Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Articulating the 'Canadian Way': Canada(TM) and the Political Manipulation of the Canadian Identity

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Articulating the 'Canadian Way': Canada(TM) and the Political Manipulation of the Canadian Identity

Article excerpt

To maximize opportunity for all Canadians. To invest in their hopes and their dreams. To ensure that our quality of life remains a global model. To make the Maple Leaf a 21st century trademark for excellence. (Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's Canada Day message, 1 July 2002, emphasis added)

Ladies and gentlemen, the message I bring is simple, Canada remains on the cutting edge of new opportunities. We are making the Maple Leaf a 21st century trademark for excellence and prosperity. And, we offer cohesive, dynamic communities. Open for business, and ready to welcome your investment. (Address by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien on the occasion of the APEC 2002 CEO summit, 26 October 2002, Los Cabos, Mexico, emphasis added)

The slogan 'the Canadian Way' (CW) dominates federal public policy debate and discourse. The articulation of 'Canadian' values and identity has assumed a great import beyond the national unity issue. That file dominated discussions for much of the past two decades; however, efforts to manage the transformation of the economy, and the linking of this effort to Canadian values, now dominate the agenda. The federal government is not leading the effort to define these values and the associated Canadian identity; rather, it is linking them to its policy approach and policy agenda. In other words, there is a political dimension to the articulation of the Canadian identity.

The Prime Minister's Office and the Canadian government employ the CW in their public policy pronouncements, notably in their Throne Speeches, but the CW regularly permeates official government policy statements (such as the 2002 innovation policy) and is used in the 'householder' pamphlets sent by all Members of Parliament to constituents. As far back as 1997, the Treasury Board stated that 'the Canadian way of getting things done - community, compassion, collective approaches - provides government with a context for how we proceed in renewing service to citizens' (Harder).

However, many outside the formal political arena also use the term. The Canada International Development Agency held a 2001 workshop, 'Rethinking the Canadian Way.' The Conference Board of Canada (2001b), an early employer of the term 'the Canadian Way,' spoke of the Canadian Way being 'under siege'. Scholars ask if there is a 'Canadian Way' of governance (Delacourt and Lenihan). Even librarians argue that supporting libraries will help the government develop the Canadian Way (Canadian Library Association).

Given this widespread use, we must ask what constitutes the CW, why the Liberals use it so often, and why they link it to values. Indeed, why even speak of a CW? In a globalised world marked by heightened migration patterns, speaking of any kind of 'national' way is an increasingly anachronistic way of thinking, reflecting nineteenth century conceptions of nationalism. It does not capture the complexity of contemporary understandings of national identity, which extend far beyond local and ethnic/regional debates (Smith).

Nevertheless, this dated conception of nationalism - the national slogan, with attachment to country replacing the prior attachment to ethnicity - can be and is used to influence national policy and societal debates. Ironically, it is increasingly used when many are questioning the raison d'être of the national state, due to globalisation and the apparent willingness of national governments to sacrifice powers when negotiating international trade agreements and international institution building (Cameron and Stein: 141-42).

The battle to define the CW comes at a time of socio-economic turmoil, with various actors debating the direction of public policy. The federal government thus has an interest in this debate and is actively shaping the definition of this national slogan in accordance with its public policy agenda.

However, critics of this agenda also use the term to prompt government to rethink public policy. …

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