The 1968 Thinkers’ Conference and the Birth of Canadian Multiculturalism
From: 1968 in Canada
From 13 to 15 December 1968, a meeting took place in Toronto that should be considered among the most important contributions to the birth of Canadian multiculturalism: the Thinkers’ Conference on Cultural Rights—A Conference to Study Canada’s Multicultural Patterns in the Sixties. Despite this meeting’s significance, its legacy receives too little academic attention. Of course, it’s well known that the 8 October 1971 multiculturalism policy is a constitutive feature of Canada’s national identity. But there’s surprisingly little attention addressing the question of its political origins: specifically, where did the policy come from? Some mistakenly suggest the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism recommended it, but it did no such thing. On the contrary, its commissioners steadfastly refused to abandon the long-standing position that Canada was bicultural. To answer the origins question, we must examine the successful pressure tactics of an organized political movement, of which the 1968 Thinkers’ Conference was a critical aspect, and a key impetus for the policy. Initiated by Senator Paul Yuzyk, the conference was co-sponsored by the Government’s Citizenship Branch and several ethnocultural organizations, with over 150 delegates and 50 observers representing 20 linguistic backgrounds discussing papers by university professors and prominent Canadians like journalist and eventual Québec Liberal leader Claude Ryan, and highranking politicians like Ontario Education Minister (and future Premier) Bill Davis. This is important because some downplay the political significance of this multicultural movement. Will Kymlicka, for example, argues that the emergence and success of multiculturalism are explained by luck (timing and geography). Others deny that multiculturalism was the outcome of an organized political movement at all. But the best way to explain the 1971 policy is to understand, in the vocabulary of political theory, this popular struggle over recognition, and a key aspect of this struggle for hearts and minds was the 1968 Thinkers Conference.
Michael Temelini has a PhD from McGill University, is part-time Professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa, and has held research and teaching positions at Concordia University (Montreal), Memorial University of Newfoundland, and Università degli studi di Genova (Italy). In his research and publications, such as Wittgenstein and the Study of Politics (2015), Temelini investigates dialogical approaches to politics and to struggles over recognition and distribution, notably Canadian multiculturalism and minority nationalism.