Andrew Cohen on the New Citizenship Guide

27 11 2009

Andrew Cohen, Ottawa-based public intellectual

Andrew Cohen has published some thoughts on the new citizenship test in the Ottawa Citizen. He is much more positive in his assessment of the guide than I am, but he also points out its many curious omissions. He points out that there is no mention of Prime Ministers after Sir John A. Macdonald. As he puts it, “Jim Balsillie (Research In Motion co-founder) and Dr. John A. Hopps (inventor of the pacemaker) are in, but not Mackenzie King or Lester Pearson. Peacekeeping is a footnote. The Golden Age of Diplomacy is ignored.”

Cohen is right to comment on the guide’s silences on huge swathes of Canadian political and diplomatic history. Any guide that is supposed to cover the recent political history of Canada but which leaves out the Prime Ministers and the names of the political parties is clearly not doing its job!  It would be unfair to ask prospective citizens to memorize all of the Prime Ministers, given that some of them were in office for very short periods. I confess that when I am lecturing to university students, I go over the Prime Ministers between Macdonald and Laurier rather quickly. Joe Clark and John Turner also get rather cursory treatment in my course for first-year students. I have to prioritize.  But surely being an informed citizen means knowing a little bit about, say, those Prime Ministers important enough to have international airports named after them. Most immigrants enter Canada through Pearson airport. Shouldn’t they know a few key facts about Pearson?!?!?

Cohen also mentions that “The Constitutional Wars are largely unmentioned, as is the FLQ. This is uncomfortable, but, if we can speak of domestic violence, why not domestic discord?” This is another major omission from this guide. This guide isn’t even good political history (it gets a key date wrong), and it also avoids any discussion of social history. The really big trends of post-1867 Canadian history (i.e., urbanization, industrialization, de-industrialization, secularization, the Demographic Transition) all go unmentioned, which is especially problematic when we consider that most of our immigrants now come from countries that are only have half modernized themselves.   This guide is terrible. Since it will have to be reprinted anyway to deal with the factual errors pointed out by Christopher Moore and myself, it makes sense to start talking about what sort of omissions should be recitified.

After reviewing some of the faults of this guide, Andrew Cohen describes it as “splendid”. I respect Andrew Cohen, but I am at a complete loss to understand how he could use the adjective “splendid” to describe this piece of crap. The fact the old citizenship guide was even worse and essentially ahistorical does not justify praising the new guide to the skies.

Check out Christopher Moore’s list of factual errors in DC.