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Who Defines Canadian Identity?

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CANADIAN IDENTITY
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In light of Conservative Party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch's proposal to screen immigrants, refugees and visitors for "anti-Canadian values" Liberal Member of Parliament for Calgary Centre Kent Hehr posted the following quote from former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on Facebook, "There is no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian. What could be absurd than the concept of an "all Canadian" boy or girl? A society that which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate."

Since announcing this proposal Ms. Leitch's opposing leadership candidates, interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney have all condemned the policy. If we subscribe to Trudeau Sr's idea that there is no such thing as a model Canadian, that a society that emphasizes uniformity creates intolerance and hate how can we classify anything as "anti-Canadian"?

The Liberal Party of Canada was in power for 79 years of the 20th century. They've made an art form of of criticizing anything that isn't Liberal legislation as "anti-Canadian". Unfortunately on both sides of the aisle "anti-Canadian" is the last refuge of the Canadian politician with no more arguments left to make. "American" or "U.S.-style" is a close second.

In 2004, former Prime Minister Paul Martin warned of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's "hidden agenda" of extreme social conservatism and U.S.-style private health care. The Liberal "Truth" advertisement in the 2004 election stated that Harper would "sacrifice Canadian-style heath care for U.S.-style tax cuts."

Canadian-style universal health care, good. U.S.-style private health care? Bad. Not Liberal legislation, "anti-Canadian". The Conservatives had promised to protect the public health care system, which they did during their time in government. Not to mention maintaining federal health-care transfers to the provinces at the same levels of growth promised during the Chretien and Martin years.

In 2010, in reference to Quebecers, Justin Trudeau stated that "We have a role. This country, Canada, it belongs to us." In fairness, a claim to being more in tune with Canadian values is something Conservatives have practiced as well.

In 2011 former Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that his newly-elected majority government was "a sign that Canadians of all regions and backgrounds have found a home in our Conservative party, that Conservative values are Canadian values and that the Conservative Party is Canada's party."

In 2011, the Conservative Party won a majority government with 39.62% of the vote with 61% voter turnout. In 2015, the Liberal Party won a majority government with 39.47% of the vote with 68.3% voter turnout. It's a stretch for any prime minister to claim to be truly representative of the Canadian public, or its identity.

If we're to follow Trudeau Sr's wisdom in that there is truly no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian, what are we to make of the reaction to Ms. Leitch's "values test" proposal?

It's simple. Defining Canadian identity is Liberal territory. When Liberals speak of Canadian values they vaunt Liberal legislation. Universal health-care. Pearsonian, peacekeeping foreign affairs. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Government policy woven into the Canadian identity. It's masterful.

When Conservatives speak of Canadian values, they tend not to prop up Liberal legislation.

Regardless of whether or not Ms. Leitch's proposal has any merit there's a reason this proposal has generated such a flurry of response, the Canadian right is entrenching on the Canadian left's territory. Conservatives are taking back a debate Liberals and New Democrats have owned for the last 50 years.

Here's the rub. No political party or government defines what it means to be Canadian. Canadians do. Think of the most Canadian person you know. Are they Canadian because of anything the government's ever done?

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