The World in Canada

Multiculturalism needs to have an impact on our Foreign policies as much as our Domestic ones

By Alidad Mafinezam

Published in the Literary Review of Canada, Vol. 13, No. 6, July/August 2005

The government of Canada’s International Policy Statement, released in mid April, spells out a proactive and ambitious foreign policy. Its main goal, as the statement’s subtitle says, is to build for Canada “a role of pride and influence in the world.” It represents the most ambitious vision in a generation for promoting Canadian values and interests—on this continent with the United States and, independently, across the globe. In the four areas of foreign policy it enumerates— diplomacy, defence, development and commerce— the government proposes to aim higher and spend more.

But spending more without a strategic vision will not succeed in spurring Canada to achieve its full potential. There is a glimpse of one such vision in the document, although it is left underdeveloped. A key recurring theme in the statement is that “the world is changing, quickly and radically, and these changes matter to Canada … We are in the midst of a major rebalancing of global power.” In a world of existing and emerging giants and continental integration, countries with small populations run the risk of being relegated to the margins of global governance and commerce—and thus “we will have to be smart, focused, agile, creative and dogged in the pursuit of our interests.” The predominant theme of our time is the opportunities and challenges of globalization, and the corresponding mobility of people, ideas and capital, and here, implies the statement, the Canada of the early 21st century has a distinct comparative advantage.

Under the heading of “The Canadian Approach,” the statement says:

Our federation has become a diverse multicultural society capable of transcending the narrow politics of ethnic and cultural difference.As we have welcomed new members to our community, our family ties have grown to reach around the world. The processes of globalization bringing people closer together at an international level have been a feature of Canadian life for decades … Canada has learned how to make effective and principled compromises, bringing disparate groups and interests together in the service of a common purpose.

A passage such as this indicates that the government sees the uniqueness of Canada’s diversity and its multiculturalism as a major advantage in a globalized and rapidly changing world, and that it has an interest in seeing the place of “Canada in the world” through the lens of “the world in Canada.” Among the statement’s prescriptions, a key government initiative is listed: to “support the efforts of Canadian diasporas to forge transnational political, economic and cultural links” with their countries of origin and beyond. This is a bold and innovative initiative, the fruits of which could enhance Canada’s global reach and influence in significant ways.

It is thus important to develop a specific, high-resolution picture of how Canada’s Diasporas can act as cultural, business and development bridges between their countries of origin and their new home. Conventional thinking in these areas up to now has seen immigration and multiculturalism as affecting only the conditions and domestic policies of Canada. Given the critical mass of research that now exists on this topic, we must begin to see diversity and multiculturalism as matters affecting, even transforming, Canada’s foreign policy as well.

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