Citizens for Public Justice
I N S I D E Civic Engagement Creates Change
Put Faith into Action...
Building on 40 years (and more)...
To Build a Sustainable Economy... By John Hiemstra
Many people of faith are inspired by the idea of a “sustainable economy,” that is, to dream dreams and envision images of: • an economy that is actually based on care and enough; • that prioritizes the immediate needs of the most vulnerable; • that closes the growing gap between rich and poor; • an economy that is based on long-term ecological sustainability; • that is mindful of the needs of future generations; • and that removes factors that feed cycles of violent conflict. The churches and the voluntary sector face at least four constraints in working for a sustainable economy.
1) The constraint of established expectations The recent financial crises (2008-2009) brought into plain view what our governments expected the role of churches to be in economic life. While the Canadian government increased spending in mainstream segments of the economy (physical infrastructure and support for the financial sector), churches and faithbased NGOs were expected to charitably rescue those who fell through the cracks of the government’s Action Plan and existing government services. This service role is a classic role that the churches have willingly played over the ages, and generally done so effectively. The central motive has been “the love of God and neighbour,” that is, “We give, because much has been given to us.” However, the government’s expectation that business, churches and NGOs would simply follow each of their established roles, while the government fixed the traditional economy through public spending on infrastructure, really
constrained the voluntary sector’s ability to publicly advocate for alternative approaches to a sustainable economy.
2) The constraint of the mainstream view of government’s economic role Should government stimulus spending have aimed simply to “increase aggregate income,” or should it also include simultaneous concern for the redistributional impact of its stimulus spending? Shouldn’t it also help reverse the “growing gap between rich and poor”? Church work for a sustainable economy is constrained by the mainstream economic view that government should spend on things which bolster the traditional economy, and need not aim also to create the just social infrastructure required to enable families and communities to participate in good, long-term, full time work. The church’s prophetic voice – that calls government to create policy that addresses the needs of the marginalized, those whom the Bible identifies as the “widow, the poor, and the orphan” – runs up against a narrow view of government simply stimulating growth in a market economy. Ecologically-sound economic recovery policies must also simultaneously serve those “falling through the cracks.”
3) The constraint of the “normal & self-evident” A third constraint churches face in working for a sustainable economy is rooted in our tendency to view economics through the prism of what we consider “normal.” If the Christian community takes a “view from the outside” at the “normal” economy, we would see new realities. First, we would see that our current economy and economic debate is not, first and foremost, about a sustainable economy at all, but instead is premised on the assumption of continuous rapid economic growth. Second, taking a “view from the outside” would help us see that our drive to constant economic growth is integrally linked to a number of unprecedented, interlocking global challenges, i.e. resource depletion, increasing levels of pollution, species extinctions, climate change, poverty and hunger in the global south, global human migrations, etc. ...continued on page 3 Fall 2010 (Volume 33, Number 2)
In Review 2010 AGM CPJ members, board and staff gathered on May 27 for CPJ’s 2010 Annual General Meeting. Led by board Chair Kathy Vandergrift, the meeting included reports from Executive Director Joe Gunn and board Treasurer Frederick Wind. We were pleased to welcome new board members Dwayne Hodgson (Ottawa, ON), John Murphy (Canning, NS), Will Postma (Toronto, ON), and Ericka Stephens-Rennie (Ottawa, ON) and to affirm Frederick Wind (Whitby, ON) for a second term on the board. Richard Shillington, a policy analyst with Informetrica presented on Recession, Recovery and Poverty: Is the End Near? CPJ’s policy analyst Karri Munn-Venn called for faithful action in response to the challenges presented. During the board meeting immediately following the AGM, a new executive was elected. Mark Huyser-Wierenga (Edmonton, AB), Chair; Jim Joosse (Edmonton, AB), Vice Chair; Jake Kuiken (Calgary, AB), Secretary; Frederick Wind, Treasurer; and Sheila McKinley (Chatham, ON) is the new liaison with the program committee. Thanks were expressed to outgoing members for their passion and dedication: Emily Hutten, Maria Paez-Victor, and Nick Van Dyk. A special thanks needs to go to Kathy who served tirelessly, first as CPJ’s Vice Chair and then Chair, as well as participating in the program advisory committee.
