A blank slate, with no culture?

March 13, 2015

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

“What Canadian culture?”

How many times have you heard that response when the discussion turns to Canada’s national identity?

Many people — including homegrown Canadians, immigrants and academics — maintain Canada’s support for multiculturalism means the country has no culture. But I talked in the past week to five thoughtful people who beg to differ.

Still, I recently heard the “What Canadian culture?” argument when discussing the way some northern European countries are “strongly recommending” that foreign students take at least one course about the country in which they’re studying.

In Denmark, for instance, the course for foreign students highlights the film Babette’s Feast, the Lutheran Church, the origin of Danes as an “indigenous people,” the country’s energy conservation efforts, the Nazi occupation, Danish design, citizens’ non-violent route to economic and gender justice and the effects of immigration.

This Danish course for foreign students comes out of a package of decisions by governments in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and the European Union to develop various “cultural values commissions,” which formulate the principles for which each country and the continent stand.

The debate in Europe over multiculturalism grows testier all the time, with leading politicians declaring it a “failure.” They maintain a laissez-faire approach to migration-rooted cultural clashes has led to a breakdown in social trust.

The multicultural debate in Canada is more muted and confused, however. And some polls indicate many multicultural-supporting Canadians “celebrate diversity” to such an extent they believe the country is just a collection of divergent cultures.

One of the sharpest critics of this attitude is University of Toronto political scientist emeritus Gad Horowitz, a specialist in Red Tory theory who has referred to multiculturalism as ‘the masochistic celebration of Canadian nothingness.’

So, is there a core Canadian “culture” or not?

There is no doubt Canada is an amalgamation of many cultures — starting with aboriginal. The country’s laws, in turn, are based on values brought by settlers from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the U.S. and Scandinavia. And new perspectives are coming from immigrants from India, the Philippines and China.

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