Embracing diversity: Canada's advantage
By: John Kennair
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 01, 2012 06:00 am
All countries are based upon myths, which are designed to build a sense of oneness – a sense of being. These mythologies are more commonly known as “nationalism,” which finds its origins in the 18th century. National dress, such as the Scottish tartan, or a language created from a dialect, such as Norwegian or Ukrainian, are common created tools of nationalism. Brought forth by the elite of those countries, they were a means of generating loyalty to the state. Even to this day, those acts still garner strong support, though the term “nationalism” now has negative connotations.
Nationalism fell out of vogue after the Second World War, becoming associated with an ethnic and national culture, which brought with it hate, and post-war societies shunned it. Instead, as multi-ethnic societies grew, a new means of organizing loyalty was sought – patriotism. Engendering a sense of a collective identity, it sought to eradicate the ideas of “difference” amongst citizens; we were now all one people, living within a geographic territory – a state. In the new world, the United States took the “melting pot” approach, moulding all of its citizens upon the ideals of the “American Dream;” in Canada we followed the “cultural mosaic” approach, accepting all of the various cultures for the richness they brought to our country. Our approach was designed to distinguish us from our American cousins, but we still had a commonality behind these approaches: there was still that dominant set of Anglocentric values, which Canada was founded upon in the 18th century.
If one wishes to know and understand Canada, this is important to remember, as our transition to becoming a multicultural society took place over a relatively short period of time. It was not until the 1960s with the Quiet Revolution in Quebec that Canada acknowledged its bicultural heritage. In 1972, it took measures to recognize our multicultural heritage, declaring us a multicultural society in 1979. Canada still functions primarily in English, but we have made strides to recognize the ideals of “equality.” It was not just the English, the Scots, the French or our indigenous peoples who built this country, but the Irish, the Chinese, the Scandinavians, the Russians, the Ukrainians, and Germans who also helped to pioneer this land. And within 20 years the idea of Canada changed. And it will continue to change.
This transition has not been without its strife and prejudice; every so often we will hear those bigoted, “Archie Bunker” comments. There is clearly an under-current of resistance to change that is taking place within Canada. Fuelled by fear and a lack of understanding, these biases can create nothing but problems for us. Already in Europe, one can see the resurgence of far-right political parties that are looking back to homogeneous ideals of a bygone era, and these groups are looking for someone else to blame for their current woes in Europe. But ours is a new society – a heterogeneous civilization – with the concept of Canada being imported from other lands and other peoples. We should embrace this for it gives us a competitive advantage within the world’s economy. Instead of looking at the superficial differences amongst people, we should look at those common values we all have within humanity. Canada is the symbolic maple tree, with each leaf representing a different culture: If we nourish it, then we can only grow stronger. And that is how we will all benefit.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.