The Harper government, currently pulling out all the stops to commemorate the War of 1812, is shifting emphasis within the federal Heritage Department to focus more on Canadian history.
Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, who announced Tuesday that Ottawa is plowing nearly $30-million into the 1812-1814 conflict's bicentennial, says he wants to sharpen efforts to teach Canada about its past.
"In only four of Canada's 10 provinces are students required to take history before they graduate from high school," he said. "I think that's a sadly low number so I want to work on improving that."
Mr. Moore said he's not changing the criteria for funding that Heritage disburses each year, but said the department has nevertheless been instructed to pay special attention to qualified applicants with plans to promote history.
"We've been very, very clear within the department that we want to make sure that those organizations that have a clear agenda for promoting or supporting Canadian history or Canadian identity are things that we'd like to see get supported by the department," he said.
The Conservatives have come under fire in the past for cuts to arts programs, and Mr. Moore was quick to dismiss any inference that this shift would erode Heritage support for culture.
"Arts, culture, official languages, sport programming: All these things are cornerstones of the Department of Canadian Heritage," he said. "That's not going to change."
Commemorations that Ottawa is preparing to support include the 100th anniversary of the National Hockey League, the 200th birthday of Conservative prime minister John A. Macdonald, and the 25th anniversary of the North American free-trade deal, signed by Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney.
With Canada's 150th birthday approaching in 2017, Mr. Moore said, it's important for Canadians to broaden their knowledge of national history. "To have a mindset within the department that tips and tilts a little more toward teaching and supporting the history of Canada is something I think Canadians would welcome."
The minister called upon historically minded groups to apply for support from Canadian Heritage. "I certainly encourage those organization that are teaching Canadian history – regional history, local history, human history … – to put together programs and compete for those funds."