On May 1, 2012, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued the following brief statement:
“In the current fiscal context, the decision was made to focus our programming on the department’s core mandate first. As a result, we are phasing out the international Canadian studies program, and will be reducing the funding and geographic scope of the International Scholarships Program.”
Thus ended 40 years of grants to visiting scholars, to international organizations that fostered Canadian studies abroad (in countries as far flung as Australia, China and South Africa), and to programs throughout the world that developed courses and symposia on Canadian subjects.
Visiting scholars would come to Canada for a month or so; then they would return to their home institutions, having agreed – one of the stipulations of their grant – to teach, in the next five years, three courses related to Canada. Many scholars spent as much as seven times the amount of their grants on expenses related to Canada. And many of them are now producing some of the finest studies of Canadian economics, politics and culture.
Many organizations throughout the world are now struggling in despair with their dwindling economic base – for example, the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, the Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand, the Central European Association for Canadian Studies and, of course, the overarching International Council for Canadian Studies, which unites all these groups in a forward-looking path.
And gone, too, are the many symposia that highlight Canada’s major role in the political life of North America, in the economic challenges of the present day and in the astonishing cultural life that is being seen and read across the globe.
We, the undersigned, both writers of literature and teachers of our literature, lament the closing of “Understanding Canada.” Although we understand the federal government’s move toward austerity, we still believe that there must be a strong place for Canadianists throughout the world to come together, to teach about our country and to do the important research and write the publications that are at the forefront of our lives as Canadians.
We strongly urge the federal government to create a system that will replace “Understanding Canada” and give a new impetus throughout the world in the blossoming field of Canadian studies.
Margaret Atwood, Neil Bissoondath, George Bowering, Dionne Brand, Wayson Choy, Elizabeth Hay, Jack Hodgins, Thomas King, Alistair MacLeod, Rohinton Mistry, Timothy Taylor, Jane Urquhart, Aritha van Herk, Rudy Wiebe, D.M.R. Bentley, Neil Besner, Eva-Marie Kroller, W.H. New, David Staines, Brian Trehearne