1.17 How Can We Reconcile Contending Loyalties in Canada?

Should nation be the foundation of identity?

Big Idea:

  • Reconciling contending nationalist and non-nationalist loyalties in Canada is a challenge.

Canada is a multination state, meaning that Canada's population is made of people from many cultural and ethnic groups. Because of this, people with differing languages, customs, religions, and beliefs live throughout Canada. It should be no surprise, then, that people have various codes of conduct, attitudes toward marriage, beliefs about raising children and education, and opinions on government policies.

Despite this great variety, however, one system of law and one political structure exist in Canada and, generally speaking, Canadian citizens observe and respect the laws and the government. Canada is a pluralistic society. Pluralism allows Canadians with varying religions and political views to follow their beliefs and express their concerns freely within the confines of Canadian society. But sometimes pluralism can lead to the need to reconcile contending nationalist and non-nationalist loyalties.

Pluralism allows the multination state of Canada to be a civic nation. Explore the tabs below to view the three main ways the government of Canada supports the efforts of Canadians to reconcile contending nationalist and non-nationalist loyalties.

Canada officially became a multicultural country in 1971 when the federal government created Canada's Multiculturalism Act. The multicultural policy officially recognized and protected Canada's diversity, the rights of Aboriginal peoples, and supported Canada's two official languages. The main goal was to reconcile nationalist and non-nationalist loyalties in Canada.

Canada’s multiculturalism policy was made to
  • help cultural groups grow and contribute to Canada,
  • help cultural groups enjoy full participation in society,
  • encourage groups to learn more about each other, and
  • help immigrants learn at least one of Canada’s official languages.

Multiculturalism was intended to create a fair and just society, where all cultural and ethnic groups are equal.

The Government of Canada supports multiculturalism in the following ways.
  • It supports school programs in Chinese, Ukrainian, German, and other languages.
  • It supports public cultural events, such as heritage day festivals.
  • It provides money for places like theatres and cultural museums.
  • It provides support for the development of ethnic literature and arts.
  • It helps new immigrants learn one of the official languages.
Reaction to Canada’s multiculturalism policy has been mixed. People have various opinions about multiculturalism.

Arguments for Multiculturalism Arguments against Multiculturalism
  • Canadians are a mixture of people from various cultural, religious, racial, and ethnic origins. This mixture helps in relations with other countries.
  • Canadian society is enriched by cultural variety—foods, art, writing, songs, dances, and customs.
  • Canadians learn tolerance through being in contact with other cultures. Multiculturalism can help to eliminate discrimination and prejudice.
  • Cultural differences strengthen Canadian unity. Our differences allow us to have various viewpoints on key issues. In addition, people can have pride in their ethnic backgrounds and in being Canadian.
  • Many cultural and ethnic groups have helped build Canada. We should encourage people to preserve their heritage because their traditions are part of Canadian history.
  • Cultural and ethnic diversity is a major part of the Canadian identity.
  • The more ethnic differences there are, the greater the problems they produce. There are always misunderstandings when people of different backgrounds mix.
  • When people move to a new country, they should adapt to the ways of that country. They should forget the traditions of their ethnic groups.
  • Differences can lead to problems. We should reduce rather than encourage differences. What we need is a Canadian culture that is purely Canadian. Let’s forget about ethnic heritage, and work toward building a Canada for all Canadians.
  • The Canadian government should not spend citizens’ tax dollars on multiculturalism. Our taxes are already too high.
  • Multiculturalism threatens French culture in QuĂ©bec.


Canada's multiculturalism policy is world-famous, and many citizens refer to it as the main reason why they moved to Canada. As the policy was created in 1971, do you think it still reflects and supports changes in Canada's diversity today?

In 1963, the Canadian government created a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. Official bilingualism is mandatory for federal services, and is encouraged at lower tiers of government. Bilingualism also provides support for English or French-speaking minorities in various provinces, such as cultural supports and services. It was the Commission’s job to figure out ways of reconciling Canada’s English and French communities.

The Commission proposed Canada should have two official languages. The Official Languages Act in 1969 made French and English the official languages, and thus Canada became a two-language, or bilingual country.

Although many other languages are spoken in Canada, they do not have the status of the two official languages. Having multiple official languages would be confusing and difficult to support.

While bilingualism is supposed to benefit all Canadians, there has been criticism of bilingualism. Both Anglophones (English-speaking people) and Francophones (French-speaking people) have raised concerns about the policy.

English-Canadian Perspectives on Bilingualism French-Canadian Perspectives on Bilingualism
  • Anglophones are afraid of being excluded from politics and government jobs if they are not bilingual.
  • Maintaining a two-language policy is costly.
  • The policy could potentially restrict Canadians who want to access language programs or services that support their language.
  • French speakers in QuĂ©bec may not want to speak French in Calgary. They want a guarantee that they will always be able use the French language in day-to-day living in QuĂ©bec.
  • The only way to guarantee French-Canadian culture will survive is for French to be the only language spoken in QuĂ©bec. Extra protection is needed to ensure the French language and culture will survive.
  • The French language is in danger of disappearing. The majority of immigrants to QuĂ©bec are not Francophone. In time, only a small percentage of the people will speak French. Therefore, the French language needs protection.

The Charter was put into the new Canadian constitution as part of the Constitution Act in 1982. The Charter guarantees the rights of all Canadian citizens, and is extremely difficult to change. These rights and freedoms cannot be easily taken away. The charter tries to reconcile nationalist and non-nationalist loyalties by making all Canadians equal.

Rights Protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Rights and Freedoms This means you can...
Fundamental Freedoms
  • worship as you like and believe what you want
  • express your opinions without fear
  • gather peacefully with others
  • associate with whomever you please
Democratic Rights
  • vote in elections
  • run in elections
Mobility Rights
  • enter, remain in, or leave Canada
  • move to, live in, and work in any Canadian province or territory
Legal Rights
  • be assured of the right to life, liberty, and security of person
  • not be put into jail without a fair trial if you are accused of a crime
  • not be subjected to inhumane treatment or punishment
Equality Rights
  • be protected by the law regardless of race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender, age, or mental or physical disability
Language Rights
  • use either English or French in any federal government office or in any federal court
  • have your children educated in either English or French where sufficient numbers of students are present
  • take the matter to court if any of the preceding rights and freedoms have been denied

When one thinks about contending nationalist and non-nationalist loyalties, or any other issue, one thinks about it from his or her own perspective. In fact, people cannot think about issues in any other way. One can imagine the perspectives of people of another background, history, and values, but one can never really know how others think or believe.

Is there any one right way to look at non-nationalist loyalties? Not really. However, with some background knowledge, one might recognize that other people have different ways of looking at the world and that their perspectives are based on their own reality and values. There will be times when citizens will need to decide what is most important to them: their nationalist loyalties, or their non-nationalist loyalties.

Go to your textbook, Understanding Nationalism , and read pages 89 to 95. These pages will further your understanding of how individuals address contending nationalist and non-nationalist loyalties.
  Take notes using the 1.17 Organizer (Word, PDF, Google Doc ) about what you have read. You may want to refer to the tutorial How to Take Notes. When you are done, return here to continue.