Stephen Harper is stepping up his efforts to renew Canadians’ sense of history by creating an $11.5-million fund to recognize the War of 1812 as essential to forming the Canadian identity.
In addition, a Conservative private member’s bill, unveiled Wednesday, would fine or even jail Canadians who prevent others from flying the Maple Leaf.
These patriotic initiatives are not coincidental. The Harper government set out in the last election campaign to recast the nation’s identity in a small-c conservative mould, emphasizing Canadian symbols the Tory government has embraced, including the Arctic, the military and especially the monarchy.
Last month, Defence Minister Peter MacKay restored the traditional “Royal” designation to the air force and navy. And Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has ordered all of Canada’s missions and embassies abroad to put a portrait of the Queen on prominent display.
The War of 1812 commemoration is actually a four-year process ending in 2015. Heritage Minister James Moore is to announce the 1812 Commemoration Fund within weeks, designed to help support projects – including new plaques, refurbished monuments, battle re-enactments, films, plays and musical performances – in communities across the country, to mark the 200th anniversary of the war.
The Federal Secretariat, Bicentennial of the War of 1812, has also been created to administer the funds and help organizations, including schools, aboriginal groups, municipal, provincial and territorial governments, with applications.
“The combined heroic efforts of the British army and navy, English- and French-speaking militia volunteers, and first nations allies to repel the invasions tell the story of the Canada we know today: an independent and free country in a constitutional monarchy with its own parliamentary system,” according to the draft letter.
It also underscores Canada’s long relationship with the United States.
“The end of the war laid the foundation for Confederation and the cornerstones of many of our political institutions, in addition to the start of two centuries of peaceful relations and co-operation between Canada and the United States,” the letter says. “The war was also instrumental in creating Canada’s military; the origins of some modern reserve regiments date back to this time.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Moore attended the news conference in which Don Valley West MP John Carmichael announced his private member’s bill.
Mr. Moore said the proposed law is important because several Canadians have been surprised to learn that they did not always have the right to display the Canadian flag. A report in an Ottawa newspaper tells the story of a dispute at an apartment building over the flying of small Canadian flags from several balconies.
It is often difficult for MPs to get their private members’ bills into law. But the support of the minister and the fact that the Tories now have a majority government could make passage of Mr. Carmichael’s bill much easier.
“The Maple Leaf flag we see every Canada Day is testimony to the patriotism and respect Canadians have for this important national symbol,” Mr. Carmichael said. “This proposed law seeks to protect the rights of Canadians to fly their national flag where they live.”