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Canadian Identity

Honourable Senators.  On February 11th of this year, I was honoured to give my maiden speech in this Chamber.  That maiden speech defined me as a Senator -- and as a Canadian. It set the stage for my intervention today.

 

As I stated then and believe today, all men and women in this country must fully embrace the unyielding fact that the benefits that come from being Canadian must be a direct result of our willingness to invest ourselves fully in this country.

 

Surely we want all Canadians, including new Canadians to feel both welcome and a part of the Canadian experience.

 

So we must define who we are.  And the time to do that is now. Too often, newspaper headlines scream out about our lack of national pride; our ambivalence to civic responsibility; our increasingly troubling voter apathy.

 

Just last week, for example, I was disheartened to read that today’s youth do not consider voting a civic duty. Of particular import to this debate is the finding that those most likely to vote believed that citizens had both rights and responsibilities!

 

Now that two of the major studies that the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee has undertaken are nearing their conclusion, we have a perfect opportunity to focus the Committee’s work on defining our Canadian identity in the 21s Century.

 

The magnitude and diversity of the subject to be considered lends itself to a stand-alone examination.  In order to be relevant, it must be pan-Canadian in scope and inclusive of all interests and points of view.

 

Dear Colleagues, let me step back in time for a moment.  In June of 1999, the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology released its final report entitled Social Cohesion in Canada.  The report presented a comprehensive analysis of economic and social science factors and their influence on our social fabric.

 

However, the scope of the study stopped short of addressing a critical dimension of social cohesion – that of national identity and its role in the social cohesion of a nation.

 

It is this dimension that I encourage the Committee to embrace as our next major field of study.  It would serve as a logical companion to the Committee’s previous work and would address a subject that many nations, including Canada, are grappling with today.

 

This “fourth dimension” (the others being material conditions, social order, and networks) is about the extent of social inclusion or integration of people into the mainstream institutions of civil society.

 

It also includes people's sense of belonging and the strength of shared experiences, identities and values between those from different backgrounds.

 

Sadly, Canada lags far behind other countries in addressing the issue of social cohesion and national identity.

 

For example, New Zealand’s official definition of social cohesion incorporates national identity, including history, heritage, culture and rights, and entitlements of citizenship.

 

Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States have all revamped their citizenship promotion programs, with a greater focus on history and identity.

 

And in July of 2008, Britain released a study about understanding the relationship between recent immigration and social cohesion in the context of other social and economic transformations that affect everyday life for everyone living in the UK.

 

An announcement by the Government offers a timely rationale for launching this debate in Canada.  In June 2008, Cabinet approved a memorandum on Canadian Identity in preparation for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, the Dominion of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, and for events such as the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, and the Centenary of the First World War (2014-2018).  

 

In particular, the War of 1812 is a powerful symbol of the survival of our free institutions – those that evolved into today’s Parliamentary democracy.

 

Honourable Senators. I do not make this motion in isolation.  I have spoken with the Government Leader in the Senate; with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; with the Chair and Co-Chair of the Committee.  I have incorporated, where possible, their suggestions and thank them for improving the scope of the study that I am proposing.

 

The issue of nationhood and identity is extremely topical and one that many nations are beginning to debate.  Not only is this a topic that has not yet been addressed in Canada, but it is a study that would be much lauded.

 

The Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee has an unprecedented opportunity to seize the initiative and launch a ‘first ever” study of its kind in Canada. We would be setting an example of leadership, innovation and prescience.  Thank you.

 

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