There are different components of the ethnic reality one could focus upon in examining its probable evolution in the next few decades: individual identity and behaviour; the social organization of ethnicity; the demand by members of ethnic groups and their leaders for the public recognition of their cultures and identities and the corresponding transformation of public institutions; and the forms and contents of institutional responses to this demand, a component that includes government policies and programs. In the few comments that follow, the focus is on the third component, that is, on ethnicity as a public issue and the search for its expression in the public sphere.
A first aspect of this question has to do with the extent to which ethnic differentiation is likely to increase or decrease in importance as a public issue in Canadian society in the years to come or whether it will remain the same as it is today. In other words, is ethnicity likely to be overshadowed as an element of public affairs by other lines of social differentiation such as class, region, or gender?
Ethnicity has not always been equally salient in the conduct of public affairs in Canadian society. In the 1960s and 1970s its importance seems to have increased as a result of a congeries of circumstances. If we are to consider the probable evolution of ethnicity as a public phenomenon in the next two decades, it may be worthwhile to consider the circumstances that contributed to its increased importance in the recent past.