Conservatives Order ReWrite of ‘Insipid’ Citizenship Guidebook

Conservatives order rewrite of 'insipid' citizenship guidebook

Apr 28, 2009 06:11 PM

OTTAWA—The current guidebook for Canadian newcomers includes two pages on environmental stewardship and barely a mention of the Canadian military and that has Jason Kenney hopping mad.

Kenney, the Conservative minister of Citizenship and Immigration, has ordered an overhaul of the 12-year-old citizenship test and accompanying educational material.

It's part of a government push to foster greater integration of immigrants into the Canadian mosaic, Kenney told The Canadian Press in an interview.

The current 47-page immigrant booklet, entitled “A Look at Canada,” dates from 1997, when the previous Liberal governments were just four years into their 13-year run.

As Kenney acerbically characterizes it, the booklet includes two pages “on recycling” but “not one single sentence on Canadian military history.”

And while the guidebook includes such national motifs as the Maple Leaf, the Peace Tower, Sir John A. Macdonald and the Constitution of 1982, Kenney noted that “nowhere does it indicate what the poppy represents as a Canadian symbol.”

“This is ridiculous. This is indicative of a completely insipid view of Canada,” said the minister.

“I don't think newcomers arrive here because they want to move into a hotel that happens to be called Canada.”

A look at the booklet provides easy reference to what has Harper's Conservatives up in arms.

One section, highlighted in red, trumpets: “We are proud of the fact that we are a peaceful nation. In fact, Canadians act as peacekeepers in many countries around the world.”

The document predates Canada's Afghanistan military mission by five years.

Another section the one Kenney dismissed as advice on recycling says in bold, red font that “economic growth is crucial for the future prosperity of Canada, but growth must be managed carefully so that it does not harm the environment.”

There are two pages on native peoples but nary a mention of Vimy Ridge. Eleven pages are devoted to geography and descriptions of Canada's various regions. There's no mention of Quebec's nationalist movement, let alone separation.

Kenney continues to serve as Harper's point man on ethnic outreach, a critical endeavour for the Conservatives as they battle a carefully cultivated Liberal hold on immigrant voters.

But he insists the citizenship handbook rewrite is “in no way a small-c conservative, partisan or ideological project.”

Redrafting a guidebook infused with 1990s Liberal values is actually the more “abstract” element of the Conservative integration program.

With no plans to reduce Canada's comparatively high per capita target for annual immigration, said Kenney, “we can't afford to be passive about the challenges of integration.”

The government is set to expand a “pre-integration” pilot project that's been employed in China, India and the Philippines.

The idea is to provide skilled workers coming to Canada a head start on such practicalities as submitting their foreign credentials for recognition, finding schools for their kids, health coverage, and housing.

The government has also almost quadrupled funding for immigrant language training, yet remains perplexed that only a quarter of newcomers enrol.

Kenney says existing rules demand that most immigrants with the exception of the elderly, minors, family class and refugees be able to speak French or English as a condition of citizenship, and he's instructed citizenship judges to more strictly enforce the rules.

“I don't think you can have civic literacy if you don't have basic competence in one of our two official languages.”

He readily acknowledges that such forthright talk of “integration” used to be considered code in some quarters for an attack on multiculturalism.

But Kenney said hundreds of hours spent talking with Canada's cultural communities over the last three years have convinced him that immigrants themselves see no conflict between Canada's history of pluralism and providing newcomers the tools to successfully enter the mainstream.

“Overwhelmingly, people say we need to focus on social cohesion, we need to focus on the things that unite us, not just those that divide us.”