Welcome and Congratulations! CPJ is pleased to welcome David Pollock as our new Finance and Administration Coordinator. David brings a wealth of knowledge and experience having previously served as the Executive Director for the Tatamagouche Centre and the Pembina Institute. In September, we were happy to be joined by two new interns. Jennifer Prosser, a graduate in Political Science / Social Justice and Peace studies the Catalyst Fall 2010 (Volume 33, Number 2)
from King’s University College, is our Public Justice Intern. Callandra Cochrane, a student at the Laurentian Leadership Centre, will also be with us until Christmas. A special welcome goes to Mira Danielle Pasma-Helleman. Congratulations to Chandra and Matt on the arrival of their new little one – and all the best for a wonderful maternity leave!
A Faithful Response to Poverty
The number of supporters of Dignity for All continues to grow, particularly among Members of Parliament (60) and Senators (12). Close to 6,000 Canadians have endorsed the campaign, but many more are needed. Visit www.dignityforall.ca and sign on today!
CPJ on Top of the Hill An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada was tabled in the House just prior to the summer break. The private member’s bill was drafted by Member of Parliament Tony Martin (NDP) with the support of MPs Mike Savage (Liberal) and Yves Lessard (Bloc). It mandates the creation of a federal poverty elimination strategy, as called for in the Dignity for All campaign. Policy analyst Chandra Pasma spoke at the press conference announcing the new bill on June 16, expressing CPJ’s hope that cross-partisan support will continue until this critical bill is passed into law. In mid-August CPJ’s policy team, led by Public Justice Intern Rebekah Sears, prepared a brief for the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance with our recommendations for Budget 2011. The recession exposed a social deficit and CPJ is calling for a responsible and caring budget focusing on building sustainable and lasting change. Rebekah, Jennifer Prosser, Joe, Kathryn Cummings and Karri laced up their sneakers to “OutRun Poverty” on 2
September 18. In this photo they are seen carrying the Dignity for All campaign banner with local MP Paul Dewar. This Ottawa event was a part of the international week of action, as the nations of the world met at the UN to analyze progress towards realization of the Millennium Development Goals. CPJ’s message? The Canadian government needs to keep its promises to end poverty at home and abroad.
Citizens for Public Justice 309 Cooper Street, #501 Ottawa, Ontario K2P 0G5 tel. 613-232-0275 toll-free 1-800-667-8046 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org web: www.cpj.ca Citizens for Public Justice’s mission is to promote public justice in Canada by shaping key public policy debates through research and analysis, publishing and public dialogue. CPJ encourages citizens, leaders in society and governments to support policies and practices which reflect God’s call for love, justice and stewardship. CPJ annual membership fee, includes the Catalyst: $50 / $25 (low-income)
the Catalyst, a publication of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), reports on public justice issues in Canada and reviews CPJ activities. Fall 2010 (Volume 33, Number 2) ISSN 0824-2062 Agreement no. 40022119 the Catalyst subscription: $20 (three issues)
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that it threatens to undermine the very thrust of constitutional democracy, namely, the discernment and implementation of publicly just measures to further the common good.
Viewing these interlocking challenges “from the outside” makes clear that we are at a crossroads; either we immediately begin refashioning our economy into a sustainable economy or we face severe consequences.
b) Public funding for interest groups representing “the most vulnerable” The current government practice of withdrawing public funding from many interest groups is purportedly based on a democratically-justified, deficit-cutting policy. In the first vision, where democracy is viewed as a power-contest in which government responds to interest group demands, this policy is “fair” because the majority demands it. The second vision of democracy would ask that groups with the least resources – groups representing women, first nations, and the poor and marginalized – continue to be publicly supported in order to justly participate.
Third, by developing a larger view, beyond the constraints of the “normal,” we would see that society’s single-minded pursuit of economic growth is actually based on faith-like assumptions derived from the Enlightenment’s narrative of “endless progress.” Our complicity in society’s obsession with economic growth is perhaps the most important constraint on achieving a sustainable economy. While continuing the churches’ role in “service” and “advocacy for redistribution,” churches and the voluntary sector need to discern the deeper structural and faith depth-levels of our current economy and society. Recognizing this allows us to shift the public conversation to the deeper issues. In this case the key question becomes: What is the economy for, anyway?
