Demography, National Myths, and Political Origins: Perceiving Official Multiculturalism in Quebec
Nugent, Amy, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
Popular and academic discourses perceive Quebec's approach to pluralism, called interculturalism, as being very different from Canada's multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is seen as fragmenting; interculturalism as dialogical and unifying. Yet the hallmark policies of both governments are, in fact, very similar in their approach to cultural pluralism. In policy terms, interculturalism and multiculturalism strike a similar balance between individual rights, the accommodation of cultural difference, and the promotion of social cohesion. Why, then, is there this divergence between perception and policy? Unpacking both, this paper fosters a more accurate understanding of the terms of the multiculturalism/ interculturalism debate. It argues that in this case, demographic and historical contexts as well as national mythologizing are more important in explaining popular and academic discourse than substantive policy differences.
Selon les discours populaire et universitaire, l'approche du Quebec en matiere de pluralisme, appelee interculturalisme, differe grandement du multiculturalisme canadien. Le multiculturalisme est percu comme une politique de fragmentation, et l'interculturalisme comme une politique dialogique et unificatrice. Pourtant, en realite, les politiques propres a chacun de ces gouvernements en ce qui a trait au pluralisme culturel se ressemblent beaucoup. Les politiques en matiere d'interculturalisme et de multiculturalisme concilient de facon semblable les droits individuels, l'acclimatation des differences culturelles et la valorisation d'une cohesion sociale. Alors pourquoi cette divergence entre la perception et la politique? Grace a l'examen de ces deux politiques, l'article vise a mieux faire comprendre les fondements du debat entre le multiculturalisme et l'interculturalisme. L'auteure allegue que dans ce cas precis, pour expliquer les discours populaire et universitaire, il est preferable d'etudier le contexte demographique et historique, ainsi que la fabrication de mythes nationaux, plutot que la difference fondamentale entre les politiques.
Canada has multiculturalism; Quebec, interculturalism. Exploring the differences between the two with a friend from Trois-Rivieres, wandering down an eclectic Montreal street, weaving in and out of French and English, he turned to me to talk closely, "This is interculturalism. C'est l'echange." "Multiculturalism is more like this," he said and, although still at my side, he turned to face away from me. "It's implicit in the words."
As my friend suggested, lexicology helps us understand differences between the two labels: "inter," means "between, among, amid" (OED [Oxford English Dictionary] 1989, vol. VII, 1081), reflecting the idea of exchange, dialogue, cultural reciprocity; "multi-," hints at this: "more than one, several, many" (OED 1989, vol. X, 75), implying a mere coexistence, a separate togetherness. This implied difference is pervasive in Quebec's popular and academic discourse on Canadian multiculturalism. Listening to Radio-Canada or reading Le Devoir quickly reveals a gentle mocking and sometimes derision of Canada's approach to cultural pluralism. Multiculturalism comes off as politically correct, culturally relative, ghettoizing, and atomizing, all at the expense of building a common, robust political culture. In contrast, Quebec's interculturalism is presented as more dialogical and integrative, a common social project.
It is not at all clear, however, whether these labels, interculturalism and multiculturalism, also reflect substantive political or sociological differences. Having worked in government with multiculturalism policy in English Canada and interculturalism in Quebec, my strong sense was that the policies are not different enough to justify the lively banter that characterizes the political/intellectual/media discourse. To establish whether a gap between perception and policy exists, this paper adopts a Kymlickan vocabulary typical to the study of liberal pluralism: individual equality and autonomy, group cultural identity (national and polyethnic), and social cohesion. Using these terms, the first section of the paper surveys recent academic work to substantiate more thoroughly the critique of Canadian multiculturalism that posits interculturalism as a policy alternative. The second asks whether academic analyses accurately reflect the terms of the Canadian and Quebec government's major policies on cultural diversity: what balance do these policies strike between individual rights, cultural identity, and social unity?
Finding a notable convergence of the policies, the third section of the paper offers three explanations to help understand the gap between discourse and policy: first, while the demographic trends of Quebec and Canada are very similar, Quebec is considerably less diverse; second, the critique that posits multiculturalism as weak and culturally relative speaks to the larger perception of Canada as a nation that either does not know itself, or is not a nation at all; finally, the political origins of multiculturalism coincide with a perceived campaign to deny Quebec's national status within Canada. Therefore, the critique is not really about the substance of Canada's multiculturalism policy, but rather an expression of Quebec's sense of rejection and difference in more general terms.
Recent debates over the public funding of private Quebec Jewish schools and over the incorporation of Sharia Islamic law into arbitration and dispute resolution in Ontario family law provide the most recent focus for comparisons between the two societies, at least in newspaper commentaries. A brief survey of newspaper articles in Quebec's major French dailies (1) reveals a range of meanings of "multicul-turalism" from diversity in the arts, to a benign demographic atout, to an ineffective approach to managing pluralism. Significantly, this critique is directed largely at English Canada.
Canadian multiculturalism is presented as problematic because it overemphasizes group cultural rights at the expense of both individual equality and social cohesion. This critique, articulated so clearly in the work of author Neil Bisoondath, sees multiculturalism as essentializing and ghettoizing the individual who belongs to a minority culture and limiting the possibility of meaningful social exchange and integration in the public sphere. In contrast, Quebec's approach is portrayed as building a common public culture. Two news articles stand out as particularly significant here, both from high-profile Quebec political columnists and pundits. Federalist Alain Dubuc's syndicated column in La Presse commented on "Le delire multicultural," denouncing Ontario's proposed use of Sharia law as a threat to fundamental common values and the rule of law, and as unacceptable to Quebec (2004, A23). Michel David in the more nationalist Le Devoir, similarly argued that multiculturalism runs contrary to Quebec's preference "pour un module de societe privilegiant l'integration des communautes culturelles a la majorite francophone" (2005, B3).
In addition to the claim that multiculturalism is socially fragmenting, it is also worth noting a gentler criticism that nonetheless has traction in popular discourse. This is the idea that Canadian identity is overly relative and hyphenated: a recent Radio-Canada …
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Publication information: Article title: Demography, National Myths, and Political Origins: Perceiving Official Multiculturalism in Quebec. Contributors: Nugent, Amy - Author. Journal title: Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal. Volume: 38. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 2006. Page number: 21+. © 2007 Canadian Ethnic Studies Association. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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