Jatinder Mann on the search for a new national identity

Posted on Monday, June 5, 2017

“I believe Canada and Australia can offer great lessons to many other countries on how to deal with immigration, particularly through their policies of multiculturalism,” says Jatinder Mann.

The McGill Institute for the Study of Canada will host Jatinder Mann for a presentation of his new book, The Search for a New National Identity: The Rise of Multiculturalism in Canada and Australia, 1890s-1970s. The talk will take place on June 8, from noon to 1:30 p.m., at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (3463 Peel Street).

Jatinder Mann is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London and a former Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta. He is working on a project on ‘The end of the British World and the redefinition of citizenship in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, 1950s-1970s’.

In addition to his most recent book, Mann has published numerous articles in front-ranking, interdisciplinary journals. He has held visiting fellowships and professorships at the Australian National University, Carleton University, and the Victoria University of Wellington, and he was awarded his doctorate in history at the University of Sydney in 2011. Mann was also a recipient of the prestigious Endeavour International Postgraduate Research Scholarship by the Australian government and an International Postgraduate Award by the University of Sydney for his doctoral research.

The event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are encouraged – please RSVP here or through Eventbrite.

In advance of the event, Mann spoke with the McGill Reporter.

What do you see as the similarities and differences between multiculturalism in Canada and Australia?

Even though they both used the same terminology official multicultural policies in Canada and Australia in the 1970s were actually quite different from the outset. In the former the catch phrase of the policy was ‘Multiculturalism within a Bilingual Framework’. So, you can get the real sense from this that it was a policy, which in theory related to all Canadians. And it had come about after an intense period of national soul-searching, illustrated by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which carried out its activities over several years in the 1960s. This is highlighted in Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s well-known parliamentary speech on 8 October 1971:

A policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework commends itself to the government as the most suitable means of assuring the cultural freedom of Canadians. Such a policy should help to break down discriminatory attitudes and cultural jealousies. National unity, if it is to mean anything in the deeply personal sense, must be founded on confidence in one’s own individual identity; out of this can grow respect for that of others and a willingness to share ideas, attitudes and assumptions. A vigorous policy of multiculturalism will help create this initial confidence. It can form the base of a society, which is based on fair play for all. (‘Announcement of Implementation of Policy of Multiculturalism within a Bilingual Framework’ by Prime Minister Trudeau, Debates, House of Commons, vol. VIII, 1971, 8 October 1971, 8545)

Here the emphasis was no longer on the nation, but instead on ‘cultural freedom’ and ‘one’s own individual identity’; and the choice of the word ‘vigorous’ to describe the proposed multicultural policy illustrated the extent of the government’s commitment.

In contrast the key headline for the official policy of multiculturalism that was introduced in Australia was ‘A Cohesive, United, Multicultural Nation.’ Again you can see here that the emphasis was on cohesion, unity etc. And unlike the Canadian policy was not initially aimed at all Australians, but only migrants. This is demonstrated by the Galbally Report in 1978 which was the major policy document on which the Australian Government based its multicultural policy:

We believe Australia is at a critical stage in the development of a cohesive, united, multicultural nation. This has come about because of a number of significant changes in recent years – changes in the pattern of migration and in the structure of the population, changes in attitudes to migration and to our responsibilities for international refugees, changes in the needs of the large and growing numbers of ethnic groups in our community, and changes in the roles of governments and the community generally in responding to these needs. (Australia. Report of the Review of Post-Arrival Programs and Services to Migrants, Migrant Services and Programs (Chairman Frank Galbally) (Canberra, ACT: AGPS, May 1978), 3)

What are the major themes of your book?

My book explores the profound social, cultural, and political changes, which affected the way in which Canadians and Australians defined themselves as a ‘people’ from the late nineteenth century to the 1970s. Taking as its central theme the way each country responded to the introduction of new migrants, the book asks a key historical question: why and how did multiculturalism replace Britishness as the defining idea of community for English-speaking Canada and Australia, and what does this say about their respective experiences of nationalism in the twentieth century.

Multiculturalism has succeeded to some degree in Canada and Australia, what were the necessary conditions for this to have happened and were they common to both countries?

The path towards the adoption of multiculturalism as the orthodox way of defining national community in English-speaking Canada and Australia in the latter half of the twentieth century was both uncertain and unsteady. It followed a period in which both nations had looked first and foremost to Britain to define their national self-image. In both nations however following the breakdown of their more formal and institutional ties to the ‘mother-country’ in the post-Second World War period there was a crisis of national meaning, and policy makers and politicians moved quickly to fill the void with a new idea of the nation, one which was the very antithesis to the white, monolithic idea of Britishness.

English-speaking Canada and Australia both identified themselves as British nations for a large part of their history. Furthermore, this identity came under considerable strain in both countries, a strain that was primarily due to the shock of external events. Secondly, Canada and Australia also adopted discriminatory immigration policies, which aimed to create white, British countries. Moreover, they both also gradually dismantled these practices. Thirdly, Canada and Australia experienced large waves of non-British migration to their shores and had to formulate official migrant policies to deal with them.

With the rise of the alternative right and populism across the globe, what does the future hold for multiculturalism – is it under threat?

Political developments over the past year across the world, notably the referendum in favour of Brexit in the United Kingdom and the recent victory of Donald Trump in the United States Presidential Election have brought to the fore battles over identity politics. However, what I think these show is that there is a section of society who feel that they have been left behind and forgotten. The benefits of globalisation have not been felt by all sections of society. Right wing populist parties to the detriment of mainstream political parties have capitalised on this and stoked peoples fears against immigration for example, although Islamophobia is sadly particularly prevalent in many countries.

This is certainly the case with One Nation in Australia. I, for one, actually believe Canada and Australia can offer great lessons to many other countries on how to deal with immigration, particularly through their policies of multiculturalism. But multiculturalism is certainly more an integral part of Canadian national identity than Australian, as illustrated by a recent survey where Canadians ranked multiculturalism as number 1 in terms of the things that epitomised their national identity. If a similar survey were held in Australia I do not believe multiculturalism would rank so highly, perhaps in the top five. This is perhaps related to the different origins of the policy in the two countries, which has led to multiculturalism being synonymous with Canadian national identity. However, a policy of multiculturalism has survived in both countries for several decades, and although it has experienced both highs and lows, I do not see it disappearing anytime soon.

The Search for a New National Identity, discussion with Jatinder Mann. June 8, from noon to 13:30 p.m.; McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (3463 Peel Street). The event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are encouraged. Please RSVP here or through Eventbrite.

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