Quebec’s declaration of values

By Amb. Martin Collacot on November 13, 2008

The decision by the Quebec government to require immigrants to that province to declare that they accept the basic common values of Quebecers makes good sense.

Critics of this initiative have raised various objections. One of the most obvious is that to take such action represents a kind of cultural imperialism because it involves the imposition of the values of the host community on newcomers and in doing so would be in conflict with the principles of multiculturalism and pluralism.

The fact is however that, while Quebec in particular and Canada in general are among the most tolerant and inclusive places on earth, we also have our own identities and cultures and want these to remain strong and vibrant.

We often hear the refrain that we are a “country of immigrants” as if to suggest that our very existence revolves around a constant influx of newcomers and the cultures they bring with them. The fact is, however, that we are not a country of immigrants. We are rather a country of settlers.

The settlers from France and Britain who began the project that evolved into Canada set up colonies based on the societies and cultures of their original homelands. Immigrants came later and, with a wider range of backgrounds, have had to adapt to the mores and values already established here. .

And so it is today. Quebec’s decision to provide greater clarification to newcomers with regard to what they can expect and what is expected of them when they arrive here can only be of benefit to all concerned. The impression that has been created in the minds of some immigrants that they can enjoy all the benefits of living Quebec or other parts of Canada – economic opportunities, a peaceful, democratic society under the rule of law, etc. – and at the same time exist in a cultural cocoon as though they were still in their original homelands is clearly unrealistic.

Such expectations have been encouraged to some extent by the concepts of hard-core multiculturalism and have led to frustration and resentment on the part of immigrants as well as negative reactions by members of the host society who find the demands of some newcomers unreasonable.

Critics of the Quebec government’s plans have also raised objections on the basis that what they involve is already covered by the province’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Such an interpretation, however, misses the point. The Charter summarizes the rights that apply to all Quebecers including newcomers. The declaration announced last week, on the other hand, describes commitments the latter must make if they wish to become members of this society.

Most immigrants will in all likelihood be more than happy to accept this responsibility as it confers give greater value to the status they seek to acquire. For those who have a problem with such a undertaking, the probability is that they find it difficult to accept some of the basic values we ascribe to and, in the circumstances, it would be better for them to find out sooner rather than later that they would be well advised to select another country as their destination.

In announcing the requirement for such a declaration, Quebec has set an example that other Canadians should seriously consider emulating.  There is just as great a need in the rest of Canada as there is in Quebec for clarification as to what newcomers can reasonably expect when they come here.

Were the government of Canada to follow Quebec’s lead and ask immigration applicants in general to declare their commitment to Canadian values, there could also be dividends in terms of reassuring Quebecers that their national identity is secure within a united Canada. As things now stand many people in the province would no doubt be quite happy to remain proud Canadians if they could be assured that their identity as Quebecers were not at risk.

As long as the federal authorities promote principles of multiculturalism and the concept of the cultural mosaic, however, Quebecers may well be concerned that federal policies could eventually lead to a downgrading of their distinct identity. A clear statement by the Canadian government of what it expects of immigrants would therefore help to reassure Quebecers that the federal government has a clear picture of what it means to be a Canadian and also, by implication a Quebecer.



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