Thursday, March 20, 2014

Diversity & inclusivity a Canadian dichotomy and do they even matter?

The idea that cultural/racial diversity— multiculturalism, if you will—is desirable seems to have lost traction in Quebec, though, it seems to flourish in the rest of Canada—at least, at the official level.

Having said that, I’m reminded of my two years in Quebec in the 1960s, when I was taken aback by the level and frequency of intolerance I encountered. Anti-Semitism was openly expressed to the point it made me squirm at times and outraged me at other times—far exceeding anything I encountered during my years in Toronto. So, perhaps, multiculturalism never did have much traction in Quebec in the first place.

As far as I can tell, social systems in Montreal, Toronto and my town, Burlington, Ontario seem to work well enough. There is no clear indication that a uniform/conforming society is at any disadvantage, nor is there some benchmark—governance perhaps—that tells us a diverse/inclusive society is superior. At least none that I have found.

Quebec’s Charter of Values (Bill 60) offers to affirm “the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests [within the public sector ].” Effectively, the Charter would ban public sector workers from wearing such religious garb as hijabs, turbans or ostentatious crucifixes.

Furthermore, as reported earlier this week by Global News:

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois said that as long as the equality of the sexes is respected, there’s nothing to stop private companies from implementing policies that mirror Quebec’s controversial proposal to enforce public-sector secularism.”

The Charter would apply to government-run institutions, however, some organizations under contract to the province would also have to abide by its provisions.

This is the antithesis of diversity, at least, as far as religious diversity goes. And, since religion and culture—often race too—are hard to separate, it seems certain to discourage cultural/racial diversity over time.

Compounding the issue is this warning in a recent edition of The Montreal Gazette:

Get ready for tougher language laws if the Parti Québécois wins a majority in the next provincial election, the minister responsible for Quebec’s French Language Charter said Monday.”

“A PQ majority government would make it a priority to bring back Bill 14 and to stamp out examples of creeping bilingualism like sales staff who greet customers with “Bonjour-Hi,” she [Diane De Courcy] said … .”

So, an entire province speaking only French, wearing culturally neutral garb and—by all outward signs—belonging to a single religion that we’ll call “secularism,” and governed by a legislature populated by much the same mix—or lack of mix.

How boring is that? On the other hand, what real harm will be done to Quebec society and its social systems?

In contrast to the direction in which our neighbouring province is heading, we have multiculturalism-on-steroids in Toronto existing side-by-side with the nation’s most rapacious cultural melting pot in which first-generation immigrants from around the world are placed to emerge later as second- or third-generation Canadians—speaking with our unique twang, eating maple syrup, drinking Tim Horton’s double-doubles, being overly polite, loving hockey.

But so what? Is life in Toronto more fulfilling than in Montreal or Quebec City; do social systems work better in Toronto? My answer is, no, it seems not to matter so much.

Here in Burlington we’re somewhere on the Montreal-Toronto continuum. We have in recent years become more diverse than ever. Now, about one in five (22%) of our residents were born outside Canada and one in ten belong to a visible minority. Go to a grocery here and you’re going to hear several different accents.

I have noticed that, next to gender, skin-colour seems more and more to be the differentiator when we talk about diversity and inclusiveness. We hear criticisms all the time of TV discussion panels with “all white men” as though that, per se, suggests a lack of diversity, a lack of inclusiveness.

Although most in Burlington have similar skin-colour, we are not necessarily less diverse than those who live elsewhere. As an example, “White” residents from the Caribbean (like me) have little in common, culturally, with neighbours from Poland or Holland, but we are right at home with dark-skinned immigrants from the islands—that is to say, we are already a product of a cultural/racial melting pot.

So we in Burlington are even more diverse than it may seem at first sight and perhaps that helps explain why MoneySense magazine chose Burlington as 2014’s Best Places for New Immigrants. And maybe there’s a lesson here.

Maybe each community needs to choose what works best for it and not worry so much about what others down the road are doing. Maybe we need to make sure we have the best people, the best minds, running the show and not get too exercised over how inclusive or diverse we are.

You’ll notice I’ve avoided the issue of gender diversity. It’s too important to handle here so I’ll address it another day.


  1. I agree with you. Anti-Semitic jokes among highly educated executives. Quebec is very tribal.
    The Journal de Montreal is forever having front-page articles about the tiny numbers in French private Jewish schools. As if these small numbers could change the French fact in Quebec, even if the allegations of nonconformity to the provincial curriculum were true.
    No one seems to realize that there have been Jews in Quebec for hundreds of years.

    The fears about Muslim immigration are lumped in with fears of about Orthodox Jews.

  2. a bit off topic relates to Quebec and Judicial appointments by PM Harper.
    MM are again misleading Canadians by stating that PM Harper acted. alone in deciding on this appointment.
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  3. Good post Russ. I think that fh really needs to get a handle about what contributing to a blog really means. Try to stay on the topic the host writes about dude.


  4. multi cultural nonsense. we neither need it nor is it of value to any society to allow their culture to be diluted or absorbed by those who come to a country for an improved life. if your culture and you life was so bad you had to escape it then i would suggest changing to adopt your new countires culture and values.