UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Diversity and uniformity in conceptions of Canadian citizenship Horner, Byron Bennett Magnusson


This thesis uses philosophical and conceptual analysis to examine communitarian critiques of homogenous liberal conceptions of citizenship and the contemporary recognition pressures in the Canadian polity. It attempts to make some observations on the degree of difference that the Canadian society could support without destroying the sentimental bond of citizenship that develops when citizens feel they belong to the same moral and political community. The assumption made in our introduction is that diversity or differentiation becomes too exaggerated when citizens no longer feel like they are similar and can reach agreement on common objectives. This thesis is consequentialist in nature. It seeks to respond to the question of whether or not the “federal spirit” that has preserved the Canadian state intact can help Canadians take the conceptual leap necessary to accept further differential citizenship for aboriginal and Québecois national minorities who seek expanded self-government and special provisions to preserve and promote their collectivities, and for non-territorial groups united by a shared life situation who seek group rights and representations. In Part I of this thesis we examine theoretical considerations about diversity and uniformity in both liberal and communitarian conceptions of citizenship and review Kymlicka’s attempt to reconcile cultural membership within liberal theory. We observe that liberals reject group rights and radical cultural pluralism out of concern that they may lead to a reduction of individual autonomy and an erosion of cross-group dialogue. We demonstrate that although the liberal state is not completely neutral with regards to the promotion of a certain conception of the good life, it is more neutral than a communitarian state because it provides for individual autonomy and creates a structure for democratic dialogue. However, Kymlicka’s work shows that within the global economy, cultural identity is an increasingly important qualitative element in an individual’s life, providing her with an enhanced local social structure and with personal self-respect. Although a reconciliation of liberal and communitarian conceptions of citizenship appear unlikely in pure theory, in the Canadian context, constitutional provisions have already acted to create elements of individual and collective rights. This reality implies that new theories have to be developed to explain the dynamic between individual and collective rights in particular political cultures. In Part II, we attempt to reconcile the fragmented concepts of citizenship which afflict the contemporary Canadian polity. This Thesis sets out that status quo federalism and homogenous liberal citizenship are threatening the stability of the Canadian polity. However, because of the interactive loyalties and differentiation inherent in the Canadian federal regime, federalism may provide the flexibility to accommodate the demands of Québécois, as well as aboriginal nationalists. Conversely, this thesis maintains that the arguments in favour of a politics of difference for oppressed social and cultural groups should be rejected, not on the grounds that these groups do not exist or that they do not speak in “different voices”, but because it would undermine the democratic dialogue and test the fragile ties which bond citizens to one another. A further reason to reject a politics of difference or radical cultural pluralism is that it would limit the autonomy of individual members of groups who want to be judged by their actions and words rather than their ethnicity, culture or gender. The liberal state can pursue policies to include non-territorial groups without granting group rights and representation. For their part, Aboriginal communities and the province of Quebec should be recognized as distinct societies in Canada. The meaning of distinct society should be defined using section 1 of the Charter as a model. These distinct societies should be given minor group right provisions, in order to preserve and promote their collectivities which do not violate fundamental human rights These minor provisions could be considered reasonable limitations in free and democratic aboriginal and Québécois distinct societies within Canada. Concomitantly, any new constitutional accommodation must also recognize that a precondition of federal citizenship is that all citizens whether members of self-governing aboriginal communities or citizens residing in the province of Quebec must accept decisions of the federal jurisdiction and be able to transcend their personal or national motivations and acknowledge their responsibility to others in the Canadian moral community if they hope to retain the benefits that our community provides all of its citizens.

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