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Prime Minister Stephen Harper rises during question period in the House of Commons, Thursday, Jan.31, 2013 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper rises during question period in the House of Commons, Thursday, Jan.31, 2013 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

Canada's history is worth emphasizing Add to ...

There is no arguing with the major thrust of the government agenda outlined to the Conservative caucus this week by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The emphasis is where it belongs, on the economy. Even the opposition understands that, which is why they have focused their attack on Mr. Harper’s secondary emphasis on “pride in being a Canadian citizen.”

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair claims government plans to commemorate historic events consist more of “political branding and jingoism than anything else.” It is a pretty shabby characterization of the government’s wise recognition of the need to celebrate Canadian identity.

Worse is Mr. Mulcair’s dismissive reference to “old wars” as if the First World War, and its battles such as Vimy Ridge, were akin to the 38-minute Anglo-Zanzibar War, or the U.S. invasion of Grenada. Vimy Ridge was a monumental victory that came at the price of terrible sacrifices. It is one of the seminal events in Canadian history, one that fed national pride and laid the groundwork for the nation-building that followed.

If it is an act of “jingoism” to commemorate such events, or to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812, then let’s have more of it. These are critical opportunities to educate Canadians about their history and thereby enhance their identity. The same can be said of the decision to invest in public understanding of the importance of a historical figure like Sir John A. Macdonald, who will be commemorated in 2015 on the 200th anniversary of his birth. It is not “political branding” to recognize the dominant figure of Canadian Confederation, the 150th anniversary of which itself will be observed in 2017.

Mr. Mulcair does have a point when he champions commemoration of the 1763 Royal Proclamation, a document that the Canadian Encyclopedia describes as an “Indian Magna Carta.” Said Mr. Mulcair: “If he was going to concentrate on one historical anniversary. I would suggest it be that one.”

First nations issues need not have been singled out as one of Mr. Harper’s list of priorities, which include not just the economy and identity, but families and crime, since they are covered in each of those major policy areas, along with other Canadians. But the Royal Proclamation is a foundational document of great importance and should feature on Mr. Harper’s list.

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