Is the Conservatives' Canada 150 roadmap out of step with the public?

The federal government's preparations for Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017 have so far focused largely on military history, early political leaders and events of 50 years ago or more, seemingly at odds with feedback gathered by two public consultations. Read more and take our poll.

Public consultations on 2017 sesquicentennial continue, but events so far focus on pre-1950 history

Canadians have been asked to take part in the online consultations about the upcoming 150th anniversary on the government's Canada 150 website.

During last week's West Coast tour, the prime minister took part in a roundtable discussion in Langley, B.C., on how citizens there wanted to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017.

post-chat statement issued in his name invited all Canadians to take part in the online consultations on the government's Canada 150 website.

But while the site's "Have Your Say" questionnaire is downright anodyne in its open-endedness, the selection of "nation-building milestones" that the government is celebrating during the lead-up to 2017 seems to suggest a preference for revelling in a sepia-toned, distant past.

Just this week, Heritage Minister Shelly Glover headed to the Canadian War Museum to launch a series of commemorations related to the First and Second World Wars, which will kick off with a re-dedication ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

The most recent event on the short list for official recognition in the lead-up to 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Medak Pocket Battle in Croatia, followed by the 50th anniversaries of the Canadian flag and the Canada Games. 

Indeed, the Road to 2017 short list seems to show a distinct preference for pre-1950 history:

  • The aforementioned centennial and 75th anniversaries of the start of the First and Second World Wars, as well as the specific anniversaries of major battles in both.
  • The 200th and 175th anniversaries of the births of George-Étienne Cartier, Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
  • The 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup. 
  • The 150th anniversary of the Fenian Raids.

Focus group findings

Conspicuously absent, however, is the 35th anniversary of the repatriation of the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights — which also happens to fall in 2017 — as is any treaty, agreement or other formative event related to Canada's relationship with First Nations. 

Those omissions seem to be at odds with what came out of those Canadian Heritage-commissioned focus groups on the Canada 150 logo.

According to TNS Canadian Facts, which conducted the research, when asked what "characteristics" should be front and centre in the design, the key adjectives put forward were celebration, pride, party, multiculturalism and immigration, diversity, history, youth and unity.

"From the words that people chose to describe this event, it is clear that the communications should focus on the celebration of Canada’s diversity and multiculturalism as a country, as well as appeal to the younger generation as much as possible," the report concluded.

The thematic mismatch may go deeper than logos or keywords, however. 

Heritage Minister Shelly Glover swings a gas alarm following an announcement at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, on Jan. 13. Key events in Canada's military history will be marked during the sesquicentennial. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
The Canada 150 website encourages Canadians to "celebrate and reflect on Canadian patriotism, sacrifice and commitment to service, the value of personal responsibility, hard work and family, national stability, the rights and duties of citizenship, and fairness and inclusiveness."

An extensive study conducted by the Canadian Capital Cities Organization that included a Facebook campaign, an online survey and cross-country consultations also seemed to uncover a disparity between the festivities envisioned by the government and what Canadians actually want to see.

When participants were quizzed on what they would want to see in Canada Day 2017 celebrations, the report notes, the words "mosaic" and "multicultural" came up repeatedly.

Another recurring theme was recognizing and acknowledging First Nations treaties and contributions.

Summing up what it heard from participants, the report suggested that the July 1, 2017, event "be book-ended by other festivals, such as National Aboriginal Day and Multicultural Day," which fall on June 21 and 27, respectively. 

"In this way, Canadians will be exposed to other cultures, to learn about them, their customs, their music, their art, etc.," the report said.

Other individual suggestions ranged from the pragmatic ("creating or renewing infrastructure," a "public art project") to the political ("clean water for all Canadians, especially First Nations," "more protection for wild lands," "national daycare program"), to the downright fanciful (a "great Canadian pledge book," a "poets' pathway," "one year of free tuition for every qualifying student in 2017").

As for those historic events deemed worthy of recognition by the government, several specific battles, including Dieppe and Vimy Ridge, were mentioned, but for the most part, the few proposals related to the military that were put forward were focused on honouring veterans.

The final report also includes no reference to Cartier, Macdonald or Laurier — or, for that matter, the Fenians.

It's worth noting that the Road to 2017 runs straight through the next federal election campaign, which makes it virtually inevitable that each and every federally funded festivity will be scrupulously parsed for any potential political overtones.

As such, the government may want to hold off on finalizing the party plans until it finds out whether it needs to add a few more stops along the way.