The complication has arisen, however, that interests groups are often not neutral interpreters of their interests and therefore often clash with the policy of the funding government. Some churches have used a public justice approach to argue that funding of interest groups be maintained, but that the public funding structure should be adjusted to allow marginalized groups to be free to form various interest groups, reflecting their various visions of life, as a way of representing their interests to government.
Then, the churches’ work for a sustainable economy should be rooted in confession, repentance and commitment to a new way of life. This renewal must begin in our faith communities, because we are complicit, to various degrees, in society’s faith in progress and obsessive commitment to economic growth.
4) The constraint of contested justifications for constitutional democracy Just as our deepest convictions shape our preferred “economy,” so too the different ways Canadians understand and justify “democracy” can result in the divergent operation of, and outcomes within, our political system. For purposes of illustration, let’s examine two of many justifications/visions for constitutional democracy operating in Canadian society.
c) Aversion to judicializing politics & policy-making Many media reports suggest that government is “dismantling human rights policies and mechanisms,” weakening adherence to international rights agreements, and so on. Different visions for constitutional democracy come to the surface in this debate as well. Deep-seated disagreement exists in Canadian society on the proper understanding of rights and the role of the courts. This deserves to be openly debated. It is critical, therefore, that the churches be clear on their depth-level justifications for democracy, and what this means for the role of the judiciary.
In one vision, democracy is seen simply as a mechanism that serves to translate the “will of the people” into policy outcomes. The “liberal” side of the “liberal democratic” form of government is designed to protect the free exercise of individual wills from government interference and oppression, by guaranteeing liberties, rights, and the rule of law. Democracy in this viewpoint becomes a realm in which “elected majority governments” claim the legitimate-moral right to impose their will – at least until they lose the next election.
The churches’ work for a sustainable economy needs to be advanced in a context where there is not simply one vision of constitutional democracy. At some point, this plurality of justifications for constitutional democracy will clash, overlap and fuse. It is imperative that faith communities actively engage in reflection and study on how Christian convictions inform our understandings of constitutional democracy and how it should best operate.
In another vision, put forward by some Christian traditions, democracy is the realm in which we seek out the common good. Citizens and governments also work together to discern the government’s public justice role in achieving this common good. The space, process and institutions of constitutional democracy are, therefore, defined not by the imposition of a majority’s or a government’s will, but by communal discussion and debate over achieving the common good and doing governmental public justice.
Dealing with the constraints on public policy advocacy If the churches are serious about engaging public debate over the development of a sustainable economy, they must be aware of a variety of constraints. Most notably, the churches need to listen to, learn from, and often confront, the contending visions of the role of churches, government’s economic role, assumptions of “normal”, and what is a constitutional democracy operating in our pluralistic society.
These different, sometimes conflicting, visions for constitutional democracy (along with others) can be found at play in various debates:
Former CPJ policy analyst John Hiemstra is professor of political studies at King’s University College in Edmonton. This is an edited version, used with permission, of his speech to the Canadian Council of Churches, on May 18 on Parliament Hill.
a) Private interest above public interest Some argue that it’s acceptable to hold a political party’s private interest in re-election above the pursuit of the public interest. This seems to reflect the first view of democracy. It is weak in 3
the Catalyst Fall 2010 (Volume 33, Number 2)
Civic Engagement Creates Change By Rebekah Sears
For years, Canadian social justice advocates have been vehemently campaigning for the federal government to combat poverty in Canada.
Civic engagement places new possibilities on the horizon Many of these actions came after months of consultations with anti-poverty advocates and organizations, research and crossparty discussions. Many Parliamentarians are personally concerned: much of their motivation comes from speaking with constituents, advocacy groups and concerned citizens – people like you and me.
Public justice calls for a society where people can hold the government accountable, encouraging active participation and engagement from everyone. But sometimes at the end of the day we wonder if our voices have been heard, if we have made a difference, or if all of these efforts are falling on deaf ears.
The House of Commons Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development and Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) has been working on a report on the role of the federal government in poverty eradication for almost two years. After conducting research from across the country and looking at various sectors, HUMA hopes to release the report this autumn. Like the Senate report, it will require an ofﬁcial response by the government.
Several events from the past year indicate that advocates have reason to hope and persevere. Change in government policy can sometimes take months if not years, but recently there has been major progress in the movement to convince the federal government to establish a poverty elimination plan, geared towards eradicating poverty in Canada. Action in the autumn of 2010 could make all the difference.
