With a federal election upon us and the possible change of government, what are the policy changes an incoming government may wish to consider, and which policies may it wish to keep?

The Conservative Government under Minister Kenney refashioned multiculturalism through greater emphasis on integration than accommodation. In many ways, this was reverting to the original recommendations of the 1969 Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism that stressed integration over assimilation, while recognizing the need for individuals and groups to maintain their cultural identities within the overall Canadian legal and values framework.

But Kenney made a number of important shifts. He emphasized that multiculturalism involved relations between all groups of Canadians, not just ‘mainstream’/visible minority relations. Prejudice and discrimination were issues between different visible minority groups. Religious diversity became a more explicit part of multiculturalism. Emphasis shifted from equality and employment equity to ensuring government services were more attuned to serving an increasingly diverse population.

The government also delivered on a series of historical recognition activities for groups that had either been subject to wartime internment (i.e., Ukrainian and Italian Canadians) and immigration restrictions (i.e., Chinese, Indo, and Jewish Canadians). He revised the grants and contribution program to include both project funding and event funding (food and folklore), but with an explicit focus on bringing communities together. He broadened racism and discrimination programming to include specific forms but disappointingly only focused on antisemitism, largely abandoning broader messaging.

The citizenship program reinforced this integration messaging, as well as warnings against ‘barbaric cultural practices’ such as forced marriage and importing ‘homeland’ conflicts into Canada. The Government also used niqabs at citizenship ceremonies as a wedge issue.

Many of the above policy shifts were needed and reflect the ongoing evolution of Canadian diversity. However, in its focus on social cohesion the Government neglected social inclusion.

Early symbolic changes could include language changes. Fully accept that multiculturalism is the Canadian brand of diversity and stop trying to shift to pluralism (which is less integrative). Retain the emphasis on integration — across all communities — but with more acknowledgement of accommodation. Stop using the niqab as a wedge issue but reinforce that accommodation cuts both ways. Reduce the emphasis on the monarchy, both for Canadian identity reasons as well as the mixed history British colonialism has for many groups. Re-assert the equality aspects of multiculturalism along with employment equity.

Beyond language, what other policy and program changes should be considered?

The Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act needs to become a more informative, evidence-based report on the state of multiculturalism in Canada. Ideally, submissions made by individual departments extolling their progress would be complemented by more independent perspectives.

A new government will certainly wish to revisit the program’s objectives. While the core of first objective, “promote intercultural understanding … and equal opportunity … core democratic values” should remain, more inclusive language on accommodation should replace the emphasis “civic memory and pride.” The second objective — improving the responsiveness to an increasingly diverse population — needs to be broadened to (re)include employment equity within government institutions, given the poor record of some departments and agencies. No change is required to the third objective which essentially enables international activity.

A new government needs to ensure that specific anti-racism initiatives (i.e., antisemitism) are complemented by broader anti-discrimination messaging, along with other targeted initiatives as appropriate (e.g., anti-Muslim activity). This needs to be linked to a review of the current governance arrangements for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, established as part of redress for Japanese Canadian World War II internment. The Foundation, arms-length but with board members appointed by the Government, has arguably not lived up to expectations. Consultations and evaluation, jointly with the National Association of Japanese Canadians, are needed to ensure its continued relevance and effectiveness.

Moreover, responsibility for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) needs to be brought back to the multiculturalism program rather than being housed in the Office of Religious Freedom as IHRA’s focus is broader than religion.

A new government should examine the balance between grant and contribution funding for immigrants (almost $600 million for settlement services and the like) and funding for longer-term integration issues under multiculturalism (less than $9 million). Shifting $10 million to multiculturalism projects — more than doubling the budget — would allow for more effective programming to address second-generation issues such as racism and discrimination, radicalization and extremism, and equity and inclusion, with little or no detectable impact on settlement services. A new government will also need to consider whether it wishes to retain ministerial sign-off on projects (for greater political direction) or have this delegated as it does for settlement programming to improve program timeliness and efficiency.

A review of the effectiveness of the Government’s $30 million contribution in 2006 to the Global Centre for Pluralism would allow those board members appointed by the Government to play a more effective role.

A new government will also need to address the dilution of multiculturalism resources and expertise within CIC. Resources have been cut and dispersed, and beyond the Annual Report, and the small grant and contribution, there is little sign that longer-term integration issues are being given the attention that they deserve. Part of this reflects the natural consequences of the functional rather than business line model, which invariably results in resources and management attention devolving to CIC’s ‘centre of gravity’ — immigration.

One of the clearest examples is the loss of research capacity and focus on multiculturalism and longer-term second-generation issues. Given the importance of these to the ongoing success of integration, this capacity needs to be strengthened. A more ambitious agenda would include resuscitating the Ethnic Diversity Survey (not to mention the Census!), last conducted in 2002, but strengthened to reflect religious as well as ethnic diversity.

This dilution has been further exacerbated by the complex web of Ministerial responsibilities between Minister Kenney, as the political minister responsible, Minister Alexander as the departmental minister, and junior Minister Uppal, having largely a ceremonial role. Absent any major machinery change — disruptive at the best of times — any new Prime Minister  should consider only having two ministers, one being the senior minister for CIC, the other being the junior minister, ideally responsible for both citizenship and multiculturalism, to provide somewhat of a counter-weight to the immigration centre of gravity.

While in an ideal world, the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act should be reviewed and updated, the current Act provides sufficient flexibility for governments to interpret and implement policies and programs, as demonstrated under the Conservative government. However, should a new government wish to be more ambitious, any review of the Act should also consider whether a parliamentary Multiculturalism Commissioner would be appropriate to provide a stronger political focus.

While compared to some of the other immigration and citizenship-related issues facing a new government, multiculturalism will be a secondary priority. However, more inclusive language into any messaging can set the tone and signal changes in direction, with more substantive changes to follow as priorities allow.

Photo: by michael_swan / Some rights reserved

Andrew Griffith is the author of “Because it’s 2015…” Implementing Diversity and Inclusion, Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former director general for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad, and is a fellow of the Environics Institute.

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