Cardozo: Canada is celebrating 50 years of multiculturalism, a policy that is working but still needs lot of work

Another article mentioning the 50th:

Multiculturalism is working when the top Canadian health officials giving a recent national briefing on COVID-19 were Dr. Theresa Tam, Dr. Howard Njoo and Dr. Supriya Sharma.

Multiculturalism is working when our top-selling Canadian authors include Thomas King, Dionne Brand, Esi Edugyan, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Michelle Good, Joy Kogawa and Jesse Wente.

Multiculturalism is working when our top Canadian athletes include Andre De Grasse, Leylah Fernandez, Patrick Chan, Mo Ahmed, Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Milos Raonic.

Multiculturalism is working when our Members of Parliament have included Marci Ien, Navdeep Bains, Lori Idlout, Olivia Chow and Ya’ara Saks.

When merit is allowed to work all sorts of talent rises to the top.

Fifty years ago on Oct. 8, 1971 Canada ushered in the world’s first Multiculturalism Policy. As a federal initiative it has always been small as government programs go, but has always punched well beyond its weight. 

Importantly, it has created an ethic, a value, a defining characteristic of Canada that is known across Canada and also across the world. 

Take the TTC bus along Wilson or Jane Sts. and you see a veritable reflection of the world. Take a walk through a food court in a Bay St. office tower, same thing. But it’s not the world, it’s Canada.

Often times people point to the colourful symbols of diversity as its great benefit to Canada: the song and dance, the food and restaurants, the summer festivals, and exclaim how wonderful it is.

To be fair, multiculturalism did begin as a fairly celebratory idea. “Celebrating our differences” was one of the early slogans. And politicians of all parties, then, as now, are always only too happy to attend cultural and religious events. 

But a lot of our success exists because of immigration and the multicultural society we have built. Our health care and seniors care systems only exists because immigrants are the undisputed backbone of it, with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, personal support workers pulling together to save Canadian lives.

The bulk of low paid grocery store and plant workers are immigrants from many countries, working to get our food packed and on store shelves. And all these diverse people work together relatively harmoniously, because they accept the diverse society we have built. 

That’s the good story.

Then there’s another side. Here are the questions worth asking:

  • Why are all the low-wage and essential professions filled by immigrants?
  • Why do many of these workers still face racism in the workplace?
  • Why is there still systemic racism in so many systems — police, armed forces, health care to name three.
  • While many racialized Canadians are highly qualified, why are there many fields where they cannot advance, in the public and private sectors? 

Multiculturalism was designed to be an organizing principle that allows for diverse peoples to thrive together, respecting the diversity that exists, while also focusing on the common ties that bind. And that’s not simple. And despite its shortcomings it still works

So here we are at 50? A multicultural society that does work well in many ways and is a beacon to many societies. But which also has many flaws and many unfinished initiatives towards equality.

Today in 2021, we find a world where divisions with countries the world over are more divided than ever before. 

And here’s the growing chasm in Canadian society and many other societies: On the one hand is the assimilationist view point … make us great again! Time to stand up for our history (the predominant version of it), and stop catering to the growing number of calls for equality.

On the other hand is the growing determination for the rights of the nonprivileged. There are number of calls for equality from different perspectives and they add up to a sizable number of people who more strongly and loudly articulating their demand to be heard and responded to.

As we get more serious about who we are as a country and about our values, we find lip-service isn’t enough. A starting point is acknowledging our past, be that residential schools, or slavery. Yes it existed in Canada.

It means sharing the economic pie, paying better wages, stopping the systemic racism, so that we can have more Theresa Tams, Patrick Chans, Michelle Goods and Olivia Chows.


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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: