In Charles Taylor’s “Shared and Divergent Values,” he discusses the role of Canadian identity and how views of individual cultures have slowly dissipated into an agreement over politics and culture.
He said the Canadian government plays a role in shaping the various cultures, particularly that of Quebec and then the rest of Canada, into one consciousness through declarations such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Policies that are put in place throughout the country, with no consideration for how these policies affect individual groups, have caused cultural individuality to slowly erode. Liberal individualism that Taylor touts, allows for the roots of each person in society to come through. He believes in a middle way, where there is national identity, but also the preservation of an individual’s culture. His theory touches on the very essence of what it means to be Canadian, and that essence is the idea of preserving cultural roots while also following a national identity. In making this argument, Taylor shouldn’t have focused almost entirely on Quebecers, because Canada is multicultural and there are many other nationalities to consider in making this argument.
Taylor rightly argues that the Canadian government hasn’t done a good job at respecting the cultures of this country’s citizens. Instead, there seems to be an integration of the various cultures, whether that is political or cultural. These could be related to social provisions, violence, firearms and about democracy, (1994: 156). But as Thomas points out, this development is relatively recent. Approximately 50 years ago, there were widely divergent beliefs about fundamentals such as the aforementioned political and cultural factors of life. For example, at this time, Quebec and the rest of Canada had different views about things like the treatment of Communists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, (1994: 156).
In trying to explain how this erosion of cultures in Canada into an assimilated culture, Taylor asks about what is the point of a country. He says this is in contrast to asking what people cherish as being good, (1994: 157). In addressing what the point of a country is, he is trying to determine how a country can be internationally sovereign, yet preserve multiple cultures within its framework.
Taylor’s argument would be stronger if he gave more concrete examples of how cultures have been fragmented. For example, he could have talked about the devastation caused by European settlers in the First Nations land. This has eventually caused not only the slaughter of Aboriginals, but the attempted assimilation of First Nations through residential schools. In addition, the depletion of the caribou and other wildlife that the First Nations relied on for their way of life is largely responsible for causing the collapse of that culture.
But he is more subtle in identifying the different cultures. For example, he considers people of Western Canada to be a culture of their own, one that is neglected by the federal government because they are too far away. Instead of paying closer attention to the needs of people in Western Canada, initiatives such as block funding are carried out, (1994: 160).
Taylor does well in his comparison of the Canadian to that of the nation’s American counterpart in which government policy has turned that society into a cultural melting pot. Ex-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared Canada as a multicultural nation, and I believe that statement has helped lead this country into acceptance of those who have different cultural backgrounds.
Taylor should have at least addressed First Nations in laying out his plan for an ideal Canada. Without specifying the cultural erosion that has taken place, it is difficult to build a framework around which an ideal Canada can begin to form. The Quebec issue is just part of the problem, and it can’t be solved by providing a hybrid, as Taylor points out, of preserving one’s culture while also abiding by a national identity. Quebec separatists have rebelled against an Anglophone federal government for over a century, and there is no reason why they would now decide to accept a culture where they wave the Canadian flag and then the next minute they find a way to preserve their French identity.
To provide a document of enough cultural significance to warrant is thorough study, Taylor needed to more fully encompass cultures other than that of the Quebecer. Because Canada isn’t dual-cultural, but instead multicultural, a more thorough analysis is needed for any relevance in this country.
Taylor, Charles. 1994. “Shared and Divergent Values.” Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism. Ed. Laforest, Guy. McGill-Queen’s University Press.