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Daniel Stoffman on Multiculturalism, Diversity and Immigration

August 25, 2009

This past week The Globe and Mail published an essay by Daniel Stoffman  about multiculturalism and diversity, “An ideology, not a fact.” Stoffman, author of Who Gets In, a study of Canada’s immigration policy, examines the “melting pot” and “mosaic” theories of peoples and culture in Canada and the United States.

On Tuesday I joined a discussion with Stoffman hosted by The Globe.

My question to Mr. Stoffman: “How would you define Canada’s core values and do they differ from the core values of the United States? Great Britain?”

Rather than offering up his own definition(s), Stoffman agreed with a comment from another participant, stating that the following list was “as good as any” – (from participant) “the vast majority of Canadians are committed to a core set of relatively stable values: democracy, political and moral equality, individualism and consumerism.”

As to whether entities such as “core values” differ between Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain? Stoffman: “I don’t think there is much difference among Canada, the U.S., and the UK. To the extent there is, it is a difference of degree. For example, both Canada and the U.S. have freedom of speech as a core value but that freedom is more unrestrained in the U.S. than it is in Canada.”

Startling: to think that a man well published by Canadian media would go along with the idea that “core values” are stable constructs and that “consumerism” and “individualism” are within the pantheon of Canada’s core values.

How odd that all the debates and differences about “core values” not just between but also within – Canada, its provinces and regions, its micro-regions, the United States, its many divisions, and Great Britain (Welsh! Irish! Scottish! English!) would be glossed over by Stoffman.

Perhaps too close a parsing of his words is unfair? A one hour discussion online doesn’t allow for depth. But Stoffman’s comments on immigration – “I don’t think economics has anything to do with immigration policy – except in the sense that it benefits employers” – should raise eyebrows. And what about this Stoffman Statement: “Canadians need to be far more assertive about valuing and promoting traditional Canadian culture.” Ah, there’s a rub.

Stoffman is billed as an opinion leader. What to make of his view that a majority of Canadians don’t want to be “multicultural” but that “what most Canadians want is diverse integration.” What do readers think?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandra Chamberlain-Snider permalink
    August 26, 2009 9:19 am

    Thanks for writing about this Renee, I too read the essay and Q/A afterwards. I like Daniel’s answer about teaching Canadian history, in particular the social history. I think its integral to show children how Canada’s present culture and core values developed in the last 400 years, that we are much more than our founding myths of being Christian, English and French. That we make conscious choices as a society to integrate and assimilate the ideals we want, tolerance, philanthropy, equality and to repel what we do not.

    I think if people accept the idea that they have some influence on how society develops and that there are many complicating factors that go into defining culture and values, then immigration cannot hold the fear of loss. Those of British, white ancestry who fear becoming the minority, fear their loss of power and place in the world, these people kill me. I believe values and culture can and must transcend ethnicity for Canadians, its who we are.

    • reneethewriter permalink
      August 26, 2009 11:44 am

      Your thoughtfulness always feels like a balm for the mind, S. Many thanks for taking the time to read and to comment.

      I think you honour Mr. Stoffman with the quality of your remarks.

      I worry, in particular, that his writing doesn’t sufficiently delve into the many “schools of thought” regarding Canadian history, how it is taught, who decides what is history, which stories get told. Reminds me of a scene in John Sayles lovely movie, Lone Star – about the Alamo, about Texas/Mexico/the borderlands, about who “wins/loses,” about which stories “make the grade into the history books.”

      All of that is important in how “the stuff of history” transmutes into popular understandings of “who was here first/who is a settler v who is a migrant/ what’s tradition, what gets “in” as the norm for what “our way of life/our values are.” Which all forms notions of what “core values” are…

  2. derrick permalink
    August 25, 2009 5:56 pm

    “A one hour discussion online doesn’t allow for depth” No, but the least Dude could do is acknowledge that. i.e. “there is more to say on this and i am obv truncating complex thoughts but those are the limits of this medium.” He does not acknowledge this and I find that problematic!

