In a speech at a security conference in Munich on Saturday, David Cameron said that the decades-old multiculturalism policy in the U.K. was a failure because it encouraged segregated communicates where Islam extremism could thrive.
Last October 17, Angela Merkel, in a speech in Potsdam, declared that multiculturalism had “utterly failed.” She did not base her position on the threat of extremism but was entering a heated debate that had been going on all summer about the danger certain groups of immigrants allegedly posed to the nature of the society, on many levels. The chancellor’s main point was that Germany needed immigrants but they had to make an effort to have society accept them. Existing policies did not work.
The United States and Canada were populated by immigrants. For that reason, the nature of the problem of integration is different on this continent. In the U.S., immigration is a hot topic everywhere but multiculturalism in the European and Canadian sense is not a subject of debate. Tolerance is built in. In certain areas in southern California, for example, street names are in Spanish and English. Nobody makes a fuss about it.
Official multiculturalism came to Canada in the seventies, at the same time as in the U.K., but unofficially it had existed from the beginning. Much of this had to do with Quebec. If the English majority was to grant certain cultural rights to the French minority, it had to give at least some rights to other minorities. Moreover, it had been recognized long before the sixties that the preservation of ancient traditions enriched the entire society. Long before 1971 when Pierre Trudeau built multiculturalism into the Charter of Rights and long before 1988 when Parliament, under his guidance, passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, ethnic and aboriginal institutions were subsidized by the federal government.
In recent years, critical voices have been raised. Kenneth McRoberts believes that the extension from biculturalism to multiculturalism was disastrous for Canadian nationalism, as it offended the Québécois and their dualistic vision of Canada as a bilingual and bicultural society. To Neil Bissoondath, the government view of cultures as being about festivals and cuisine was a crude oversimplification that led to easy stereotyping. Daniel Stoffman raised concern about the number of recent immigrants who were not being integrated into Canada linguistically (i.e., not learning either English or French), and stressed that multiculturalism worked better in theory than in practice. Mark Steyn claimed that while Canada and Europe were losing their core values, like freedom of speech, to Islamism, the U.S. stood alone in the struggle for Western family values.
These are isolated voices. By now, multicultural institutions and habits have become solidly entrenched. Canadian diversity is much praised internationally as unique and exemplary.
The time is fast approaching when it will no longer be necessary to subsidize multiculturalism with public funds. But we may have to wait for some time for a government that has the courage to withdraw them.
It will have to be a majority government.