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Let’s put culture back into multiculturalism

Apr 27, 2023 | Canada, Featured, Arts & Culture, Politics, News, Life, Community, Opinion, Editorials, Immigration

Senator Paul Yuzyk and his wife, Mary, speaking with Prime Minister P.E. Trudeau, after he announced the policy of multiculturalism at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Winnipeg, October 9, 1971. Photo c/o

Marco Levytsky
Editorial Writer

First of all, let us say that the idea of a Premier’s Council on Multiculturalism in Alberta, the establishment of which Premier Danielle Smith announced on April 14, has considerable merit. We used to have an Alberta Multiculturalism Commission from 1987 to 1992 which was part of the Department of Culture, which existed from 1971 to 1992. A new multiculturalism council has the potential to fill the void that has existed since then.
The problem lies with the composition of this council. Not a single one of the 30 members originally named represents a European cultural minority. (The number of members has been whittled down to 29 following the resignation of Calgary realtor Tariq Khan, after the NDP Opposition asked Premier Daniel Smith to remove him citing “a documented history” of antisemitic social media posts.) And, aside from Jackie Halpern, the representative of the Jewish community, every other member is from a visible minority.

This appears to be intentional. According to the facts presented in the government’s media release announcing the council, of the 4,177,720 people in Alberta, 27.8 per cent (1,161,420) are visible minorities. It then states that: “The share of Albertans from different cultural backgrounds (visible minority population) has more than quadrupled to 1,161,420 in 2021 from 269,280 in 1996.” That, in itself, leads to the conclusion that the Government of Alberta only considers visible minorities to have different cultural backgrounds from the rest of the population.

Multiculturalism was created in Canada to recognize the differing cultures of all Canadians, not just one segment of the population. Although race relations are a component of multiculturalism, they are not the sum total. In fact, the recognition of all differing cultures as contributing to the wonderful mosaic of diversity that Canada has become, in itself promotes racial and ethnic tolerance. As the government itself stated in the media release: “By creating cross-cultural awareness, understanding and appreciation, Albertans will be better able to build new and stronger relationships.”

Canada’s policy of multiculturalism originated with the Ukrainian community which has been in the forefront of its development since then. The concept of multiculturalism first gained widespread attention with the maiden speech of Senator Paul Yuzyk on March 3, 1964. Yuzyk took the stand that the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was relegating a large segment of Canadian society to the status of “second-class” citizens by focusing its attention on English-French relations. All other ethnic groups formed nearly “one-third of the population,” he declared, insisting that this “Third Force” be recognized as equal partners with British and French cultural groups. He pointed out that Indigenous peoples were in Canada long before the coming of the French and the British. It was his belief, Yuzyk declared, that “our citizens desire an all-embracing Canadian identity which will include all the elements of our population and emphasize unity.” Yuzyk’s role was recognized in 2009 by Premier Smith’s predecessor Jason Kenney, then federal Minister of Multiculturalism, who named the annual award he created that year after the late senator. “Senator Paul Yuzyk is best remembered as the father of Canadian multiculturalism. I am very pleased that since 2009, the Government of Canada’s annual award recognizing outstanding contributions to multiculturalism bears his name, and that his important legacy continues to be highlighted.”

It was the 10th Congress of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (now Congress) that Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau chose as the first venue outside parliament to announce the multiculturalism policy in 1971. And it was former Edmonton Mayor and Alberta Liberal leader Laurence Decore who was instrumental in having the policy enshrined in section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

When Yulia Voloshyna, this newspaper and World FM Ukrainian Program’s representative at a round table with the Premier in Calgary on April 19, asked why Ukrainians were not included in the list, Danielle Smith herself expressed surprise at that revelation and added that Ukrainians had a lot of expertise in that area to share with other groups. However, in answer to her question and others e-mailed from our Western Bureau, Garrett Koehler, Press Secretary for the Ministry of Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism replied: “Alberta’s government has already created several entities solely focused on Ukrainians— Advisory Council on Alberta-Ukraine Relations, Premier’s Advisory Task Force on Ukraine, and appointed a Parliamentary Secretary on Ukrainians, MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk. The advice from these entities has been invaluable to the government as we’ve made important investments and regulatory changes to support Ukrainian evacuees. This council was created primarily to provide under represented ethno-cultural groups and visible minority communities representation and a platform to ensure their voices and issues are heard within government.”

For one thing, if that is the case, why was a member of Alberta’s Ukrainian community asked to submit an application to the upcoming council, then left off the list? And when we asked at what levels and which agencies specific groups were under-represented in, we did not get an answer. Checking the biographies of the members provided on the government’s website, we find four connected to the Chinese community, two Sikhs, two Somalis and other duplications.

We do not disagree with the fact ethnocultural groups that are under-represented need to have an outlet to voice their concerns. We do not disagree with the fact that racism needs to be combatted. But if that was the main focus of this initiative then the Premier should have created an Alberta Anti-Racism Advisory Council – except for the fact such a body already exists. And as for the fact that there are several entities solely focused on Ukrainians, let’s not mix apples and oranges here. Aside from the fact Ukrainians are in a unique situation having been subjected to the most devastating war inflicted on innocent people since World War II, a multicultural council is not geared to any specific group but should, in practice, be an all-encompassing and inclusive body which accurately reflects the full ethnocultural composition of Alberta.

So, let us be clear. We are not only objecting to the lack of Ukrainian representation, but to the lack of representation from many other ethnocultural communities which have sizeable populations and long histories in Alberta. We are talking about Germans, Poles, Italians, Norwegians, Scots and Irish, just to mention a few. In fact, every ethnocultural group in Alberta, including the English, is a minority.

So yes, let’s do what we can to combat racism, and to give a voice to under-represented minorities, but let us first remember that multiculturalism is first and foremost about culture. So, let’s put culture back into multiculturalism.

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