Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2014 (862 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Canada has a long history as an immigrant society. It welcomes significant numbers of newcomers from all over the world, beyond just Western Europe and the United States. The country's accommodating policies and relatively peaceful track record of social co-existence have earned it a world-wide reputation as a remarkable pluralistic society worthy of imitation.
However, beneath this façade lies a complex mix of social relations that require constant attention and nurturing. And if this society is to continue to flourish as a collective it will also require some improvement. That said, any policies put forward to guide this process must be carefully designed and vetted as they may have grave consequences even if they are never implemented.
Recent evidence in Quebec suggests that the widely contested proposed Quebec values charter may have had such consequences.
Two online provincial post-election surveys administered in 2012 and 2014 to more than 2,500 respondents, suggests that Quebecers remain relatively neutral about immigrants in general. Nonetheless, the former Marois government's campaign to legislate a divisive Quebec Charter of Values may be partly to blame for a sharp deterioration in overall perceptions of certain groups over a fairly short period of time.
This policy proposal was rhetorically stylized to institutionalize state secularism and gender equality and to provide a potential approach for guiding accommodation requests. Yet, if the underlying intention was to pacify inter-group tensions, the result was instead the contribution to a change in government and a worsening of inter-group conceptions.
For instance, evidence from this past spring indicates that average Quebecers rate immigrants as 51 on a scale that ranges from 0 (meaning "really dislike") to 100 (meaning "really like"), 10 points lower than in the fall of 2012 when Premier Pauline Marois and the PQ government were first elected. Moreover, findings also indicate that Quebecers' average ratings of more specific groups such as ethnic minorities, allophones and racial minorities are now much more negative than they were two years before. Our data also indicate that francophones and independentistes, core components of Quebec society, have even more negative perspectives toward these groups. In other words, these attitudes cannot only be attributed to the more extreme views in Quebec society.
In terms of more specific feelings of trust, our evidence shows that most Quebecers are only "somewhat" trusting of "people from other countries" and that trust levels have also declined by 10 per cent since Marois came to power. This is particularly significant given that religious neutrality was the stated intention of the proposed Values Charter. More striking still are the findings that, since the Charter's proposal, Quebecers are even less trusting of "people of another religion" and they are particularly untrusting of those "who wear overt religious symbols." Once again, the major segments of Quebec society -- francophones and independentistes -- stand out as being among the least trusting of these groups overall.
Lastly, when asked if they spend time with "people who were not born here," most Quebecers indicate that they do this only a "few times a year or not at all" as opposed to more regularly. Moreover, our data indicate that Quebecers in general, and francophones and independentistes in particular, are even less inclined to frequently "spend time with people who wear overt religious symbols." These findings are particularly relevant as they reveal an important underlying impasse in one major region of this country in the ongoing experiment with pluralism.
Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that Canada is a society that encourages all newcomers to maintain their lawful traditions. In fact, powerful and symbolic "constitutional" legislation are in place to protect minorities from discrimination by dominant majorities. Nonetheless, it is clear that these mechanisms are insufficient to foster a truly pluralistic society.
If we have learned anything at all from the Marois government's experiment with the Quebec Charter of Values, certain policy proposals, even if they fail to be implemented, can have serious backward, divisive and damaging effects on society as a whole.
Perhaps the underlying message in all of this for the current Couillard government is that policies designed to encourage newcomers to adapt through the forced suppression of their traditions may not be the most politically prudent approach, particularly if the ultimate goal is to remain in government and to foster pluralism. A more effective strategy may be to encourage greater social interaction between host and immigrant communities, building higher levels of inter-personal trust and fostering affinities toward others in society. Long-term consequences of such a strategy may be the reduction of tensions, understanding of cultures, and the development of compromises for a more harmonious coexistence.
Mebs Kanji is an associate professor in political science at Concordia University in Montreal. Kerry Tannahill is a PhD student in the department.