Future Concerns: Diversity and Multiculturalism

After decades of domination by the baby-boom generation, Canadian politics will soon be the domain of Generation Xers and Millennials. Future Concerns is a regular column that investigates the political issues that are, and will soon be, emerging within our country as the boomers exit stage left.

* * *

Diversity is not a new topic of concern in Canada. Like most developed countries, Canada relies on immigration to grow its population and economy. Unlike most countries, however, Canada accepts new immigrants at a rate of just below 1% of our nation’s population per year (about 250,000 people), which, in case you were wondering, is relatively high. Furthermore, since the 1960s our immigrants have come from every part of the world, representing nearly every major culture, language and religion out there.

The result has been an increasingly diverse Canada, especially in its cities. The 2006 Census — tragically, the last to ask such questions — shows that minorities populate approximately 42-43% of Vancouver and Toronto. In fact, Toronto’s minority population is greater than the entire population of Vancouver. Even the Caucasian-heavy city of Winnipeg, which was only 15% minority in 2006, has surely seen that percentage climb as Manitoba has recently received a massive influx of immigrants.

The trend will only continue, deepening in bigger cities and expanding to more far-flung areas of the country. While government maintains that nearly 1% immigration rate, some, like the Globe and Mail, have called for even more immigration.

Unlike other issues I have discussed in Future Concerns, immigration and diversity will not only have evolved by the time the next generation takes the reins of political leadership, but when they do, their generation — to say nothing of the one that follows them — will be a totally different ethnocultural population in comparison to any that has ever existed in Canada before.

A significant percentage of the Millennial generation, particularly those who live in cities, will be non-European in ethnicity, but just as fluent in Canadian languages and cultures as any native-born Caucasian. Research has long shown that those born in Canada — regardless of cultural, ethnic or religious background — will have a greater level of Canadian identity and attachment than those born elsewhere.

However, research has also shown that minority Millennials born here are more likely to feel as though they are the targets of discrimination, and are less likely to trust the general population than their immigrant parents. This is thought to occur because while immigrants see themselves as fortunate to be part of Canada, their children, like most Canadians, believe they should be treated exactly the same and have the same opportunities as their Caucasian peers. Combine this with a greater understanding of Canada’s culture, and second-generation Canadian immigrants are more likely to be sensitive to and deeply offended by acts of discrimination or prejudice.

Another noted trait in second-generation immigrants is the tendency, in some cases, to feel more attached to their ancestral culture than their immigrant parents are or were. While immigrants make the choice to leave their country of origin and take up a new life, their children may revert back to old practices — often in a more extreme fashion — as a way of understanding their identity or differentiating themselves from the mainstream.

What all this means is that the debates over multiculturalism, discrimination, diverse languages, cultural accommodation and religious minorities — to name but a few — are not going away, as their fault lines are being redrawn in ways that are not yet clear. When the majority Caucasian/European population of Canada is no longer a clear majority, how will arguments about these issues change? How will debates between massive, established minority communities and newcomers from the same ethnic or cultural group evolve?

We know that the Millennial generation is generally more tolerant of ethnic diversity, multicultural neighbourhoods and different ways of life. However, we should not be lulled into believing that this means cultural conflict will die in this generation. New tensions will arise as these key debates continue, and the Canadian identity will be as stably uncertain as ever.

* * *

Iain W. Reeve is a PhD candidate in Political Studies at Queen’s University. However, in his free time he is a musician, armchair political commentator and pub enthusiast. He will occasionally make time to tweet.