The recognition, accommodation, and management of difference is central to modern politics, as much in advanced industrial democracies such as Canada and the United States as in other parts of the world. But the nature of the challenges posed by diversity; the language and discourse within which the politics of difference are framed; and the institutional, political and policy responses to it vary widely. The debates are often phrased in terms of a continuum ranging from exclusion, to assimilation, to integration, to the empowerment of minorities in consociational models. Or, more simply, the question can be framed in the old cliché that suggests Canadian policies represent the ‘mosaic,' while American policies tend to the ‘melting pot.’ This of course is a clear oversimplification.
Nevertheless it represents the starting point for a comparative discussion. Canada and the United States have much in common: both are liberal democracies; both were originally ‘settler societies;’ both are now immigrant societies. Both must deal with historic minorities—Aboriginal peoples in both countries; region and language in Canada; and racial differences in the US. But in recent decades, immigration has led to a new set of differences, rooted in many languages and cultures. These are, as Will Kymlicka puts it, both multi-nation and ‘polyethnic’ societies. Responses to the new politics of immigration interact in complex ways with historical patterns of accommodation to long-standing differences.