What can you do? October 17 marks the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Events will be held across Canada and the rest of the world. This is an excellent opportunity to remind Canadian Parliamentarians about the state of poverty in our own country and press the need for a federal poverty reduction plan.
Progress in 2009 and 2010 On November 24, 2009, Parliament passed a unanimous resolution that committed the government to develop a national strategy to eliminate poverty in Canada. By no coincidence, this resolution came on the 20th anniversary of the unanimous promise to eradicate child poverty in Canada by the year 2000 – a goal that obviously has yet to be achieved. Will the new resolution be a deliberate acknowledgement of the need to follow through, or another broken promise?
Please consider joining the chorus of voices calling for the elimination of poverty in Canada this fall. Join CPJ’s anti-poverty efforts, contact your Member of Parliament and your provincial and municipal representatives. Make sure that you, your family and friends and your faith community have signed onto Dignity for All: the Campaign for a Poverty-Free Canada (www.dignityforall.ca).
Two weeks later the Senate Subcommittee on Cities released a serious report on the situation of poverty in Canada, In from the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness. In this report, the committee outlined over 70 recommendations for federal government action. The government’s response to these recommendations, issued on September 27, was to take them “under advisement.” Canadians will be able to gauge the political will in Ottawa to advance poverty eradication measures only when a more fulsome indication of government resolve is publicized.
Remind your MP of the unanimous motions they made in 1989 and 2009 to eliminate poverty in Canada and also demand their support for Bill C-545, the anti-poverty Act. Fulﬁll the unanimous motion and push the bill forward! As we enter this fall season, momentum is building for change and now is the time to get involved and make our voices heard. Christians and public justice advocates need to be at the forefront of these changes. CPJ intends to be involved in events around October 17, and will impact the action on Parliament Hill throughout the autumn. Please join us!
In June, New Democrat Member of Parliament Tony Martin introduced Private Member’s Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada. The bill was seconded by Liberal MP Michael Savage and Bloc MP Yves Lessard. Bill C-545 calls for the development of a federal strategy to eliminate poverty in Canada and the creation of a Poverty Commissioner to report progress to Parliament and oversee the whole process.
the Catalyst Fall 2010 (Volume 33, Number 2)
Rebekah Sears was CPJ’s Public Justice Intern in 2009-2010. 4
Opposing Alberta’s “Upgrader Alley:” farming vs. the tar sands By Salim Hammad
zone.” Granted only a swift appearance he nevertheless stressed the upgrader’s contributions to poor air quality and the destruction of prime agricultural farmland. He challenged the historical balance of the Board’s rulings, asserting that development of Alberta’s energy resources had not taken place in a manner that is “fair, responsible and in the public interest,” as claimed by the ERCB mission statement. What is the idea of public interest as professed by the ERCB? In a series of email exchanges with the ERCB legal department, Wayne engaged the Board’s understanding of the concept: “Although I think I can understand why the ERCB does not have a specific definition of the public interest, they must have some criteria that they can use in their deliberations for what the public interest is. If they have no criteria, how they can deem something to be in the public interest?” In the summer of 2008, the Catalyst published a front page article by Cheryl Mahaffy entitled, “Tar sands fever threatens Edmonton farmland.” The story won an award from the Canadian Church Press, and due to reader interest, we decided to revisit the issue to see what has changed…
By overlooking deterioration in the quality of life of local citizens and the environment, Wayne feels the Board has equated the public interest with economic gain – at the expense of social and environmental concerns. (The upgrader will contribute an estimated $200 million in annual provincial taxes.)
The application of French oil giant, Total, to construct and operate a facility designed to upgrade bitumen (extra heavy oil) into synthetic crude oil, was approved by the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) on September 16. This will be the sixth upgrader to be given a green light in the “Heartland” region near Alberta’s capital city.
Advocating for the bigger picture Wayne also questions the very need for the project. Part of Wayne’s rationale for action is premised on the need to “stress the big picture of what is going on in the area and while we have the chance, raise awareness of the impact of our lifestyle on our ecological footprint.”
Wayne Groot, a third-generation potato farmer, has been living with his family in the midst of the expansive “Upgrader Alley” – about 10 km from the proposed Total site.
