The Rise of Multiculturalism in Canada and Australia: What About Business?

20 07 2016


My friend and sometimes co-author Jatinder Mann has just published his fantastic new book comparing the development of multiculturalism in Canada and Australia in the twentieth centuries. (Actually he starts his narrative in the 1890s). The Search for a New National Identity: the Rise of Multiculturalism in Canada and Australia  (Interdisciplinary Studies in Diasporas) was released on 15 July by Peter Lang publishers.

Here is the book blurb:

This book explores the profound social, cultural, and political changes that 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? The book begins from a simple premise – namely, that 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-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 that was the very antithesis to the White, monolithic idea of Britishness. This book will be useful for both history and politics courses in Australia and Canada, as well as internationally.

This book is an important piece of scholarship and one that will doubtless be read not just in Canada and Australia but also in those industrialised countries that have some different experiences in managing diversity. Canadian multiculturalism is indeed a role model for many other countries, as it is nation that has developed its economy through the successful integration of waves of immigration. The Canadian and Australian experiments with multiculturalism have been brilliant successes in economic terms and are discussed around the world.



Monument to Multiculturalism in Toronto’s Financial District

I do not mean to critique Jatinder’s great book in any way, but it seems to me that one element in missing, or at least, under-developed in it: the role of business in promoting the emergence in these societies of  multiculturalism. There are passing references to business here and there in the book, but no sustained treatment of the issue. It seems to me that one could write a narrative history of multiculturalism in both Canada and Australia that foregrounds the role of business in lobbying for a more open immigration policy and in the practical integration of arrivals. If I were writing this history, I might open it with a discussion of Brian Mulroney’s speech on the economic benefits of multiculturalism, which delivered at a 1986 conference called “Multiculturalism Means Business.”I would also note that this slogan “Multiculturalism Means Business” was shamelessly plagiarised by the Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission of  the State of Western Australia, which organized a suspiciously similar conference in August 1988.

It seems to me that a business historian could use the histories of these two countries to produce some research with real global impact.










Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: