Does multiculturalism kill enthusiasm for the welfare state?

NationalPost.com – Full Comment
Posted: February 12, 2010.   David Akin

Tony Judt wonders why socialism or a social democratic movement has had such trouble finding root in America. He has this interesting observation:

... it is not by chance that social democracy and welfare states have worked best in small, homogeneous countries, where issues of mistrust and mutual suspicion do not arise so acutely. A willingness to pay for other people’s services and benefits rests upon the understanding that they in turn will do likewise for you and your children: because they are like you and see the world as you do.

Conversely, where immigration and visible minorities have altered the demography of a country, we typically find increased suspicion of others and a loss of enthusiasm for the institutions of the welfare state. Finally, it is incontrovertible that social democracy and the welfare states face serious practical challenges today. Their survival is not in question, but they are no longer as self-confident as they once appeared.

I wonder how this observation works in Canadian context. Some things to think about:

Canada’s “welfare state” originated in an era — end of the Second World War to the mid-1970s? — when Canada was a more homogenous society than it is now. Does Canada’s increasing cultural diversity work against a social democratic vision that the country might have had in an earlier era?

The most homogenous society in Canada is Quebec. Quebec’s politics have the strongest ’social democratic’ politics. Are the two related?

What about Alberta? Alberta, and Calgary in particular, now has some some of the largest per capita visible minority populations in the country and much of its non-visible minority population are immigrants from other parts of the country. Alberta, one might argue, is the opposite from Quebec when it comes to “social democratic” values.

The federal Liberal Party is the party, for better or worse, most often identified with the Canadian ‘welfare state.’ Is the Liberal Party’s current existential crisis a function of the increasing diversity of Canada’s demography and, as a result, its movement away from social democratic ideals?

National Post

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