Understanding and Explaining the Canadian Identity

Creating a national identity for Canada is the central theme of the documentary Shameless Propaganda by Robert Lower. This film is an overview of Canadian documentaries made in the period during World War II.

It helps in understanding the main ideas the Canadian government used in the past to build a national identity, and in comparing these ideas to the current political direction. Although this film features the attempt to find common values, it becomes apparent that diversity itself can be a unifying force.

Shameless Propaganda is an example of how the government tried to find values that would unite the whole nation. In the first half of the twentieth century, eleven million Canadians were as diverse as they are now. According to the film (Shameless Propaganda 2013), the wartime documentaries had the idea of finding something all of those people had in common.

However, these documentaries pictured the differing lives of ordinary citizens, and this appeared to be the unifying power. People watching those films realized that they were all the same. They all could relate themselves to the stories of workers from across the country.

Nowadays, the country is still experiencing “anxiety over identity and place that continues to underlie Canadian perceptions of their nation” (Kalant 24). However, unlike the previous idea of looking for shared values in the past, the present political focus is on actions. Laura Tonon and Tracey Raney discuss the Discover Canada guide (Tonon and Raney 201), which addresses the conservative social achievements of Canada.

This neo-conservatism comes as an answer to the modern trend of globalization and multiculturalism. The guide, for example, provides information on citizenship requirements, which put “great stress on the ability to speak French or English” (Isin and Nyers 277). These requirements, along with other policies, do not work as a unifying force in society.

Since Canadians have a diverse heritage, it would be more beneficial to stress the importance of the community they have created instead of focusing on their inherited values. The new strategy should be in “the actions that shape the Canadian social contract” (Nimijean 30).

These may include the healthcare system, environmental sustainability, and the overall level of welfare as it is recognized internationally. It is important for the government to work on the national identity issue since the people themselves are not able to do this due to their diversity of values. Besides, the current globalization movement may cause a loss of any unified identity.

The NFB’s documentaries made an effort to show that Canadians are all the same. Today government works on the idea that different people have made a country with values that everyone shares. According to Eva Mackey, “Canada is often described as a ‘cultural mosaic’ in order to differentiate it from the American cultural ‘melting pot’” (15). The films of the past tried to find things like hockey or hard work, to which every Canadian could relate.

The mosaic principle with regard to culture has seemed to lose its position over the past decades. Canadians now favor the American idea of mixing cultures. Nevertheless, the concept of Canada not following the American way is still something that may be a part of the national identity. Even today, it is important for the country to keep its distance from American and British heritage.

In summary, Canada is still struggling to develop its national identity. Shameless Propaganda helps us to understand that this process relies heavily on the government, as it was the leading force in creating those films. However, this documentary and the modern experience also give us the understanding that diversity should not be an obstacle to uniting the nation.

Works Cited

Isin, Engin F, and Peter Nyers. Routledge Handbook of Global Citizenship Studies, Oxon: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Kalant, Amelia. National Identity and the Conflict at Oka: Native Belonging and Myths of Postcolonial Nationhood in Canada, New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Mackey, Eva. House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada, New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Nimijean, Richard. “The Paradoxical Nature of the Canadian Identity.” Teaching Canada 23 (2005): 25-31. Print.

Shameless Propaganda. Ex. Prod. Robert Lower. Montreal, Quebec: National Film Board of Canada. 2013. DVD.

Tonon, Laura, and Tracey Raney. “Building a Conservative Nation: An Examination of Canada’s New Citizenship Guide, Discover Canada.” International Journal of Canadian Studies 47 (2013): 201-219. Print.

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