Madam Speaker, I rise today to debate private member's Bill C-226, introduced by the member for Montcalm, which is asking the House to support an amendment to the Canadian Multiculturalism Act so that it would not be applicable in Quebec. The act in question is part of a set of 10 constitutional and legislative positions, regulations and practices that recognize the contribution of all Canadians to the social fabric and economic well-being of the country.
The multiculturalism policy and its enabling legislation, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, are at the heart of the Government of Canada's efforts to improve quality of life, preserve social cohesion and guarantee all citizens equal participation in the country's social, political, economic and cultural life, regardless of race or ethnic origin.
Canadian multiculturalism is an effective instrument for fostering social cohesion, mutual respect and a shared sense of Canadian identity. Canada is a pioneer in this regard, being the first country in the world to establish a constitutional multiculturalism state, one in which peoples of all races, religions, cultures and languages have come to join our indigenous peoples.
Because of our Canadian Multiculturalism Act, Canada is viewed internationally as a model for promoting social cohesion. Our acceptance of cultural diversity is fundamental to our Canadian values of human rights and respect for differences and has played a role in our continued successful ranking on the United Nations human development index.
Canada’s model of multiculturalism is one of integration, not assimilation. Assimilation can be described as the process whereby new immigrants become indistinguishable within the dominant host society. In contrast, integration involves adding to the existing culture, which in turn enhances society. The majority of immigrants who come to Canada do integrate into society. They go to school, live and work in local communities and contribute to society at large.
Bilingualism and multiculturalism both speak to Canada's unique national identity. They are not in opposition. They are both assets that have enabled the building of a country that is one of the most envied in the world. Enshrined in our Constitution and in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our official bilingualism and our multiculturalism have supported each other in the past and must continue to move forward together.
No single set of policies can encompass the distinct historical legacies and current needs of Canada's diverse communities. It would be regrettable, indeed tragic, if the policy framework of multiculturalism were seen as operating at cross purposes, as if anyone who supports Quebec's national goals must reject multiculturalism or as if supporting multiculturalism means denying Quebec nationalism.
The Multiculturalism Act is compatible with Quebec's special status. The act aims to build relations of inclusive citizenship that embrace all Canadians.
Multiculturalism in Canada is not just for newcomers. Multiculturalism is about, and for, all Canadians. Multiculturalism is about mainstream Canada because mainstream Canada is multicultural.
Our history in Canada shows that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act has helped create a society where diversity is accepted and where integration is successfully taking place. It has helped build a country that takes pride in its multicultural heritage.
The last few decades have shown that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and Quebec's intercultural model have managed to work well alongside each other. One policy has not caused a problem for the other. Without a doubt there are differences in the policies, but each have helped forge a Canada that we can all be proud of.
The Canadian Multiculturalism Act was created to preserve and enhance our multicultural heritage and to help ensure the equal participation of all Canadians in society. The act provides a framework that is expansive and visionary. There is room within that framework for the voices and perspectives of all Canadians, including those of Quebeckers.
In 1971, the federal government, through its multicultural policy, recognized the diversity found in Canada as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society. This policy recognized that Canada was built not only on the contributions of indigenous peoples and the two official language communities, French and English, but also on the contributions of the many diverse communities that have come from all over the world, over the span of decades, to settle here in what is now known as Canada. It was an aspirational statement that would lead the way to the Canada we know today.
In 1988, the Parliament of Canada embedded our multiculturalism policy in legislation through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act, now over 30 years old, provides the framework for federal responsibilities and activities. It brings Canadians closer together and promotes mutual respect among Canadians of all backgrounds.
Since the Canadian Multiculturalism Act has been in place, it has become a core component of Canadian identity. It has helped build a cohesive society by assisting groups and individuals to participate in all spheres of Canadian society. The act has contributed to promoting mutual respect and peaceful relations among Canadians of different backgrounds and assisted in strengthening bonds of mutual trust and responsibility.
As much as multiculturalism has become a core component of our identity, so, too, has our country's linguistic duality become a defining element of Canadian identity. Our Official Languages Act complements the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Both recognize that there is a uniqueness to the diverse population in Canada and that this unique heritage is worth preserving. These two acts are symbols of Canada and its heritage.
After 30 years, I can confidently say that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act has served our nation well. In Canada, diversity is one of our greatest strengths, yet we must never forget that it demands our continuous effort, attention and care, so that it can continue to grow. Today, according to Statistics Canada data, immigration accounts for about two-thirds of overall population growth. Our multicultural heritage should not be divisive, particularly in a democracy that respects individual freedoms as much as Canada. Generations of immigrants have come and successfully settled across this country, and we can see the success of their integration simply by looking around this chamber or walking down the streets of just about any city in Canada.
Multiculturalism is not simply a government policy; it is the lived experience of people across our country, a country in which Canadians of different origins live and work side by side and where these same Canadians, new and not so new, work to learn the languages, customs and history of our country that they, in turn, share with us as equal members of Canadian society. This two-way street has helped shape us as a country.
The work to lay the foundation for the multicultural country Canada is today was done by past generations.
Today, young Canadians are consistently more accepting of immigration and cultural diversity than older generations. On the whole, Canada's multiculturalism policy and the subsequent Canadian Multiculturalism Act have helped create the Canada of today: a Canada that is open and welcoming of cultural diversity, and a Canada that will remain a multicultural society.