Canadian exceptionalism: Joseph Heath | In Due Course

Joseph Heath, of UofT’s department of philosophy, in a recent post paints an overly simplistic picture of “Canadian exceptionalism.”

While many of his points are valid, there is a surprising lack of a historical perspective in his treatment of integration and limitations to his analysis of the numbers and politics.

Historical perspective: Heath seems to anchor his post on the shift towards greater support for immigration in the mid-1990s – the inflection point when more people supported immigration than opposed.

But this ignores the longer term factors that are central to Canada’s relative success. First among them is a “culture of accommodation” that, however imperfect, reflects an early accommodation between settlers and First Nations (e.g., Royal Proclamation of 1763) and between French and English settlers (e.g., Quebec Act of 1774). While more observed in the breach than the observance for most of our early history, it nevertheless provided a way of thinking that underlies Canadian discourse.

The emphasis on integration, as distinct from assimilation, emerged in 1959 as Canadian citizenship articulated that integration was a voluntary process, respect for cultural traditions was compatible with loyalty to Canada, and that the host society was ultimately responsible for newcomer acceptance. The “Other groups” chapter of the Bi and Bi Commission provided further elaboration of the integration process.

The “other groups,” such as Ukrainian Canadians, pressed for multiculturalism in order to recognize their distinct identity and contribution to the building of Canada. The end result was the multiculturalism policy of 1971 and Act of 1988.

It was not merely “inadvertently” that Canada ended up being more successful in newcomer integration, but a series of earlier actions and policy choices – immigration, settlement, citizenship and multiculturalism – that enabled us to do so.

Numbers: While Canada does have more diverse newcomers than most other countries at the national level, the same cannot be said at the regional or municipal levels. The various controversies that emerge from time-to-time in places such as Brampton, Surrey or Richmond illustrate that.

Political system:

Similarly, his treatment of how Canada’s political system lacks understanding of the numbers of new Canadian voters and their relative concentration in ridings.

The more fundamental reality is that no political party can win a majority (and would be hard placed to win a strong minority) without the support of new Canadian voters, particularly those in the suburban areas of Toronto (the 905) and Vancouver.

Moreover, he overstates the impact of the first-past-the-post system on the far right given that UKIP, at least in the 2015 election, was able to attract almost 13 percent (but less than two percent in 2017).

Personally, I find Keith Banting’s recent analysis of “Canadian exceptionalism” at a “Big Thinking” Parliament Hill event more convincing (see Big Thinking video).

The five factors of Heath:

1. Very little illegal immigration

2. Bringing people in from all over

3. A political system that encourages moderation

4. Immigrants are part of larger nation-building project

5. Protection of majority culture clear from the start

Source: Canadian exceptionalism | In Due Course

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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