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76th Annual Summer Conference, August 9–12, 2007

Canada — Who Shall We Be?

MICHAEL ADAMS (bio), President, Environics Research Group
WILL KYMLICKA (bio), Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, Queen’s University
Ethnocultural Diversity in a Liberal State: Making Sense of the Canadian Model(s) (pdf) by Will Kymlicka
VERONICA LACEY (bio), President and CEO, The Learning Partnership
Moderator: GWEN BURROWS, CIPA Board Member

Summary by Natalie Fraser

Will Kymlicka


There are three different policy frameworks/silos dealing with three different types of diversity in Canada that have emerged historically at different times. The first is for Aboriginal peoples, including self-governance, rights, and fiduciary trusts. The second is the French fact in Canada and the relationships between the two original colonial societies, the British and the French. The third is groups that have their origin in Canada after it was established as a sovereign state. Together they make up the Canadian model. All three are vital to the success of Canada and we can’t succeed unless all three frameworks are working properly.

Canada has had a long history of immigration but we expected people to assimilate and that any group seen as incapable of this was excluded from immigration to Canada. We shifted from racially restricted immigration to race neutral immigration based on the point system. We also replaced assimilation with the multiculturalism policy in 1971. Everyone should be free to participate in public life without having to hide their ethnic identity. The core foundations of these three silos were put in place in one decade. This decade was a period of intense liberalization in Canadian society – the human rights revolution. The transformation of diversity policies has to be seen as part of the larger process of liberalization and human rights reform. The Canadian Model is that given our demography and history, it is appropriate that we accommodate diversity and acknowledge colonization and how our institutions have historically privileged some group. We want to construct relations of equal citizenship.

These diversity policies can be seen as a kind of third wave of the human rights revolution. The first wave is decolonization at the international level. The second wave is the racial desegregation movements that started in the United States. The third wave is a struggle for various kinds of recognition of diversity. These movements around the world have been the third wave. These three waves are attempts to overcome legacies of earlier racial and ethnic hierarchies that have been built into society for decades, if not centuries. We want to convert earlier relations of hierarchy into relations of democratic citizenship. Are we making any progress towards this lofty goal? If I’m right, this has implications for what we measure success as. If our diversity policies are human rights based, and rooted in liberal democratic values, what would count as success?

There are two tests we should be applying: are we making progress in creating equality across ethnic, racial and religious lines and are we protecting the rights of individuals within groups. We want freedom within groups and equality between groups. We don’t want to enable some members of groups to discriminate against other members of the group. I think we are doing reasonably well on protecting the rights of individuals; we are doing a mixed job with respect to creating equality across lines. Whatever our failings or incompleteness, those basic pillars that we put in place in the 1960s were the right ones. Whatever our failings, they are not reasons to reject those basic pillars that we built upon.

Michael Adams


An understanding of social change is very important to understand the trajectory on which we are going. It is important not to look at all the things that are going wrong; we also need some positive news about what is working. We want to be a place where people from all over the world can come and we care about their skills and not their nations of origin. I have some statistics to share with you about how we are doing: Canada’s foreign born population as a percentage of its total population is 19%. Between 1991–2000 the majority of immigrants to Canada came from non-European countries.

The Greater Toronto Area receives 43% of all new immigrants every year. This area is incredibly diverse. There are 14 groups in Toronto that have more than 1% of the population in Toronto. The proportion of immigrants who come to Canada who become naturalized is higher in Canada than in anywhere else in the world and is nearly double the next country. This means that we want them to be citizens and that they want to become citizens.

Canada is the only country that has a foreign born representation in each of its political parties. Some researchers have made the claim that Canada does not have ethnic ghettos. Italians in the 1980s were more ethnically concentrated than the Chinese today. Ethnic enclaves reflect self-selection. Groups that live in ethnic enclaves are more economically successful than those who do not. Most immigrants report improvements to their material lives after their immigration to Canada. 84% of new Canadians say that they would make the same decision again to immigrate to Canada. Canadians are most likely of any G8 country say that immigrants are good for the economy. Canadians are least likely to say that immigrants commit more crime. Canadians are the most supportive of immigration. Canadians are telling us that multiculturalism is increasingly central to our identity.

Veronica Lacey


The people who don’t have kids in school make up 70% of the Canadian population. We found that Canadian kids are doing very well in school; they are only second to Finland in terms of literacy and third in terms of math and science to Japan and Korea. Rural depopulation is a very serious issue in Canada because schools across the country in rural environments are getting smaller and are being closed. Furthermore, our young people in rural schools are under performing as compared to young people who live in urban environments. This public institution is the only place that brings together people over different cultures, religions, and races to learn how to be a Canadian. 60% of Canadians believe that Canadian schools are effective in meeting the needs of immigrants. Immigration is seen as having a bigger impact on education in Ontario, yet Ontarians feel relatively more likely to support resources to support Aboriginal children.

Residences in the Prairies see their growing number of Aboriginal people as having the greatest impact on education, but they are only average on their support for education of Aboriginal kids. The data indicates that immigrants and visible minorities go on to train in universities more than Canadian born youth. However, when they get to the workplace, the opportunities are not there for them. The Aboriginal education situation is a disgrace. If you go to Alberta or Saskatchewan you will see that only 25% of kids graduate from secondary schools. In Iqaluit, that number is worse. The fact that in our country we have a group of children who are facing greater hardship in the educational system than any other group is a matter of concern to all of us as Canadians no matter where we live.

