Our Diversity Makes us a Think-Tank for the World

Our diversity makes us a think-tank for the world

By: Alidad Mafinezam Published on Mon Oct 22 2007

The Quebec hearings on the Reasonable Accommodation of Minorities, chaired by distinguished scholars Charles Taylor and Gerard Bouchard, have necessitated similar discussions of the challenges and opportunities of diversity in Canada’s other provinces.

Yet in Quebec and elsewhere, a key aspect of Canada’s diversity has gone largely unnoticed: the opportunity afforded to Canada in the international arena by its multiculturalism and diversity.

Diversity can no longer be seen as limited to domestic affairs, as it now shapes, more than ever before, Canada’s international relations. Diasporas and “transnational communities,” the human bridges and bonds between Canada and dozens of countries, are the new themes we need to focus on.

In the past generation, almost all discussions of diversity and multiculturalism in Canada have focused on the domestic implications of the pluralistic makeup of our society, and the need for promoting mutual respect and tolerance.

While the importance of this line of thinking is indisputable, it misses the idea that Canada’s success at integrating its diversity has effectively transformed the country into the global crossroads. Thus, Canada can and should serve as a global think-tank focused on finding solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems: ethnic and religious strife, urban poverty and pollution.

The key engines in the search for such global solutions are new Canadians who possess a deep and organic knowledge of some of the most important parts of the world.

Viewed in this light, harnessing diversity entails a two-way street where new Canadians learn about the civic culture and democratic values of Canadians – and the corresponding peace, order and good government – while “older” Canadians learn about the complexities of the world from people who have specialized knowledge about the economic, political and other realities of dozens of countries that supply a steady stream of immigrants to Canada.

The knowledge that naturalized Canadians possess about their countries of origin is a major asset that has so far been left underutilized. As the UN, the World Bank and other multilateral organizations, as well as a host of governments, pay greater attention to the potential of diaspora communities in fostering international peace and development, this is a good time for Canada to optimally utilize the capacities that its diverse population afford us in the international arena.

Canada’s increased influence will enable it to play a more active role in international conflict prevention and resolution. The simmering disputes between Turkey and Armenia, and between Israel and her Arab neighbours, as well as the continuing humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, should compel Canada to harness the insights that exist about these countries within Canada and to work on solutions for hitherto intractable challenges.

The harmony that exists among peoples of various backgrounds in Canada makes this country an ideal testing ground for solutions to challenges that confront the world. While the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has begun utilizing the ties and knowledge of new Canadians to their countries of origin, it would ideally apply this thinking to peace-building initiatives as well.

Such a vision of harnessing diversity rests on the idea of a “strong multiculturalism” focused on how older and newer Canadians can, together, promote the best that Canada has to offer across the world, with a focus on emerging giants such as China, India, Brazil and other countries. This vision is different from the traditional “weak multiculturalism” limited to an appreciation of international cuisine, song and dance. Important as these cultural expressions of diversity are to celebrate, they are not sufficient.

The international community is undergoing a period of unprecedented uncertainty. The post-World War II system of international governance is in need of repair. Fundamentalists of various stripes seek supremacy on all continents.

The challenge and promise of effective policy-making in Canada is to ensure that the global knowledge and ties of new Canadians are made available to Canada’s international policy community. Only then can Canada fulfill its potential of becoming the world’s think-tank, and the ideal home for crafting solutions for global challenges.


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