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Jason Kenney’s views on multiculturalism counterbalanced by research from Michael Adams and Robert Putnam

April 1, 2009

Canada’s national newspapers recently featured the views of Immigration and Multiculturalism minister Jason Kenney – as “the man who wants to reinvent Canadian multiculturalism” – read more about it on this blog.

In a National Post article filled with strange things, here’s one to savor: the Minister boasted about his help for a family in Calgary (recently arrived from India) – according to Kenney, “the kids call him Uncle Jason.”

The Post cited this statistic: Canada has the “highest average per capita immigration rate on the planet – roughly 250,000 new residents arrive yearly” – is there a fact checker in the house?

Over at the Globe and Mail, Lawrence Martin’s column thankfully referenced Unlikely Utopia by Michael Adams as a counterbalance to Kenney’s enthusiasm for “melting pot” over “mosaic” but Martin gave little in way of detail or insight.

The Guardian this week weighs in with applicable analysis: new research from Harvard’s Robert Putnam (his book on the erosion of community and social cohesion is worth reading – Bowling Alone, 2000) on the societal effect of increased diversity.

At first glance, Putnam’s work seems to support an “anti-diversity” stance: he found that a “multicultural makeup” in society puts it under strain, “especially when politicians exploit …unease.”

The Guardian states that in the U.S., one in three citizens belongs to an ethnic minority while in the U.K., that number is about 10%, and here’s the money quote, “slightly more if groups such as the Irish are included.”

Two years ago, Putnam drilled down into a key issue: the effect of racial diversity on community life. He found that such diversity tended to weaken trust and active citizenship.  “It was not that diverse neighbourhoods were beset with racial tension…rather…people responded to a living in a mixed area by ‘hunkering down.'”

Putnam refreshingly maintains, based on his research evidence, that this will change for the better over time, and stressed the importance of political leaders to refrain from actions that inflame fear.  In a book to be published later this year, Putnam will explore what happens when political debate turns against immigrants.

Take away message: yes, diversity can impose societal strains. But, there is no inevitable reason why it should. Take the long view, Putnam urges: “Greater diversity is one of the revolutions of our own time. It will no more be reversed than industrialization.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. corsullivan permalink*
    April 4, 2009 10:45 am

    Very thought-provoking. Putnam’s work is definitely relevant here, and the interview you linked to was interesting. Would you agree that it’s fair to say his long-term prediction (dividing lines between ethnic groups will become less important over time) is much less certain than his short-term findings (increased ethnic diversity causes disengagement and “hunkering down”)?

    As I think the National Post article pointed out, Kenney hasn’t yet brought forward any legislation to push his “melting pot” agenda. It will be interesting to see how much change he can effect, especially as a minister in a minority government. In any case, I think he’s overestimating (or at least overstating) the ability of government policies to change people’s behaviour. He can snap his figures and say “integrate!”, and perhaps provide some incentives to do so, but ultimately immigrants and their descendants will decide for themselves whether to embrace Canadian society or remain distinct. Any number of intermediate choices are possible, of course.

    • April 5, 2009 12:24 pm

      I really want to read that Michael Adams’ book now (already a big fan of ‘Fire and Ice’).

  2. April 3, 2009 7:16 am


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