Recently, Gerard Bouchard, best known for co-chairing the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation, along with a number of prominent Quebec academics, published an article calling for the implementation of a policy of interculturalism in Quebec.
Their call comes in part as a result of the sort of anti-immigrant and anti-multicultural sentiment which has characterized at least some segments of Quebec society for some time. While the authors of the article hail interculturalism as the key to promoting integration and claim that it can save multiculturalism as a value in Quebec, in reality, it appears to be a guise by which the policy of multiculturalism can be politely replaced with a policy of assimilation.
Although certainly not a new concept, interculturalism is often misunderstood. It sounds quite like multiculturalism, but it varies from that concept in a number of important ways. Multiculturalism involves all cultures being equally valued, and treated accordingly. Interculturalism, on the other hand, does not place all cultures on the same level, and involves the promotion of a single civic culture. It also encourages interaction between different communities living in one place.
Replacing the policy of multiculturalism with one of interculturalism is a problem for a number of reasons. Firstly, the policy of multiculturalism is legally mandated, and has been for some time. Canada officially adopted it in 1971 under Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Multiculturalism was enshrined into law by the 1988 Multiculturalism Act, which recognized the right of ethnic groups in Canada to preserve and share their cultural heritage, encouraged government institutions to be respectful of all cultures, and, perhaps most importantly for Quebec, promised to encourage the use of languages other than English or French.
For interculturalism to be given as much importance and legitimacy as multiculturalism, some sort of constitutional amendment would be required, which is next to impossible to achieve in this country.
Aside from the legal problems with instituting interculturalism in Quebec, there is the problem of what this would actually involve, beginning with the call for a single and unified civic culture. While this idea might have worked 50 or even 60 years ago, the fact remains that Quebec society is no longer in any way homogeneous. Quebec’s population is growing more diverse by the day, and to try to pretend that a single and unified civic culture that is truly representative of Quebec’s population could even be agreed upon is a grave mistake. In this regard, Bouchard and his co-authors are either fooling themselves, attempting to fool the people of Quebec, or both.
If the creation of a truly representative civic culture is most likely impossible, what would a policy of interculturalism involve? Quite obviously, it would mean the assimilation of Quebec’s English-speaking and immigrant population into francophone culture. While Gerard Bouchard and his co-authors like to go on about concepts like social cohesion and integration, if they were being truly honest with the people of Quebec, they would call a spade a spade and admit that what they are calling for is the assimilation of all the people of Quebec into la belle province’s francophone culture.