In 2009, Wayne was featured in a series of web-episodes initiated by Greenpeace as part of its “Stop the Tar Sands” Campaign. The video exposed the changing landscape in the region and revealed a form of fatalism arising as a byproduct of interest politics and big money: “I think a lot of [farmers] are not happy to get out. But people are resigned that big industry is going to win, so they get out while they have a chance. I am not yet ready to do that.”
Wayne anticipated that the ERCB would approve Total’s project, as “not one single oil sands application has ever been turned down in this province.”
Public Justice – Small potatoes? Wayne testified in June 2010 at the ERCB public hearing on Total’s proposed facility. He was previously involved in hearings for both the Northwest and Petro-Canada upgraders and has participated in a committee called Citizens for Responsible Development to help resolve issues between local citizens and industrial interests.
Wayne recognizes that while “We are not stopping these projects, we are making it harder for them to push them through…it’s always small groups that start change. And we believe we can make change.” If they have no criteria, how can they deem something to be in the public interest?
Wayne’s advocacy is a result of a variety of concerns: the unsustainable impact of further industrialization on his farm and family, uncertainty and anxiety associated with the effect of air pollution, massive neighbouring land sellouts, and the destruction of valuable farmland for mushrooming upgrader projects over the past decade.
Balancing competing interests Only one local resident was granted standing at the ten days of public hearings in June. Wayne was denied official standing by the Board since he lives outside the five kilometer “affected
Salim Hammad, an Ottawa-based graduate in economics and political studies, is interested in the social ramifications of energy related projects. 5
the Catalyst Fall 2010 (Volume 33, Number 2)
Put our Faith into Action: Supporting a National Housing Strategy By Trixie Ling
Between 150,000 and 300,000 people experience homelessness every year in Canada. 150,000 to 300,000 people; this includes individuals with invisible disabilities, urban aboriginal families, and newcomers with low-wage jobs, among others. Affordable, adequate, and secure housing is crucial for sustaining health and well-being, yet far too many people are vulnerable to complex challenges that make it impossible.
end homelessness and paves the way to ensuring adequate housing as a fundamental human right for everyone in Canada.” Multi-party support has allowed Bill C-304 to successfully pass second reading (i.e. approval in principle.) It even survived the clause-byclause review in committee, and the prorogation of Parliament. Yet there is still significant risk that this bill will not become law.
The right to adequate housing is affirmed under the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, which acknowledges “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for him and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing.” It is reiterated in a number of international human rights treaties, many of which have been ratified by the Government of Canada. Sadly however, despite the fractured collection of housing initiatives in Canada, the federal government has not gone nearly far enough to address the crisis of affordable housing.
An amended version of the Affordable Housing Act was reported to the House of Commons on March 24. Most of the amendments made in committee are widely seen as adding significant strength to the proposed legislation. However, the addition of an opt-out clause for Quebec may cause the bill to fall on a point of procedure. This amendment was ruled inadmissible on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the purpose of the bill. Still, after some delay, Bill C-304 is now scheduled to go back to the House for debate on October 20. A final vote will follow later in the fall.
All this could change with the passage of Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. The Bill, introduced by Vancouver East Member of Parliament Libby Davies (NDP) in the spring of 2009, requires the federal government to work with provinces and municipalities to develop targets and timelines for the elimination of homelessness. It also requires that a housing strategy include a process for independent monitoring of progress made, as well as a complaints procedure to address possible violations of the right to adequate housing.
The Liberals and NDP remain firmly behind the Affordable Housing Act, but its passage requires an additional 31 votes from the total pool of Conservative and Bloc MPs. Action on affordable housing is critically needed. So too are measures to address the underlying issues of poverty and social exclusion. As individuals and communities of faith, we must get involved and actively address issues of housing insecurity and poverty. We can:
“This is the most important piece of social policy legislation to come before Parliament this year,” said Leilani Farha, Executive Director Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation and Dignity for All Campaign Committee member. “In compliance with the Government’s obligation under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, this Bill requires the federal government to work with all levels of government and stakeholders to develop a national strategy to
• Engage our MPs: call, write letters, visit and urge them to support a national housing strategy. • Support Dignity for All: the Campaign for a Poverty-Free Canada and its call for a federal anti-poverty Act. • Tell others about the crisis of poverty, housing, and homelessness, and encourage them to take action. As Christians, we are called to do justice. We must respond faithfully to the needs of the poor and homeless. We must face up to the challenge to care for our neighbours, and to work towards a just and peaceful society where everyone has a sense of belonging and a place to call home.
