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Finding a common denominator : identity challenges in divided societies

Open Panel

Abstract

For the last ten years or so, multiculturalism has been described as over, dead, and not working, at least in Europe. One reason that might explain this harsh criticism is that multiculturalism’s successes may not be visible to the naked eye. One example is Canada. Basically, clichés about Canada represent the country as being constituted of two old-stock populations of Euro-Canadian descent, the famous “two solitudes” since Hugh MacLennan coined the term (what I call “the third solitude” – Aboriginal peoples – being largely ignored as a founding member of the confederation). The “solitudes regime” is partly out-dated. Neo-Canadians, depending on where they arrive (Québec, Ontario, Alberta, and so on) assimilate to the English-speaking side, or to the French-speaking side. Immigration shifted the balance between “French Canada” and “English Canada”, becoming an issue for nation-building struggles on both sides. Suddenly, it was not only about two old-stock populations anymore, but about old- and new-stock populations as well. In 1971, multiculturalism became an official policy to deal with the increasing diversity that the country was facing (some Quebecois nationalists might say: in order to loose Québec, isolating this community among a lot of others equally important communities). Lately, interculturalism has been introduced as the Quebecer alternative to Anglo-Saxon multiculturalism. The main difference being that interculturalism is supposed to encourage communities to interact instead of ignoring each other. As interculturalism is being molded out of multiculturalism, it is not a retreat from the original paradigm that is currently being witnessed but on the contrary, a reinforcement of it, by trying to improve the theory. This presentation will deal with the lessons that may be learned from the Canadian experience on the troubled waters of the common good.