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The Conservatives would do well to remember that scholarship cannot be selective in its memory
July 10, 2013
I ask the question because the Harper government seems almost obsessed with reminding Canadians that the nation was once a British colony, as if we had somehow forgotten. Recent announcements by the Canadian government regarding a review of provincial Canadian history curriculum, the ongoing rebranding of the Canadian Forces to reflect British military tradition, and the campaign to celebrate the anniversary of the War of 1812 all speak to a curious effort about why it is felt Canadians do not understand history, or why we must revert to it. [emember_protected]
As someone who identifies as a staunch Canadian patriot, I have no problem with reflecting on our country’s proud history, but a significant part of that history seems to escape the Harper government: that is, the post-1945 version of Canada that came into its own. Following the Second World War, Canada never lost its British roots, but took great strides in asserting its independence from both the British Crown and also from its American neighbours to the south. The creation of a uniquely Canadian flag and national anthem, the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution (including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms), the involvement in international peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions, and strides in human and economic development all signify the evolution of the Canadian identity since 1945.
A major fear throughout these reviews of history and return to British traditions is that the Conservatives are trying to selectively erase or overshadow what they perceive as Liberal legacies in the nation’s history. Such a concern is particularly highlighted in the areas of foreign affairs and national defence, as many of the alterations made by Harper are aimed at events or policies enacted during eras when Canada was governed by a Liberal Prime Minister. For instance, the newly-announced rebranding of the Canadian Forces back to British ranking and insignia work in direct contrast to the amalgamation of the Forces during the late 1960s; Harper’s continued refusal to use the language of Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, on the international stage, while approving missions that would seem to be premised on the same principles, is based on the fact that R2P and human security were prominent ideas during the Chrétien and Martin eras; and the Harper government’s confounding withdrawal from multilateral institutions seems to be nothing more than an effort to promote a sense of Canadian identity divorced from previous Liberal governments.
Further, the review of Canadian history curriculum announced in May of 2013 is disturbing and unusual, considering education curriculum in all subject matters is a provincial mandate. To think that a national government would intervene and possibly seek to rewrite history serves little purpose at all. The committee of federal parliamentarians that would initiate the review, dominated of course by Conservative MPs, made particular note that emphasis needed to be placed on battles in modern Canadian history. If there is a history curriculum somewhere in this country that is not teaching the War of 1812, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, peacekeeping, the Cold War, the Afghan conflict or humanitarian intervention missions, that is absolutely a problem which should be immediately rectified. However, no evidence has been presented to indicate there is a problem with how students are being taught Canadian history, so why the review?
Remembering Canada’s past is integral, but proper scholarship is not selective in its memory. Love or hate the governments, Prime Minister’s or decisions of the past, they all account for and impact the Canada we have today. Our history is so important precisely because our contributions to international society extend far beyond Britain, the United States and battles. My hope is that all Canadians take pride in that legacy, and not just what the government of the day deems relevant.[/emember_protected]
Robert W. Murray is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta.
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