In their recently released “Discover Canada” study guide for aspiring citizens, the Conservative government has tried to put its stamp on the Canadian identity.
The new guide is markedly different from its predecessor, “A Look at Canada,” drafted by the Liberal government in the mid-90s. Where the old guide emphasized Canadian values: equality, respect for cultural differences, freedom, peace, law and order; the new guide focuses on the responsibilities of citizenship: obeying the law, taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family, serving on a jury, voting in elections, helping others and protecting our heritage.
This shift, from a focus on values to one on obligations, is the defining trend in the Conservative’s new vision for the country and its citizens. From the emphasis on Canada’s military history, to our obligation to take care of ourselves, to the denouncing of “barbaric practices” like honour killings and female genital mutilation, this guide codifies Stephen Harper’s vision of Canadianess.
“Discover Canada” speaks of a citizen who is committed and obliged to the values of this country, one who understands the importance of our freedom, equality and democracy. It has been criticized for over emphasizing our military history and downplaying our connection to the land, and rightly so, but it represents a long overdue attempt to reaffirm and strengthen our collective identity.
While it may have partisan influences, “Discover Canada” is a step in the right direction for this country. The old guide was fluffy and lacked substance. This guide takes a stab at exposing new Canadians to the light and dark sides of our history and is a decent “cliff notes” version of the country as a whole. The guide presents a message and a vision of the country, it tries to pin down the ever elusive notion of Canadian identity.
Critics of the guide complain that it reads like a high school civics textbook &- for its part the old guide read like an elementary school ethics textbook. Reading this guide was more productive than the civic education kids receive in any grade, many Canadians would not pass the citizenship test if they had to take it. It is not right that we expect more out of new immigrants than full-blooded Canadians.
New arrivals to this country know what a great place this is, that’s why they’re here. They’re also usually going to be more excited about becoming Canadian than citizens who were born into it. Citizenship is, as the Conservative’s guide suggests, a right and a responsibility, young Canadians especially need to understand this.
Its time we started expecting more of our citizens. Citizenship should be something you have to earn, like a driving permit, when you reach the age of majority, and renewed every five . If you don’t pass the test, you should be denied all the rights of citizenship, from voting, to health care, to public education. It sounds like a harsh solution, but passing a 20 question test about our collective history should be easy as pie for a committed citizen. One thing we can all agree on is if people cared more about this country, we’d all be better off.