Multiculturalism has failed in the preservation of cultures
By Idrian Burgos, Contributor
There’s no doubt multiculturalism serves as an important pillar in current Canadian ideology. According to this pillar, no culture is better than the rest. Rather than the “melting pot” ideology of the United States, where all immigrant cultures are “melted” into a single national identity, Canada, since Pierre Trudeau, has chosen the “mosaic” option of all cultures being equal and celebrated. You can celebrate your English, French, Indian, Chinese, or whatever identity you were born with. You don’t need to assume the culture of the dominant society or pretend to be a member of that society. Multiculturalism has led to the widespread celebration of Canada’s numerous ethnic identities and has, to an extent, successfully helped with the integration of immigrants into this country, allaying fears of its threat to national identity. Multiculturalism has indeed become part of our national identity, and it’s hugely celebrated.
The problem here is that it actually does a disservice to the cultures it’s supposed to protect, and to their preservation and celebration in Canada.
First of all, I disagree with having a Canadian version of the melting pot. It’s quite funny to see the “Canadian values” all Canadian immigrants must adopt, with their law and order, parliamentary democracy, and human rights principles—essentially no different from the “American values” all American immigrants are required to adopt. The danger lies either in the domination of minority cultures by the majority culture, like in Quebec, or the subsuming of all cultures to an incomprehensible set of values. While the melting pot certainly isn’t a good model for dealing with immigrants, multiculturalism is no better of a model.
One problem with multiculturalism is its trivialization of cultures. Messages encouraging the celebration of culture intend things like food or dance. The deeper beliefs and values found in every culture aren’t much discussed. When they are, it’s often for the sake of that culture’s promotion. Not much is done to set these values against the context of a new land, to plant these cultural beliefs in a different soil—with the historic exceptions of the English, French, and Aboriginal cultures, which were “Canadianized.” The transplanted cultures from Ukraine and Japan remain Ukrainian and Japanese in their new place—not much transformation in accordance with different conditions or a limited degree of “Canadianization.” Trivialization insults cultures, while self-preservation prevents them from participating fully in Canadian society.
Other problems with multiculturalism are its relativization of cultures and failure to provide a larger, unifying identity. The former stems from multiculturalism’s cultural equality principle, the latter from multiculturalism’s cultural-centrism. The distinct characteristics each culture can contribute alone to society are dampened by the “all cultures are equal” rule. The encouragement to celebrate your culture and other cultures leads to celebration of “culture” alone, without providing a larger framing identity under which all cultures can swear allegiance, coexist peacefully, and play important roles in a continuing narrative of nation. And Trudeau’s liberalism doesn’t qualify.
The melting pot keeps cultures under a dominant force. Multiculturalism emphasizes culture to the point where both culture and the territorial reality beyond it are endangered. Can an alternative that does true justice to cultures and ensures the survival of a country exist?
Sir John A. Macdonald encouraged Canadians to be Canadians above all. Thomas D’Arcy McGee saw that the Irish can only be Irish under a tolerant constitutional monarchy. Joe Clark talked of a “community of communities.” A strong state identity can provide stability and a sense of purpose for the cultures under it. Each culture should contribute its best values to national identity, reshaped by local peculiarities. This combination of general identity and specific cultural contributions can best serve the welfare of smaller communities and of the larger community.