Interculturalism: A View from Quebec

By McManus, Matthew; O'Callaghan, Connor | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Interculturalism: A View from Quebec


McManus, Matthew, O'Callaghan, Connor, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Interculturalism: A View From Quebec by Gerard Bouchard. University of Toronto Press, 2105

Debates concerning cultural pluralism have dominated the public sphere in many North American countries for the past several years. Many conservative forces seem deeply anxious about the steady erosion of what they once considered ethnically homogenous societies, under assault by a steady stream of immigrants from without and relativistic multi-culturalists from within. One need only look at Donald Trump's xenophic attacks against Latin Americans and Muslims, the Harper Conservatives dog whistling proposals to adopt a "barbaric cultural practices hotline" and crack down on the niqab, or indeed the Parti Quebecois' 2014 call for a Quebec Charter of Values, which promoted militant secularism, for examples of identity politics dominating the public sphere and the political headlines.

Professor Bouchard's Interculturalism: A View from Quebec is an important contribution to the discourse of pluralism from an intellectual deeply committed to the future of the French language. Professor Bouchard is probably best known for his long-standing support for Quebec separatism, and his co-authorship of the 2008 report Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation with Professor Charles Taylor (who contributes a forward to this new book). Much of Bouchard's latest book builds on the insights of the earlier report and his experiences co-chairing its parent Commission. Nonetheless, it develops a distinct set of arguments that are somewhat more sympathetic to the interests of the majority Francophone population than the earlier report.1 Bouchard believes that Quebec inter-culturalism has developed over decades as a viable approach to reconciling the legitimate interests of the Francophone majority in maintaining their culture within Canada, while at the same time respecting the rights, and "commensurable"2 cultural practices of immigrants and various minorities.

Bouchard begins by arguing that the background for his book is the "Quebec nation" which he defines as the 8 million inhabitants who constitute a host society for immigrants. He then expands on this definition to say that the nation covers the "political, civic, cultural, and social aspects" of communal life that serve to knit individuals together.3 He then goes on to clarify that he understands the Quebec nation both as a majority within the province, and as a minority within Canada and the continent.4 Despite adopting a broad understanding of the Quebec nation and its demographic status, Bouchard declines to address the issue of Aboriginal peoples living within Quebec, noting that they wish to be understood as a separate nation within a pluri-national province. While this modesty is commendable, as we shall point out later, the absence of any discussion of Aboriginal peoples haunts many of Bouchard's narratives about Francophones being a "founding people."5

Bouchard believes that the Quebec nation, by virtue of its colonial history and status as a majority within the province and a minority within the state, has a right to promote and defend the "shared culture" of the founding people.6 This means that Quebeckers have a right to accept that cultural minorities and new immigrants will "integrate" within the nation.7 Most notably, he emphasizes time and again that Quebeckers have a right to expect immigrants to learn French, which he hopes will foster a shared sense of "belonging" and investment in the majority culture.8 However, he does not believe Quebeckers have a right to demand that minorities and immigrants assimilate to the dominant culture. Instead, he favors mitigating the duality between the majority and various minority groups while still respecting the standard liberal rights of individuals, which can include retaining attachments to their original culture and/or religion.9 Achieving a balance between the rights of the majority to preserve and deepen French culture, and minorities who may wish to retain their attachments, is at the heart of the inter-cultural approach as Bouchard understands it. …

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