By almost any measure, Canada is a successful society. A member of the G8 group of nations, it routinely ranks among the five top-ranked countries in the UNDP's annual Human Development Report. And yet Canada is also one of the world's most socially diverse societies, peopled by indigenous peoples, a historic French-speaking minority and generations of immigrants and refugees. In 2011, over 20 percent of Canada's 35 million people were foreign born, originating for the most part in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Although challenges persist - notably in respect to the status and well-being of aboriginal persons - over the last 40 years respect for diversity has evolved into a core national value and a source of shared civic identity.
What constitutes "success"?
In 2008, the Centre convened an Expert Roundtable on Canada's Experience with Pluralism. Aided by political scientists Jane Jenson (Université de Montréal) and Martin Papillon (University of Ottawa), we asked 11 leading academics to examine the content and processes of Canada's commitment to pluralism.
Facilitated by the institutions and mechanisms of liberal democracy, Canadians find points of balance and compromise between competing values, including:
- homogeneity and heterogeneity
- economic security and economic freedom
- institutional symmetry and asymmetry
- group and individual rights.
Negotiation along these spectrums of choice is never ending.
For this reason, Canadian pluralism remains an unfinished product. Subject to new pressures, it requires continual investments of political will, citizen participation and public resources.
Our work in Canada
Canadian pluralism inspired the foundation of the Global Centre for Pluralism. Understanding this experience, and providing organized access to its insights, is a key component of our global mandate. A living laboratory, Canadian diversity is complex and includes:
• indigenous First Nations, who are also characterized by cultural diversity
• a historic national minority
• religious, ethnic and racial diversity stemming from successive waves of immigration
Canadian pluralism cannot be exported wholesale. It is a place-specific and historically grounded experience. But it can teach and it can inspire.