Bill C-304 has the potential to significantly raise the bar for Canadian social policy. Following close on its heels is another key legislative initiative. Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada, would oblige the federal government to establish and implement a multi-faceted strategy for poverty elimination, in consultation with the provincial, territorial, municipal and Aboriginal governments and with civil society organizations.
the Catalyst Fall 2010 (Volume 33, Number 2)
Trixie Ling is a graduate student doing her Masters of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She was CPJ's first Public Justice Intern in 2007-2008. 6
Building on 40 years (and more).... By Mike Bulthuis
Next year, Canada will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the introduction of a federal multiculturalism policy, announced in 1971. While the policy has evolved, it has always sought to challenge Canadians to recognize and celebrate cultural pluralism. Rejecting the “melting pot” image, the framework seeks to value the unique stories of those who make up the Canadian fabric. While policies can be critiqued, I like this objective.
from the concerns of socio-economic well-being – woven into the everyday stuff of life to enhance feelings of security. In openness to the significance of these stories for individual well-being, we may also realize the greater commonalities we share with our neighbours. As we are joined together in concern for our family and community, and for living according to our sense of purpose in this place, we’ll engage in what Edward Said referred to as "the common enterprise of promoting human community."
In many countries including Canada, the embrace of multiculturalism has, in recent years, loosened within a context of discomfort, suspicion, panic or fear towards that which (or who) is different. Those practicing “other” religions, speaking “other” languages, wearing “other” clothes may find themselves encouraged to limit these expressions to private life. They then keep those spaces of a shared public life which look familiar to the “others” who established these norms in years past. And yet, we Canadians are folks defined by stories of coming together. That which holds us together is, in part, a dialogue, one that (ideally) fosters a sense that we are welcome, wanting to be known, complete with valued stories of interest.
The work of public justice offers a rich possibility to create this shared space for dialogue. In my hometown of Ottawa, I'm grateful for the Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI), an organization joining faith communities in the common purpose of providing affordable housing. Later this fall, through the MHI, a Jewish synagogue will host an opportunity for all to learn how the provision of affordable housing ties into the holiday of Sukkot, to Jewish living (and a call to social action) and to the concept of Tzedakah (meaning charity, fairness or justice). Canada is commonly regarded as a global leader in constructing a sense of national community from a multicultural reality. As tensions between faith communities arise around the world, we are not immune from the tendency to name something unknown as different and potentially problematic. In this context, our responsibility to listen, to recognize and to engage is crucial. Over the summer, CPJ had the opportunity to engage Professor Lori Beaman, lead investigator with a federally-funded international "Religion and Diversity" project. The project seeks to draw on Canadian and international experience to study the challenges and opportunities presented by religious diversity. Recognizing the mutual constitution of religion and everyday contemporary social life, the project looks to identify a path beyond tolerance towards deep equality – towards a path whereby each of us might live out expressions of our stories – in a just and peaceful society.
I've grown up within a Dutch immigrant community, where the church was central. Beyond the church, the significance of fully living out one's expression of faith was paramount. My grandparents, with their families and friends, established lives in Canada complemented by social institutions and networks wherein faith was, and is, manifest across everyday life. This included schools, the workplace, political bodies and beyond. These lived expressions of faith and spirituality likely contribute to this community's sense of well-being – without taking away a sense of being “Canadian.” I can only imagine this same passion (and sense of calling) compels the development of mosques, of temples, of cultural centres, of social networks defined by other cultures and faith traditions. Indeed, these networks and institutions may also enable individuals to join with other Canadians in living a full expression of their spiritualities and faith stories, potentially fostering a sense of well-being for them.
So as we celebrate 40 years of formally recognizing multicultural realities, my hope is that we might each be inspired by our own experiences to co-construct a public life where all Canadians, each secure in his or her own story, feels a part of our Canadian human community.