Why are we the only country that does not have any kind of national view on education? We have more serious recommendations for school boards, like you can’t deal with visible minorities only when there is a crisis and forget them the rest of the time. We must deal with the issue of faith-based schools. Our schooling must ensure that our visible minorities end up with teachers who look like them. They have to see themselves reflected as being successful. We need those heroes in school. Together, it can be done. I believe as a teacher, as an immigrant, that this is the place to be, but it will take the will of everyone, not the politicians, to say that these are our children. They are our children and they are our future.

Questions and Answers

Question for Veronica Lacey: Please elaborate on your thoughts on faith-based schools.

Veronica Lacey – Ontario is the only province in Canada that funds two religious systems. In Quebec, faith based schools are private, but they get a lot of government funding. In Manitoba they are classified as independent. It is important to remember that Ontario is alone in terms of faith based funding for schools. I don’t think we will ever go in Ontario to one system. If we don’t pay attention to the demands of our communities, they will form their own schools. There has been a significant emergence of independent and private schools in this province. Whether we like it or not, our public school system is going to become fractured unless we come to a common understanding. The public school system should be the umbrella for all the schools and come up with a model that will allow these communities to identify their needs but subscribe to the values of the whole.

Question for Veronica Lacey: Some neighbors have particular difficulties. If you compare this to areas of the UK, can you see this as a class-issue rather than a diversity issue? With Aboriginal issues, can you compare that with very distant rural non-Aboriginal communities?

Veronica Lacey – The socioeconomic background of a family has a direct impact on the opportunities that young people seek for themselves. The way the family views the potential of education to open doors for young people has a direct impact. Where families believe that education is the key to success, those children will succeed. In terms of the Aboriginal community, most young children live on reserves. When you live on the margins, you have the same separation and identity crisis as other groups.

Question for Veronica Lacey: One of the big issues in Toronto is the linguistic diversity. In maintaining a common education standard, we need to have our children speaking English or French. What are your beliefs on English as a Second Language and adequate teaching of English as a Second Language?

Veronica Lacey – There is not enough money for English as a Second Language. It takes five years before children become comfortable with a language. On the issue of literacy, I would say that if you are literate in Spanish, you are at least literate. I support teaching in the primary language of the child and of the family. If you don’t speak English, you are not illiterate, you just don’t speak English.

Question for Michael Adams: Are we rare in that many of our leaders are foreign born? Are we doing well in getting these people into Cabinet or is there a de facto political glass ceiling? What about the judiciary? Are they moving into the Supreme Court of Canada?

Michael Adams – The initial numbers look good on getting people from different countries into Canadian politics. In America, the idea that you get involve in politics as a new American seems ridiculous. People come to Canada and know they need to be civically engaged. People are getting elected here in areas that do not reflect their ethnicity.

Question for Veronica Lacey: You mentioned that we have no national department of education. Please talk about this.

Veronica Lacey – We all understand why we don’t have a national department of education. We struggle to find a common vision and view. It seems to me that when we talk about a global environment, it doesn’t make sense to talk about education in the provinces. There are ridiculous internal barriers in the education system. There should be a national view on education.

Question for the panel: Please comment on these things: elections – who elects who and who participates in elections, bureaucrats – who participates in the bureaucracy in Canada, and class – put class in a perspective with race.

Michael Adams – You have to have the qualifications to get into the country. The first thing you’ll be interested in when coming to this country is getting a job, finding a place to live, etc. This is a huge risk; it is an astounding transition and sacrifice. With all of these struggles, it is astounding that there is still energy left to get civically engaged. Some people are so caught up in trying to survive, that civic engagement seems like a dream. We need to fight discrimination and help people get jobs equal to their qualifications, their civic engagement and public participation will follow. I made the case that ethnic enclaves work better; the areas where we are not doing well are where there are a lot of different groups and they share their poverty.

Question for Will Kymlicka: How do we develop shared cultural characteristics? How do you manage these tensions when diversity doesn’t involve the ideals of human rights or shared liberal ideas – when diversity includes people whose beliefs don’t include liberal values or human rights.

Will Kymlicka – This is why we have the Constitution and a Bill of Rights. We want these limits upheld. A lot of people think multiculturalism is based on cultural relativism, but this has nothing to do with the formation of the multiculturalism policy in Canada. We offer Newcomers a set of rights that are available to them when they become citizens.

Question for Michael Adams: The whole idea of racialization gets buried in statistics. Please comment on this.

Michael Adams – When Canadians make a decision, they chose gender equality over patriarchy. There is no ethno-cultural group to which others are being asked to assimilate to in Canada. We are in the process of creating Canada. This is more sensitive in Quebec. Quebec looks a little more like France, but it is like having France in Canada.

Question for Michael Adams and Will Kymlicka: Have you seen any evidence of the emergence of ethnic based political movements in Canada?

Will Kymlicka – I am not aware of the formation of ethnic political parties by Newcomers. Compared to most other western democracies, immigrants have been able to access mainstream political parties in Canada. Political parties look to get support in immigrant ethnic groups. In some other countries, like France, parties are willing to give up the immigrant vote. There hasn’t been the kind of exclusion from the mainstream parties to make the rationale for the formation of ethnic-based political parties.

Michael Adams – I am not aware of the formation of any ethnic political parties about to form.