    Yr question goes to a question or origin for me – Britain and the US have powerful founding myths, albeit polarised myths (divine rule vs. revolution etc etc) while Canada is a series of competing, equally weird myths. I mean, that is a really critical aspect. Canada and Britain are two opposing sides of a post-colonial coin. Canada is one of very few colonial constructs in the world that still exists in much the same form – the invaders were never kicked out! Whereas Britain is where the white dudes left from to get here. That is a big deal. This is my own interest in history speaking but I feel like Dude dismissed this stuff pretty quickly.

    And yes the ‘consumerism/individualism’ is something else entirely.

    But I engaged all of this until you throw out his “traditional canadian culture” crack and then I stopped engaging; who is Dude anyway? There was a good moment last summer, I think, when the government changed the rules around citizenship, and a whole bunch of different people got passports while other had to be ‘grandfathered’ to avoid losing theirs. At the end of it all this is only only definition of Canadian that can stand up – legal citizenship – but the papers were full of people who were either considered themselves Canadian or were suddenly considered Canadian by Canada, and all of these people challenged the question of Traditional Canada.

    • reneethewriter permalink
      August 26, 2009 11:49 am

      Canada is a series of competing, equally weird myths. Tell us more, Derrick! and many thanks for the rich post.
      I’m that glad that Mr. Stoffman’s seemingly somewhat arbitrary comment about “traditional canadian culture” seemed to create, too, a grab and pause moment.

      Who is ‘Canadian’ Who defines what is “normal/mainstream/norm/traditional/who was here ‘longest’/who is in/out – these questions are filled with nuance and competing theories of interpretation, yet Mr. Stoffer seems to gloss over much of it.

      Hope to hear more of your comments, particularly, about this,”Canada is one of very few colonial constructs in the world that still exists in much the same form – the invaders were never kicked out! Whereas Britain is where the white dudes left from to get here. That is a big deal. This is my own interest in history speaking but I feel like Dude dismissed this stuff pretty quickly.”

  3. corsullivan permalink*
    August 25, 2009 5:21 pm

    Stoffman’s essay caught my attention too, so I’m glad you chose to write about it. I certainly hope consumerism isn’t a Canadian “core value”, although I think Canadians do value individualism – we just don’t value it to the point of abrogating responsibility for each other’s well-being.

    However, trying to list core values for any country is always going to involve some oversimplification, and differences between countries are likely to be subtle. I think Stoffman is right to say that it will usually be a matter of “more” and “less” rather than of stark, unambiguous distinctions. Living in China for nearly two years has certainly given me the impression that Chinese people value most of the same things as Canadians – they just value some things less, and others more. And I actually wouldn’t look to values to define, as opposed to describe, any nation.

    The best point in Stoffman’s essay, in my opinion, was one that he made more or less implicitly – that government policy can have only a limited impact on how much an immigrant community chooses to integrate into the pre-existing society. A country can declare itself to be multicultural, or declare itself to be a melting pot – but once the immigrants show up, their behaviour will depend on a wide range of factors, of which the government line on assimilation is probably not the most important.

    • reneethewriter permalink
      August 26, 2009 11:56 am

      Thank you, Cor, for taking the time to read and to write out your detailed comments. For all my “deconstructative” tendencies, (mea culpa), i like the “well-ordered, reasonableness” of your take on Mr. Stoffer’s ideas. For reasons i haven’t fully worked out, his essay and the title of his book on immigration, “Who Gets In,” fills me with uneasiness.

      Yes, it’s interesting to think about the limits of government policy on “how people think” the waywardness/originality/we’ll do what we do”/ness of humans – thankfully – just is.

      Your comments,
      “Living in China for nearly two years has certainly given me the impression that Chinese people value most of the same things as Canadians – they just value some things less, and others more.” This fascinates me! Can you share more? Maybe in a companion column to mine?

      “And I actually wouldn’t look to values to define, as opposed to describe, any nation. ”
      Yes! I realize the more i read and write and think about all “this,” i don’t know what the word, “value/s” mean/s and how we define entities known as “nations” also seems problematic. ( hmmm. maybe time to go out for a walk now. cheers)

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