Monday, August 18, 2014

How Stephen Harper Government Manipulates Canadian History

The callous rebranding of the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award into a "Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards" has been rightly criticized from all sides.

More than just a lesson in pretentiousness, this action is the mark of an appalling lack of respect for the historic role played by Thérèse Casgrain and other renowned champions of the women's emancipation movement in Quebec and the whole of Canada. This action is yet another manifestation of what historian Yves Frenette calls "the conscription of the Canadian past by the Harper government".

This conscription is meant to imprint, in the collective memory, the Prime Minister's narrow and self-serving interpretation of Canada's history. There is little place in that interpretation for such progressive feminists as Thérèse Casgrain. This is why Stephen Harper flushed her, only to replace her with his own image. In the same vein, this government:

• removed from a banknote the faces of Thérèse Casgrain and five other Canadian feminists;
• removed (until very recently) two Alfred Pellan masterpieces from the Foreign Affairs lobby, to replace them with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II;
• ploughed thirty million dollars into a hyperbolic commemoration of the war of 1812 while slashing our instruments of memory and knowledge: archives, libraries, statistics, national parks, Canadian Studies programmes, research institutions, public radio and television...
• emasculated our world-renowned Museum of Civilization, turning it into a museum of history bereft of one of the fundamental missions of such museums: promoting a critical understanding of history;
• allocated two-thirds of Canadian Heritage's budget set aside for the 150th anniversary of Confederation to military themes;
• arranged for eight out of ten of the Canadian Museum History Corporation's activities (some 85 percent of its approved financing) to focus on war;
• devoted two-thirds of the illustrations in its new Canada Citizenship Guide for new Canadians to military themes;
• ignored the thirtieth anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; etc...
In short, he is running the history of Canada through his ideological mill.

We must pay tribute to the courage and sacrifices of our soldiers, past and present, and highlight their essential contribution to peace and democracy. It is a solemn duty. But we must also highlight the other remarkable aspects of Canadian history. The 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation is almost here and its preparations are lagging.

Mr Harper and his Heritage minister, Shelly Glover, seem unable to give the celebration a clear focus. There is room for concern that once again, they will be content with showcasing Canada's military feats and refuse to acknowledge everything else that has made our nation a source of hope and envy in the world: our tireless and balanced promotion of justice, democracy, peace among nations, prosperity, social justice, equal opportunity, environmental health, scientific and technological development, artistic and cultural creation.

Things must change. What the government does to preserve and promote Canada's Heritage must, once again, truly, fairly and accurately reflect the diversity of Canada's culture, population and history. And to get started, why not reinstate the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award?

Stéphane Dion Headshot

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