Stephen Harper’s Canada Day speech the latest volley in Ottawa’s pointless history wars – Coyne

Andrew Coyne on the history wars.

The Crown, likewise, is not some useless foreign ornament, as successive Liberal governments often seemed to imply: It is the very foundation of our constitutional order, as essential to our way of life as Parliament, the common law, and the rest of the British inheritance, and as quintessentially Canadian. To remain attached to these institutional underpinnings, to remind ourselves of their advantages, is not to retreat into the past. It is merely to decline to be cut off from it.

So, fine: thus far, the Tories could be said to be righting the balance. But true to the chips on their shoulders, they could not leave it at that. It was not enough to celebrate and affirm Conservative national icons: It was necessary to diminish and downplay Liberal ones. The 30th anniversary of patriation and the Charter of Rights, for example, came and went without any official celebration or even acknowledgment.

And so the history wars continue, pointlessly. Surely it is possible to honour both versions of our past, both sides of our selves, in a country so accustomed to duality — aboriginal and European, French and English, immigrant and native-born — in other respects. Surely we are both a constitutional monarchy and a rights-bearing democracy. Surely our history is distinguished both by war-making and by peacekeeping. Surely our national character is a result both of individual and collective enterprise.

When working on Discover Canada, we tried to make the same point in our “fearless advice” but the direction was more changing the narrative, as in so many other initiatives, than merely righting the balance.

Andrew Coyne: Stephen Harper’s Canada Day speech the latest volley in pointless history wars

Tory History and Its Critics | The Dorchester Review

A good overview on the Canadian “history wars” from C.P. Champion who was my counterpart in Minister Kenney’s office during my time working on citizenship and multiculturalism issues. Champion provides insight into the conservative historical narrative along with a strong  critique of how Liberal governments shaped their historical narrative to their political interests.

Margaret MacMillan’s The Uses and Abuses of History discusses how government’s routinely choose the historical narrative that suits their political and other interests, reinforcing Champion’s point. The themes that governments choose to emphasize in their historical narrative or de-emphasize reflect  political and policy choices. The Conservative government chose to emphasize certain themes of the traditional narrative (e.g., history, military, Crown) and downplay others related to more recent history (e.g., social safety net, human rights, culture), valid political and policy choices. Future governments may choose differently, although hopefully not reverting the insufferable lightness of A Look at Canada, the previous citizenship guide.

One last point. I play a cameo role in the article, given my role in Discover Canada. As readers of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism will know, this work did challenge my preconceptions and Champion’s article would have been helpful to me and my colleagues had we had it before starting Discover Canada. Champion is correct in his sequence of events, the first draft was prepared by officials. I can see why he interpreted my account (p.24 of my book) differently but that was not the way it was intended.

Tory History & Its Critics | The Dorchester Review.