Book Review: Who We Are: A Citizen’s Manifesto By Rudyard Griffiths

This is the best book I have read about Canada since I read A Tremendous Canada of Light by B.W. Powe in 1990. Griffiths is a co-founder of the Dominion Institute. He set out with two friends, Michael Chong and Erik Penz, to develop an institute that “would advance the idea that the foundations of our unity should rest, first and foremost, on a deep appreciation and knowledge of the country’s past, its enduring civic traditions and the struggles of previous generations to forge an inspiring civic identity capable of bridging our ethnic, regional and linguistic differences in common purpose”.

Griffiths posits that there were two previous “great imaginings of Canada”:

  1. The first occurred in the      decade following the failed rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada, between      1838 and 1848: “In the face of deep sectarian divisions that regularly      boiled over into mayhem and murder, and opposed by colonial governments      prepared to use the full power of the state to quash any challenge to      their authority, French and English reformers banded together to create      the civic institutions and values that made democratic self-government in      Canada a reality. This singular accomplishment…forged an enduring consensus      as to whom Canada should be loyal to and why.”
  2. The next occurred in the      middle of the twentieth century when a group of politicians and civil      servants led Canada to a renewal of institutions and nationals symbols      that reflected Canada’s commitment to a “common civic enterprise that was      neither British nor American, but something uniquely our own”.

It is Griffith’s view that climate change, the needs of aging Canadians and continued immigration will bring us to National Crises and he frankly wonders whether we will be able to manage these. We need, he says, “a third great imagining of Canada”.

Griffiths believes that Canada’s challenge was well-stated by Thomas D’Arcy McGee: “to lift ourselves to the level of destinies, to rise above all low limitations and narrow circumscriptions, to cultivate that true catholicity of spirit which embraces all creeds, all classes, all races, in order to make…a great new northern nation.”

Griffiths has strong views of the responsibility of citizenship and believes that Canadians should be required to participate in Canada. His “third great imagining” of Canada would see Canada continue to develop as a society that, while democratic and egalitarian, is also distinct from the United States or Great Britain. His view of Canadians’ six core beliefs would resonate with most Canadians and many of us would likely welcome some of the requirements for citizenship that Griffiths proposes. Some of these include National Civic Service for all Canadians in a model like the Katimivik program of the 1970’s and 1980’s and mandatory voting.

Griffith’s book is readable and clear and while one might not agree with all of his ideals for Canada, he does start a conversation that we must have if we are going to persist in our quest to be the best country in the world.

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