Kelly McParland: McCallum’s plan to rewrite guide book is a historical stumble

Predictably, and legitimately, concern has been raised regarding the plans to revise Discover Canada, the citizenship test study guide.

When providing advice to the Conservative government on the guide in 2009, I argued for greater balance in their choice and treatment of elements, along with messaging, aiming to ensure a guide that would survive any possible change in government (while there was an advisory committee, it never met together to have a fullsome discussion and debate).

In terms of McParland’s particular concerns, while military history is important (and not just the previous peacekeeping focus), so is social history, which Discover Canada largely downplayed. It was a deliberate political choice to downplay the Liberal narrative in favour of a more Conservative one.

The wording of  ‘barbaric cultural practices’ was largely chosen to attract media attention (it worked!). Arguably, it also was a precursor to the Conservatives use of identity politics, seen in the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and the late unlamented proposed ‘snitch’ line announced by former Ministers Leith and Alexander.

The same points can be made more effectively in the context of the history of women’s equality rights and how ‘honour’ killings and the like are against the law.

While Discover Canada was a marked improvement compared to the ‘insufferable lightness’ of its predecessor, A Look at Canada, my hope that the Liberal government, in revising and renaming the guide, doesn’t make the same mistake. Hopefully, it will keep some of the stronger points in Discover Canada while ensuring a broader narrative, one that lives up to the diversity and inclusion commitment, and speaks to those with both conservative and ‘progressive’ values:

Canadians continue to celebrate the people and events of the time despite the Liberal government’s apparent perplexity. Re-enactments are held each summer. Streets, schools and universities have been named in commemoration of its key figures. Reminders of the war are dotted across regions that are among Canada’s most popular tourist areas.


HandoutLaura Secord became one of Canada’s first heroes for warning of an impending American attack. featured in The War of 1812.

There is an unfortunate and dispiriting tendency in current culture to try and re-interpret the past. Oddly, it is deemed inappropriate to honour the events that made Canada a country and set the foundation for the culture we’ve become. We would prefer to condemn previous generations for lacking our own views, as if 19th century Canadians should somehow have shared the perspective of a future society they could never imagine.

The Liberals have shown an eagerness to roll back any initiative they view as too reflective of their Conservative predecessors. McCallum would do well to recognize that Canada’s history does not belong to any particular political party. He should be expanding efforts to acquaint Canadians with their history, not trying to erase it from guidebooks for the sake of a cheap political snub.

Source: Kelly McParland: McCallum’s plan to rewrite guide book is a historical stumble

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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