I felt privileged to participate earlier this summer in a discussion among Christian and Muslim leaders in an Ottawa neighbourhood where adults wished to provide enhanced supports for vulnerable youth. Those gathered listened to each other and to the stories of varied efforts in backing youth. Together, we identified value in providing social care to, and connecting with, youth from within one's particular cultural and faith story. These always-evolving stories may provide context, and a sense of continuity and connection – not to be detached
Mike Bulthuis is a geographer and a member of CPJ’s Board. 7
the Catalyst Fall 2010 (Volume 33, Number 2)
Groundings Metaphors for Diversity By Shiao Chong
Cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson once wrote, “There are few things as toxic as a bad metaphor. You can’t think without metaphors.” Cognitive research shows that she is right. A whole network of conceptual metaphors operates mostly at a subconscious level to support all our abstract and theoretical thinking. So, if we can’t think without metaphors, then it reasons that bad metaphors could lead to bad thinking with bad consequences. When it comes to debates about multiculturalism and diversity, have our underlying metaphors been helpful or problematic for us? What are the underlying key metaphors that shape our understanding and approach to these matters? In Canada and the US, two major metaphors have commonly been used to convey each country’s different approaches to cultural diversity: the mosaic for Canada and the melting pot for the US. Each metaphor has its strengths and weaknesses for engaging the reality of diversity. The melting pot image suggests an emphasis on the blending of cultures to create something new. This can lead to a lot of positive thinking about how the different cultures can learn from each other and adopt each other’s strengths, capitalizing on the commonalities and reforming each other’s weaknesses. It can lead to emphasing change and evolution of cultures – the interaction between the different cultures changes all of them into a new hybrid culture as they melt and meld together. To use a cooking analogy, the different cultural ingredients are blended together into a delicious stew! Yet not all cultures in the North American pot have equal flavours. The dominant mainstream culture’s flavour is so strong that it overpowers most other cultures’ contributions, unless those minority cultures can reach a critical mass and start asserting their flavours. Until then, instead of blending together, the marginal cultures are merely assimilated into the mainstream and their positive contributions lost or invisible. the Catalyst Fall 2010 (Volume 33, Number 2)
1 Corinthians 12:12 – “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” In contrast, the Canadian mosaic comprised of different colourful pieces arranged into an aesthetically pleasing design seeks to emphasize the uniqueness and preservation of each culture. Every cultural piece is colourful and beautiful in its own right but when placed together with other cultural pieces, we find a whole more beautiful than its parts. This metaphor’s strength is its emphasis on the important, almost equal, contribution of each culture. Every piece in the mosaic is necessary, otherwise the pattern is unfinished. And each culture’s uniqueness must be preserved – if a mosaic piece changes its colour, the pattern as a whole will be disrupted. There are no suggestions of melting or blending; no hybrid culture but a collaboration of uniquely preserved cultures to form a beautiful arrangement. But this image fails to recognize that cultures do change colours; cultures are not as static as a mosaic suggests. Cultural collaborations are not as neat as simply lying next to each other untouched or unaffected by other cultures. Cultures interact and change each other, whether they want to or not. So who gets to decide what the overall pattern is supposed to look like? Does each cultural piece have an equal say to what the overall pattern will be or is the pattern already decided by the majority cultures? I think some of these metaphors’ weaknesses are being played out in today’s debates on various multicultural issues. As Christians, however, are there biblical metaphors to inspire and shape our engagement with diversity? I believe the apostle Paul’s “one body with many parts” metaphor is more helpful thinking about diversity. The body metaphor for a community emphasizes both uniqueness and unity. Each body part has its unique properties and roles yet cannot function independently without the whole. And even though all parts are not equal, all parts are indispensable; even “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker.” (1 Cor. 12:22) Applied to cultural diversity, this metaphor stresses the interaction and interdependence of different cultures for the common good of the whole. For me, it combines the melting pot’s emphasis on interaction between the cultures to create a new united reality, yet preserves the mosaic’s stress on unique and indispensable contributions of each cultural part. It avoids the pitfalls of assimilation on the one hand and of disunity on the other. I hope Christians meditate and reflect deeply on the implications of this biblical metaphor for our approach to diversity in our world.
Shiao Chong is the Christian Reformed Campus Minister serving at York University, Toronto and Director of the York student club Leadership, Culture and Christianity. He has served his denomination as an Inter-Cultural Specialist at the regional level.