Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Demography, National Myths, and Political Origins: Perceiving Official Multiculturalism in Quebec

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Demography, National Myths, and Political Origins: Perceiving Official Multiculturalism in Quebec

Article excerpt


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. …

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