Social cohesion is defined by the Council of Europe as “the capacity of a society to ensure the welfare of all its members, minimising disparities and avoiding polarisation.” A cohesive society is “a mutually supportive community of free individuals pursuing these common goals by democratic means” (European Committee for Social Cohesion 2004). In Canada, considerable work has been undertaken by government departments, agencies and research institutes such as the Policy Research Initiative (PRI) in respect to social cohesion and its infrastructure of social capital especially networking (Policy Research Initiative 2005). Culture is recognised as a core component of social cohesion along with economic viability (including equitable income distribution, absence of income polarisation along gender, ethnic, regional and class lines, depth and duration of poverty and unemployment), norms and values in regard to dignity and respect, tolerance and reciprocity, personal development and autonomy, civic participation, and quality of life. In respect to culture and social cohesion, the issue is whether cultural participation enhances social cohesion. In order to understand how cultural capital may become or otherwise lead to social capital, essential to the development of social cohesion, research into the social, economic and political benefits of culture to good citizenship is required. The 2006-07 Departmental Performance Report concludes, “The Department’s mission and strategic outcomes are aimed at cultural and social phenomena that are difficult to quantify or to attribute to any given intervention. These include creativity, social cohesion, confidence, pride, and a feeling of belonging and attachment to Canada. Continuous effort and research are needed to refine indicators and frameworks for programme evaluation and policy review.”
Volunteering and donating are often used as indicators of social cohesion. The 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (2006), estimated 11.8 million volunteers in Canada out of a total population of 31 million, or approximately one in three. The Survey provides a snapshot of the state of voluntary and civic action in Canada. Conducted every three years, the Survey is the result of a partnership of federal government departments, including Statistics Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage, Human Resources and Social Development Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Health Canada, and voluntary sector organisations, including Imagine Canada and Volunteers Canada. The Survey asks Canadians a series of questions about how they give money and other resources to individuals and to charitable and non-profit organisations, how they volunteer time to charitable and voluntary organisations and directly to individuals, and how they participate in organisations by becoming members (see chapter 6.1). The key findings of the Survey, according to custom tabulations for Hill Strategies Research (2007), 729 000 Canadians aged 15 and over, or 2.8% of the population in that age range, contributed 88 million hours of volunteer labour service in 2004, worth about CAD 1.1 billion, to arts and cultural organisations. Owing to changes in Statistics Canada survey content and methodology, precise comparisons with previous data cannot be made. However, volunteerism in Canada’s arts and culture organisations increased between 2000 and 2004. Highly educated and single Canadians are more likely to volunteer.
Not surprisingly, the total number of approximately 732 000 donors (aged 15 and over) to these organisations is very close to the number of volunteers. These donors made financial donations worth CAD188 million to arts and culture organisations in 2004 which represents a record level of donations by individuals to arts and culture organisations – much higher than amounts captured in surveys conducted in 2000 and 1997.
Other examples of federal initiatives that support social cohesion and the building of an inclusive and participatory society are: A Canada for All: the Action Plan Against Racism (CAPAR, 2006-2007), including the Inclusive Institutions Initiative, and the historical recognition initiative (see chapter 2.1). In regard to the CAPAR, building partnerships between governments and civil society, including ethno-cultural / racial and Aboriginal communities, play a key role in its implementation. The Multiculturalism Programme in partnership with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) continues to work towards the identification of indicators for measuring racism. To measure the impact of CAPAR, the Department is developing indicators and consulting Canadians to solicit their feedback. Progress will be reported in the Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. The Inclusive Institutions Initiative was created in 2005 as part of the CAPAR and works to help more than 20 federal institutions identify gaps or barriers that may limit access to federal programmes and services by ethnic communities, to strengthen relationships between federal institutions and ethnic communities, and to encourage federal institutions to extend the reach of their programmes, policies and services to ethnic communities.