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Municipalities and Multiculturalism: The Politics of Immigration in Toronto and Vancouver

By Kristin R. Good

Review By Patricia Roy

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 170 Summer 2011  | p. 177-179

Kristin R. Good, a political scientist, accomplished two main objectives in this book: (1) investigating how and why municipalities responded to dramatic changes in their ethno-cultural composition and (2) evaluating her findings about municipal multicultural policies against several models, chiefly that of the “urban regime” theory and “social diversity.” The latter examination will appeal to political scientists. Her findings about the BC case studies – Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey, and Coquitlam – and a comparison with Toronto and several of its suburban municipalities that will interest a variety of readers of BC Studies are the focus here. The new immigrants discussed are either Chinese or South Asian; statistical tables demonstrate why they have had the greatest impact. 

The bibliography lists many publications. Good’s chief source, however, is almost one hundred interviews (divided almost equally between Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto) that she conducted with a host of local political leaders, municipal employees, providers of recreation services, librarians (but not educators), the police, representatives of organizations that provide services to immigrants, and leaders of the immigrant communities. Thus, in many ways it is a snapshot of the state of multiculturalism as it was in 2004 when most interviews were conducted, although a brief postscript mentions a few changes, such as new multiculturalism initiatives in Surrey and Coquitlam, and brings the account up to about 2006. 

The municipal government of Vancouver, she argues, has been proactively “responsive” to immigrants and ethno-cultural minorities and has “adopted a comprehensive range of policies that reflects the needs and preferences of these groups,” whereas the suburban municipalities have been only “somewhat responsive” in a “limited” way and generally have done so “reactively” (57; my emphasis). A major reason for Vancouver’s interest in developing multicultural policies and programs is the business community’s recognition of the importance of immigration to economic growth and international competitiveness, especially in the Pacific Rim (156). Good also notes the role of private groups such as success in immigrant settlement. 

The suburbs are somewhat different from each other. Reflecting its desire for cultural bridging, Richmond rejected “multiculturalism” for “interculturalism” (51). Its actions were stimulated by the presence of proactive Chinese immigrants who protested plans to locate a group home in their neighbourhood and by the willingness of Thomas Fung, a major developer, to promote positive intercultural relations after non-Chinese residents complained about shopping malls that catered only to the Chinese. In Surrey, where Indo-Canadians are the largest immigrant community, there have been many studies of policy but, as of 2004, relatively little implementation. Unlike Richmond, where the Chinese community is well-organized, the South Asians of Surrey are fragmented, mainly along religious lines. In addition, the agencies that provide services to immigrants often compete rather than cooperate with each other. In Coquitlam, where the arrival of a significant number of Chinese is a relatively recent phenomenon and where there were no major inter-ethnic conflicts, the municipality, apart from its library (which is mentioned at least six times), has done relatively little to respond to changing demographics. 

The book is clearly written and jargon-free. A firm editorial hand, however, would have resulted in a shorter book by reducing repetition (e.g., twice mentioning – within fifteen pages, almost verbatim, and citing the same sources – Vancouver’s responding to “diversity” not “immigration” [165, 179]). 

Although the book is set up as a comparative study between British Columbia and Ontario, the comparisons tend to be implicit rather than explicit. Nevertheless, Dr. Good notes, for example, many similarities between the responses of Richmond, British Columbia, and Markham, Ontario, to immigration. Provincially, she suggests that British Columbia, in contrast to Ontario, has benefitted from an absence of forced municipal amalgamations, better provincial-municipal relations, and consistent provincial support of immigration and multiculturalism. 

The book could have benefitted from the addition of historical background. Vancouver and Richmond, for example, have a long tradition of dealing with Asian immigrants – alas, often not well – whereas the Asian presence is relatively new in Surrey and Coquitlam. And while recent immigrants are the primary concern, some attention should have been given to the descendants of earlier immigrants. Their relationship with recent immigrants from the same part of the world is perhaps the subject for another study. 

Kristin Good set out to provide a framework for further studies, and this she has certainly done. From her research and observations she has made some recommendations, notably that municipal governments should be in the forefront of developing multicultural policies. She rightly concludes that “managing international migration is one of the central governance challenges of the twenty-first century” (301).


Municipalities and Multiculturalism: The Politics of Immigration in Toronto and Vancouver
By Kristin R. Good
Toronto: University of Toronto Press,  2009. xvii, 363 pp. $32.00 paper