The new government has wisely chosen to return the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage after atrophying at CIC/IRC, but the transition may not be too smooth.

CM_Table_12_Transfer_to_CICAs part of the new Ministry, the multiculturalism program has been transferred back to Canadian Heritage after seven years at CIC (and eight with former Minister Kenney).

This includes responsibility for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) and, presumably, the Global Centre for Pluralism and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (the previous government had the head of the Office for Religious Freedom, housed at Global Affairs, be the lead).

This is personally and professionally interesting,  given that I managed the transfer to CIC in 2008, and have consistently written that multiculturalism was atrophying at CIC given its more operational focus on citizenship and immigration.

As I wrote two years ago in my conclusion to Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism on the longer-term impact of CIC’s departmental structure and culture on the multiculturalism program:

A functional model like CIC has advantages in creating greater clarity between the policy and operational functions, but tends to reinforce the centre of gravity and allocate resources accordingly. A business line model like PCH provides more focused policy and program integration at the business line or program level, but increases rigidity and coordination issues between business lines. While the PAA structure acts as a counterweight, over time the centre of gravity will dominate. Arguably, for integration, citizenship and multiculturalism, the lines between pure policy and pure operations (e.g., citizenship ceremony design, G&C management) are less clear than for admissibility and immigration selection. Additionally, one of the legacies of the Cullen-Couture agreement transferring immigration selection and integration funding to Quebec meant CIC was largely uninterested in using the levers in citizenship and multiculturalism to highlight federal presence in Quebec. A sharp contrast to PCH which had, and viewed itself as having, a strong role in Quebec.

In many ways, the collective impact for multiculturalism will, over time, become closer to the original Reform Party objective of 1996-97 of abolishing multiculturalism and strengthening a strong, common narrative of citizenship. The Cabinet shuffle of July 2013 and the separation of the political function, which remained under Minister Kenney, from the departmental function, under Minister Alexander, is significant in that context. While political, community-based outreach is central to electoral strategies (the “fourth sister”), as evidenced by Minister Kenney’s ongoing responsibility for this critical outreach, the substantive policy and program focus on long-term integration issues will continue to decline. This is a legitimate policy choice but it is striking just how little debate this change has provoked.

The Liberal government’s decision to reverse the transfer and restore the broader Canadian Heritage identity mandate (and no longer have multiculturalism ‘travel’ with a minister) will reinvigorate multiculturalism, both within the department and across government more generally.

This is strengthened by the Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, with the following mandate:

Considers issues concerning the social fabric of Canada and the promotion of Canadian pluralism. Examines initiatives designed to strengthen the relationship with Indigenous Canadians, improve the economic performance of immigrants, and promote Canadian diversity, multiculturalism, and linguistic duality.

However, the Minister for Canadian Heritage has no ‘junior’ minister for multiculturalism. Moreover, she will of course focus on her immediate priorities  (e.g., restore CBC funding, double the Canada Council’s budget, reinvest in Telefilm and the National Film Board, move or cancel the proposed monument to victims of communism).

Her broad mandate, in her words, is being in charge of “symbols of progressiveness,” which will play out in a number of areas, including preparations for Canada’s 150th anniversary.

So while the new Cabinet committee (and cabinet and caucus composition) suggest a ‘mainstreaming’ of multiculturalism, the limited attention the new Minister will be able to devote to multiculturalism is a possible cause for concern.

Moreover,  the dispersal of and reductions to multiculturalism resources at CIC/IRC means considerable rebuilding will be required, not to mention some possibly difficult negotiations between Canadian Heritage and CIC/IRC on the level of resources to be returned.

So while this move is a welcome one on many counts, one has to temper expectations in the shortto medium-term.

The above table highlights the FTEs and Operations and Maintennance resources transferred in 2008 (about $12 million in Grants & Contributions funding was also transferred).

Chapter 6 of my book describes the process, resource transfers and impact in that transfer (available at Lulu.com, direct link My Author Spotlight).

Photo: Eva Blue / Some Rights Reserved