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Ten years into his mission to get Canadians to know more about their country, Rudyard Griffiths is running into a wall.

A new poll by the Dominion Institute shows that Canadians are faring dramatically worse today than they did in 1997 in a test of their knowledge of history, politics, culture and geography.

About 60 per cent would fail today a test similar to the one that immigrants take to become Canadian citizens. A decade ago, when the institute began quizzing Canadians, just 45 per cent were unable to score a passing grade by answering 12 out of 21 questions correctly.

Just as striking is the finding that immigrants have improved their knowledge in the past 10 years and did better than the general population in the latest quiz. About 70 per cent of first-generation Canadians passed, while a decade ago scores in the two groups were similar, with the edge going to those born in this country.

The results cast a shadow over the non-profit organization co-founded by Mr. Griffiths and two friends on a $150,000 grant and which this week celebrated its 10th anniversary with a glitzy party in Toronto.

Mr. Griffiths said he had braced himself for a slippage in the pass rate and was disheartened by the dramatic decline in awareness of Canada's past and the practice of its democratic institutions.

"It's not simply that we've not managed to move the dial forward a few degrees," he said.

"Instead the dial has been going in the wrong direction."

The current survey contains some of the same howlers as the earlier one, which was commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Citizenship Act, the first statute to define Canadian citizenship.

Among the findings:

The title of the national anthem was named by 96 per cent of the respondents, but only 58 per could name the first two lines of O Canada. This is five percentage points worse than in 1997.

Just 16 per cent of Canadians could name the four provinces - Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia - that formed Canada in 1867. This is a decline of six points.

In 1997, 87 per cent of those surveyed correctly answered "fur" or "beaver" to the question that asked about the trade controlled by Hudson Bay Co., but in the latest quiz just 66 per cent gave the right answer.

One in three Canadians a decade ago identified the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the part of the Constitution that protects the rights and freedoms of all Canadians. In 2007, the correct response rate had declined to 22 per cent. Six in 10 immigrants identified the Charter, however.

Just 8 per cent of Canadians identified the Queen as Canada's head of state, with half the respondents incorrectly citing the prime minister.

One-third of immigrants, however, named the Queen.

Mr. Griffiths, the Dominion Institute's executive director, said the results indicate that "the country's common memory is dwindling and may even be shrinking rapidly."

But he is less certain about why this is happening.

He believes the higher scores among immigrants result from the fact that they have had to study to pass the official citizenship exam and that they have a curiosity about their adopted country. For too many native-born Canadians, citizenship is a convenience rather than a conscious act, he added.

This indifference to civic literacy is reflected in Canada's education system, Mr. Griffiths said.

Just three provinces - Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec - require a history credit for high-school graduation. He suggested that the emphasis in school curriculums on science and math indicates a bias toward turning out graduates who are attractive to employers rather than fully informed citizens.

"We are becoming a nation of civic slackers, a country of consumers who are satisfied and validated through lives that are focused increasingly around consumption as opposed to the democratic process and the responsibilities of citizenship," he said.

The Dominion Institute and other lobbyists for historical knowledge have been unsuccessful in persuading the Council of Ministers of Education to make history study mandatory.

Mr. Griffiths is now calling on the premiers to organize a national citizenship exam that would be a requirement for high-school graduation.

There are some regional differences in the test results. For example, just 27 per cent of Quebeckers passed, while nearly six in 10 residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba were successful.

Respondents with a university education and those who are middle-aged and lived in urban centres were more likely to post a passing score. In addition, more men (46 per cent) than women (35 per cent) passed.

Mr. Griffiths said the results indicate that critics - particularly on the left - who dismiss his annual quiz as irrelevant have got it wrong.

He said studies indicate that civic literacy is linked to political participation and that the institute's survey shows that low-income people with limited educations are ill prepared to engage in the debate about policies to deal with poverty.

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Hits and misses

Successes

The Memory Project, in which 2,200 war veterans volunteer to speak in schools across Canada.

The Retrial of Louis Riel, a CBC Newsworld program in 2002 in which two leading lawyers debated the controversial hanging of the 19th-century Métis leader.

More than 90,000 people signed an on-line petition to ask for a state funeral for Canada's last First World War veteran.

The institute has published 11 books and produced 18 hours of network television.

The Canada Day quiz about knowledge of the country has become an annual tradition.

Failures

The Council of Ministers of Education has not adopted national guidelines for teaching history.

Attempts foundered to bring about the merger of Historica, the Beaver and the Dominion Institute to create a single national history non-governmental organization.

The proposal under the Chrétien government for a National History Centre in Ottawa did not survive the transition to the Martin era.

The Toronto-based Dominion

Institute failed to get any reform going outside Ontario.

The institute has 2,000 volunteers, but the larger history sector has not built a mass membership to advocate for the promotion and preservation of Canada's past.

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The poll

The telephone poll of 1,005 randomly selected Canadians was conducted by Ipsos Reid June 5-7. With a sample this size, the results are considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

In addition, an online survey of 1,005 randomly selected self-identified immigrants was conducted June 5-7.

The margin of error is identical to the telephone poll.

The 1997 poll involved 1,356 randomly selected Canadians interviewed by telephone and was accurate to within 2.7 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Both the 1997 and 2007 tests were reflective of the Canadian government citizenship exam, which is not released to protect the integrity of the testing process. A copy of the applicant study guide was used, and a focus group of Canadians who had recently taken the exam was consulted.

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Quizzing Canadians

A new poll by the Dominion Institute shows that Canadians are faring dramatically worse today than they did in 1997 in a test of their knowledge of history, politics, culture and geography.

96% OF CANADIANS COULD NAME THE NATIONAL ANTHEM...

...BUT ONLY 58% KNEW THE FIRST TWO LINES:

Canada: 58%

B.C.: 61%

Alta.: 59%

Man./Sask.: 55%

Ont.: 55%

Que.: 63%

Atlantic: 54%

Immigrant: 77%

Correct answers: O Canada!

O Canada! Our home and native land. True patriot love in all they sons command.

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82% OF CANADIANS COULD NAME THE PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA...

...BUT ONLY 8% COULD CORRECTLY NAME CANADA'S HEAD OF STATE:

Canada: 8%

B.C.: 13%

Alta.: 9%

Man./Sask.: 8%

Ont.: 9%

Que.: 3%

Atlantic: 12%

Immigrant: 35%

Correct answers: Stephen Harper.

Queen Elizabeth II

59% OF CANADIANS COULD NAME FOUR OF THE FIVE GREAT LAKES...

....BUT ONLY 32% KNEW HOW MANY PROVINCES AND TERRITORIES CANADA HAS.

Canada: 32%

B.C.: 42%

Alta.: 41%

Man./Sask.: 38%

Ont.: 35%

Que.: 15%

Atlantic: 39%

Immigrant: 56%

Correct answers: Erie/Huron/Ontario/Superior/Michigan.

10 provinces and 3 territories.

SOURCE: IPSOS REID, THE DOMINION INSTITUTE

CORRECTION

Nova Scotia requires a Canadian history credit for high-school graduation. Incorrect information appeared in a June 29 article.

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