I was reading an article today by Douglas Todd at the Vancouver Sun about Canada, values, culture, immigration, and identity, as sort of a reflection on Canada Day. It’s a well-written piece, and lays out the difficulties in assessing what exactly a people spread out over such a large country really share, culturally:
“We are stretched out geographically. We were “founded” about 500 years ago by antagonist peoples rooted in French or English. We have of late recognized the cultures of aboriginals. We also have a porous 9,000-kilometre border with the most powerful nation on Earth. And we continue to have the world’s highest per capita immigration rate.”
He goes on to discuss the different viewpoints of what constitutes “Canadian-ness”, and speaks about a divide between liberals and conservatives in their attitudes towards citizenship, immigration and values. He then lays out 10 values that, in his minds’ eye, transcend these divisions and encompass Canadians as a whole:
“1. Participatory democracy.
2. Reasonable tolerance of diversity.
3. The rule of law.
4. Stewardship of the Earth.
5. No discrimination, including on gender or sexual orientation.
6. Mixed economics: Market enterprise tempered by regulation.
7. Universal health care for core needs.
8. Readiness to pay taxes.
9. Willingness to learn from ‘The Other.’
10. Commitment to the common good.“
This list may accurately reflect a majority opinion of Canadians, but then again, they might not. It’s hard to say. But going a little deeper, I think that much of what he’s listed here are institutions that influence what Canadians value, rather than a set of values per se. Economy, political system, legal system, environment, health care, can be called institutions of influence, or institutions shared by most Canadians that work to create a mutual sense of what’s right, wrong, good, bad, normal, abnormal… in short, a culture. So what are some larger cultural values that these items above point to?
On Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, Canadians highest scale is individualism. Participatory democracy, tolerance of diversity, and non-discrimination could all be viewed as stemming from placing great value on an individual rights and liberties, and the individual as primary locus of a society (vs. collectivism, where the group or family is the primary focal point). However, in contrast with the equally-individualistic Americans, Canadians also tend to value cooperation. Winning at all costs isn’t always respected if it violates the spirit of wanting to do the right thing. This cultural value can be reflected in universal health care, and readiness to pay taxes on the list above. Some say that this delicate balance between individual freedom and collective responsibility is the major defining cultural value of Canadians.
Of course, even before the current wave of new immigrants to Canada, Canada had two distinct linguistic subcultures (anglophone and francophone), as well as a sizeable native population. What these subcultures may value will vary, of course. But it’s important to be able to do some basic generalizing around archetypal shared values when dealing with Canadians in business, education… or maybe you just happen to be in town while Prince William and Duchess Kate are in Ottawa for some Canada Day festivities.