C.P. Champion: ‘New’ citizenship guide shows Liberals are the copy cats

Chris Champion, the Jason Kenney staffer with whom I and my team worked with closely  in 2009, provides useful background and understanding of the Conservative’s approach.

My account of the process and issues can be found on pp 20-25 of my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism – relevant excerpt here.

While Discover Canada was a vast improvement on the somewhat insipid previous guide (A Look at Canada), with DC’s references to the role of the Crown and historic wrongs and injustices, one can have differing opinions as to how “readable, balanced, inclusive” it is. The absence of mentioning the equality rights of the Charter is but one example.

It is telling that, following the introduction of the new guide and related citizenship test, pass rates fell from the (overly) high rate of 96 percent to 83 percent (2010-13), in part  given that the guide and test questions were written at a more advanced level than the formal requirement of Canada Language Benchmark 4.

Lastly, it should come as no surprise to Chris that the change of government would result in a change to the guide. In discussing some of the language and content of the guide, I raised the concern that the guide would not survive a change of government and my consequent advice for more neutral language (and in some cases content).

That being said, I share some of his fears regarding a guide with a weakened sense of how Canada came to be, but prefer to defer more detailed commentary and analysis until  I have read the new guide:

It is no surprise that the Trudeau Liberals intend to replace the Conservatives’ citizenship test study guide this year for Canada’s 150th, or more likely sometime next year, or whenever it’s ready. The only surprise is that it’s taking them so long. After all, there’s very little about it that needs to change. Indeed, the whole idea of changing it, and the ideas they’re including in it, are borrowed from more original thinkers.

Back in 2008, the Conservatives had the idea to create a readable, balanced, inclusive, highly-varied, all-colour guide that showcases Canada’s diversity and values, our history’s triumphs and disasters, including the First Nations experience.

Jason Kenney, the then-minister of citizenship, had the insight that immigrants would welcome the opportunity to learn from a good civics primer that provided a non-boring overview of Canada’s history, warts and all.

I had a front seat in this process, since I was Kenney’s citizenship policy director at the time. Without (I hope) boasting, everything in the book, every word and every spread, photo placement, and caption, crossed my desk (as well as others’, of course, including those of my brilliant colleagues, Alykhan Velshi and Howard Anglin). We consulted Canadians of all political persuasions on it, like former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, NDP historian Desmond Morton, and former Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Lynda Haverstock, who was also a former Saskatchewan Liberal Party leader.

André Pratte, the former editor of the liberal Montreal paper La Presse (who was subsequently appointed to the Senate by Justin Trudeau), endorsed the Tories’ guide, Discover Canada, as “a fine piece of work.” One immigrant from Sri Lanka told us, “I was always proud to be Canadian. But this was the first time anyone told me why I should be.”

The previous guide, A Look at Canada, authorized in the 1980s and unaltered until 2009, contained only a brief paragraph on constitutional monarchy and one on Remembrance Day. Immigrants were left wondering what sort of country they were joining, apart from knowing it was a “nice” place. Citizenship was a right that entailed few clear responsibilities, beyond recycling plastics and paper. Thanks to Kenney’s initiative, applicants for citizenship began learning about the pageant of Canada’s past, including the historic achievements of women, blacks and the disabled.

For the first time, immigrants began learning about the steps that were taken to abolish slavery in Canada in 1793, the wartime imprisonment of Ukrainians, the relocation of Canadian Japanese, the Chinese head tax, residential schools abuse, and the rejection of Jewish refugees in the 1930s.

The notion that Discover Canada contained “too much” about the War of 1812 is a red herring. One recent article said Conservatives added “increased detail” about that war. In reality, we upped the coverage from zero to one paragraph.

The Liberals are being disingenuous when they say respect for treaties with First Nations will be “mandatory” for citizens. In fact, treaties are between First Nations and the Crown, not citizens. It is the Crown (meaning the Government of Canada) that must respect treaties. Yet, in the Liberals’ topsy turvy illogic, it will be “mandatory” for citizens to respect treaties, but “respecting the human rights of others” will be merely “voluntary.”

By the sound of it, the new text will read like Quotations from Justin Trudeau: “Canada has learned how to be strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them.” This platitude was already amply and more informatively manifested in the Conservative version.

More important than merely reproducing bon mots is the need to explain why. Why is Canada a successful society, why do we enjoy “ordered liberty,” and why do we have “unity in diversity,” as Kenney often said in his speeches. Immigrants seeking the freedom and order of Western societies like to be told why. The United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and the Netherlands all improved their citizenship guides around the same time as we did.

The Tories’ guide was an effort to show that our tradition of rights and freedoms was not born of the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Pluralism in Canada is deeply rooted in history and laws — a “tradition of accommodation” founded on English tradition, including the Magna Carta of 1215, the Royal Proclamation respecting native rights in 1763, and the Quebec Act of 1774. The guide recognizes that the early centuries of relations between natives and newcomers were largely positive thanks to “strong economic, religious, and military bonds in the first 200 years of coexistence which laid the foundations of Canada.”

What matters is not the mere fact of diversity but why it has worked in Canada. Will the Grits be able to come up with a better explanation? Will they attempt any explanation at all?

Source: C.P. Champion: ‘New’ citizenship guide shows Liberals are the copy cats

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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