Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Where’s the party? Maple Leaf Flag turning 50

A Canadian Maple Leaf flag flies near the Peace tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb.15, 2012. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Lee-Anne Goodman  The Canadian Press
With the 50th birthday of Canada’s beloved Maple Leaf flag just a month away, some are wondering why there there’s been so little fanfare from the federal government.

Canadian Heritage says National Flag of Canada Day will be marked by educational activities and special events, including at the annual Winterlude festivities in Ottawa in the weeks to come.

The department also says community groups and schools are being encouraged to mark the anniversary throughout the year, although it didn’t immediately say how much it was spending on the flag’s birthday.

But the party-planning appears to pale in comparison to a multimillion-dollar effort to mark Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, and $5.2 million that was spent to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

The founder of the Canada Flag Holiday Campaign wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper this week to express his disappointment in the government’s plans to celebrate the flag, the brainchild of former Liberal prime minister Lester B. Pearson that was formally adopted on Feb. 15, 1965.

“We need to strengthen our Canadian resolve now with definite patriotic commitment to honour and pay tribute to the symbol of our wonderful country that we revere and hold so dear … our Maple Leaf flag,” wrote Roy Mayer, who also reiterated his longtime call for a national holiday in February to honour the Maple Leaf.

“And here we are … just sitting on our hands. Again.”

In an interview, Mayer, 74, recalled proudly flying the new Canadian flag 50 years ago outside of his downtown Ottawa office building. Following a bitter partisan debate in Parliament about the new ensign, Mayer said many Canadians were lukewarm about embracing it.

He fears that attitude persists.

“What’s the matter with Canada, why can’t we promote the symbol of our wonderful country?” he said. “We’re the best country in the world and we know that…. Why don’t we do something with our flag, for God’s sake?”

Canada’s successful adoption of a new flag in 1965 has even served as inspiration to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Key wants to change the New Zealand flag to one that is more recognizably Kiwi, and has pointed to Canada’s switch to the Maple Leaf as evidence that adopting a new ensign wouldn’t dishonour his country’s war dead.

Bob Harper is the founder of the 50 Years of Our Flag Committee, based in Brockville, Ont., which bills itself the birthplace of the Canadian flag. Harper said his organization met with Heritage Minister Shelly Glover in July to discuss the government’s plans to mark the flag’s 50th birthday.

“Her indication at the time was that there weren’t a lot of funds set aside for the 50th anniversary of the flag and it was because they were planning out the 150th birthday of Canada, and they were going to recognize milestones within it,” he said.

“I understand that, but it’s also disappointing. The flag is a big deal to Canadians.”

Glover’s office did not immediately reply to a request for a comment, but Bob Harper offered to help if the government decides to beef up its party-planning efforts in the weeks to come.

“If there’s any way that the government can do more in the next month to get awareness out there, we would help whatever way we can,” he said.

“We want to make sure everybody’s aware … not only (of) the 50th anniversary of the flag, but (of the) things that were done to get it.”

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