How can we reinforce Canada’s pluralism model? Hard numbers.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there is an economic benefit to workforce diversity in Canada, yet few studies have measured the impact nationally. We’re setting out to change that.  

By: , /
May 10, 2016
Syrian refugee children
Syrian refugee children take part in a welcome service at the St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church at the Armenian Community Centre of Toronto in Toronto, December 11, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

On January 20, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood before the World Economic Forum and boldly revisited an economic strategy anchored in social diversity that has been largely abandoned since the days of his centre-left predecessors. 

Given the uncertainty associated with today’s markets, Trudeau expressed the need for Canada to distance itself from an overreliance on natural resources, and focus instead on the economic potential of Canada’s diverse human capital, which presents a unique competitive advantage in the global arena. 

Indeed, Canada’s pluralism is encapsulated in the agreement that all cultures, ethnicities, religions, genders and sexual orientations should be given the space to flourish and express themselves. A supportive environment that precludes discrimination on the basis of social characteristics can empower individuals to tap into their innovative and entrepreneurial potential. This structure rings true to Canadians, who traditionally take pride in the accepting nature of a multicultural society that celebrates individual differences without endorsing assimilation.

Past governments have not always prioritized the promotion of pluralism, yet its principles have persevered given their entrenched status in the core values of Canadians. Present geopolitical conditions, however, are giving rise to international tensions that translate to escalating xenophobic behaviours in the Western world. Violence in the Middle East and the ensuing refugee crisis has sparked misgivings, distrust, and even hatred in previously more tolerant states.

While Canada has demonstrated a certain level of immunity to the unfounded and oftentimes sensationalist xenophobic claims voiced in the United States and Europe, it is difficult to predict the extent of Canada’s resilience. What effect will Donald Trump’s rhetoric have globally? What happens when or if Canada significantly increases the number of refugees being resettled?

In such turbulent times, the crucial challenge is learning how to reinforce Canada’s commitment to pluralism. Demonstrating a concrete link between social diversity and economic prosperity would reiterate the need for diversity and support the ethical argument with hard numbers. Presently, both anecdotal and scholarly evidence suggests that diversity of experience, thought, gender and ethno-cultural background significantly contributes to business success. Yet, no overarching studies have been conducted to examine the impact of workforce diversity at the national scale.

To remedy this knowledge gap, our team at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, with support from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, is spearheading a project that will consolidate existing academic research and bring together business leaders, civic organizations and industry associations to generate new knowledge and data on diversity and the ways it can be harnessed for greater economic advantage. 

An online series hosted here on OpenCanada over the next few months will follow our initiative — called The Pluralism Project — and report on the findings we uncover during our consultations with major businesses in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

We will discuss advantages and drawbacks of diversity as well as delineate barriers that prevent businesses from maximizing the potential diversity offers. By assessing policies on taxation, labour mobility, foreign credential recognition, international collaboration, fast-track visas, and other relevant frameworks, we hope to inform future national policy in a way that will not only boost economic performance but also reinforce pluralism and social cohesion in Canada.