
  • Is the change in language from multiculturalism to pluralism significant?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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