Saturday, May 3, 2008

Like It Or Not, There Is A Canadian Identity

Gerry Nicholls on Canada's national identity:

What caught my eye was Kenney's title: Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity.


Are we having some sort of national identity crisis? Do Canadians wake up in the morning thinking they are Dutch, or Koreans or Egyptians?

If so, what does Kenney do to counter-act this? Are there "re-education camps" in the woods somewhere to re-install a "Canadian identity" into people?

It's funny, I never knew there was such a thing as a "Canadian identity".

I always thought people were individuals with their own unique identities.

Is that an unCanadian idea?

That's a pretty narrow understanding of "identity," wouldn't you say? When politicians and the media throw around that nebulous term "the Canadian identity," they're referring to the historical, political, and cultural tradition that generated the unique perspective from which Canadians have come to understand themselves and their nation. They're referring to the values we hold dearest.

There is certainly a Canadian identity and it would be absurd to claim it somehow abrogates our capacity to develop as individuals. The "Canadian identity" - work in progress that it is - involves a commitment to "peace, order, and good government," to the rule of law, federalism, liberalism, and democracy. Our values and the progression thereof can be traced from as early as the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to the British North America Act at the time of Confederation to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. Each of these institutions outlines a distinctly Canadian approach to politics and contributes to how we regard ourselves and our place in the world. The meanings of our values are, of course, contested and subject to change but these values are nonetheless the cornerstones of our polity and they unite us in the same way that the Declaration of Independence unites the Yanks.

We are free to take issue with this conception of the Canadian identity and with just what our unique historical and political tradition mean for us individually, but it would be a mistake to suggest that we don't have one or that such a national identity is somehow limiting to our individual development.

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