National Multiculturalism Dialogue Needed: Prof

National multiculturalism dialogue needed: prof

Charles Enman
Canwest News Service
Published: Friday, June 06, 2008

OTTAWA – Official multiculturalism is “the wrong approach” for Canada and it may cause problems here unless a national conversation clarifies issues raised by the policy, a leading University of Ottawa professor says.

Gilles Paquet, a senior research fellow at the university's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, also is calling for a “moral contract” with immigrants to clarify the responsibilities of citizenship that apply to all Canadians, and he proposes a system of graduated citizenship that would reflect different degrees of commitment to the country.

“What it (multiculturalism) does is encourage people to stand apart, to be ghettoized. And for Canadians generally, it means we don't know what reasonable expectations we may have of newcomers, and newcomers don't know what expectations they may have of us,” says Paquet.

He says the great achievement of the recent Bouchard-Taylor Commission in Quebec was its effect of opening such a conversation in the province.

“They broke open Pandora's box and it was a step forward . . . And what's clear is that accommodation won't be zero per cent or 100 per cent, but something that will be negotiated.”

English Canada, he says, is nowhere near allowing such discussion.

“In English Canada, multiculturalism is a sacred cow, and if you even raise questions about it, you can very easily be labelled a bigot. Political correctness puts a chill on everything.”

Paquet has just published a book, through the University of Ottawa Press, that wades gingerly into these issues.

Deep Cultural Diversity: A Governance Challenge discusses academic papers on diversity and offers analysis of how diversity might best be regulated.

In person, however, his words are far more direct and carry more punch.

“When we say to people, 'You can come here and you don't really have to adapt, you can remain just the person you were, even in this new setting' – well, we know it's a bit unreal and utopian, but what we don't know is that it's dangerous.”

People who come to Canada under such understandings often, not always, fail to become authentically Canadian, he says.

“We get a citizenship of convenience. We get situations like we had in Lebanon two years ago, where people who hadn't paid Canadian taxes in 20 years were waving their passports and saying, 'You have to take care of me.' And we took them on a Canadian ship for free – the only country that did so.”

Paquet says some immigrants bring practices from their home countries that are not acceptable in Canada, and yet Canadian authorities do very little.

He believes citizenship itself is a basket of moral contracts – one which, in today's Canada, is not clearly defined.

“When people living in foreign countries have Canadian passports but pay no taxes here and come back only to make use of our health-care system, this is absurd.”

Canadians never really chose the multiculturalism that has been official policy for several decades, Paquet says.

The Trudeau government, he says, introduced the policy in 1971 in an effort to dilute the nationalism of French Canadians.
“The problem is, we never clarified that there had to be accommodation on both sides, that certain things were non-negotiable, that each side had to go half the distance. “That is the source of the malaise. People wonder where the accommodation will end.”