Will Kymlicka. Finding Our Way: Rethinking Ethnocultural Relations in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 220, $25.95 paper.

For those who have followed the debate on multiculturalism, there will be few surprises in this book. Kymlicka has built his professional career on analyzing the multicultural character of Canada, and this slim tome represents his latest attempt to reach a larger audience, such as policymakers and those who want a brief but clear essay on the subject matter. And while Kymlicka is able to deliver, he packs away the academic theory in an extensive bibliography. Thus, the reader who wants more detail or justification for some of his arguments will have to dig it out of the vast literature identified in the footnotes. Yet the importance of this book is not diminished. Kymlicka brings it all together and provides a clear explanation of what multiculturalism is, what its goals and objectives are, and what major objections Canadians have to the policy.

This book is an insightful analysis of the arguments both pro and con, and Kymlicka’s urbane reflection illustrates the dilemmas that undermine Canada’s federation. He tries to present a healthy solution to the politics of Canada and the issues of separation.

Part two finds Kymlicka wading into the “national minority” debate and the quest of Quebec separatists and Aboriginals for “national” status. Kymlicka argues that there are two forms of nationalism: the territorial/symmetrical model espoused by English Canada and the multination/asymmetrical model favored by Quebec separatists and Aboriginals. But Kymlicka fails to take into consideration two important factors. First, not all Quebecers (two-thirds) want a multinational/asymmetrical model of nationalism and second, the multination/asymmetrical model is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Quebec national minority members want a nation – plain and simple – and anything short of that will simply not suffice! I realize this makes the picture more complex and adds another level of factors which need to be taken into account when analyzing the position taken by minority nationalists, but I believe it is necessary if a complete analysis is to be undertaken.

Moreover, we quickly discover that devolution as first espoused by nationalist minorities (the process asymmetry) was to be limited and specific. However, as we have found out, decentralization can acquire a momentum of its own and is difficult to stop. The author might have identified some alternatives to his solution. For example, it might prove to be useful if some modified use of proportional representation were to be implemented. But no, the separatists want their own nation.

Hopefully separatists, at the next referendum, will be up front and clear to the electorate that this is the goal they wish to achieve. If Quebecers prefer this outcome then I believe English Canadians will accede to their wishes, but the statement on the ballot is going to have to be clear and unambiguous. Moreover, there has to be some guarantee that the separatists will not force their views on other minorities, e.g., Aboriginal people, as they argued English-Canada did with them!

The intellectual debate on multiculturalism has for some time consisted of ideological positions for which the assumptions and data have long been ignored. The debate – partie pris – has become sheltered and without substance as we enter the third decade of multiculturalism. Will Kymlicka’s honest and thoughtful narrative, clearly written through a long distance lens, addresses issues on the minds of many Canadians. It’s a book scholars, students and lay persons will find informative, theoretically and practically useful, and in the end, a pleasure to read.

James Frideres
University of Calgary

March 1999
© CJS Online

back to reviews index