Politics
PM pumps up caucus with appeal to Canada's past

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks away from the podium after delivering a speech during a Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 30, 2013.

Credits: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE

DAVID AKIN | PARLIAMENTARY BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday his government is preparing to mark key milestones in Canada's history, commemorations that the opposition worries may be little more than exercises in political branding.

In a short speech to his caucus Wednesday on Parliament Hill, Harper said Canadians will soon "proudly remember" the centennial of the First World War next year, the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Sir John A. Macdonald in 2015, and the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

"These milestones remind us of a proud national story rooted in the great deeds of our ancestors and in a centuries-old constitutional legacy of freedom," Harper said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said that while the First World War can and should be seen as an event that brought Canada "from colony to nation," he was suspicious of the government's motives.

"I think (it) has to do more with political branding and jingoism," Mulcair told reporters.

In the House of Commons Wednesday, Mulcair challenged Harper to do more to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, a decree laid down by George III that set out the terms for the relationship between North America's aboriginal peoples and the Crown and also set the stage for the Quebec Act of 1764, the British legislation that guaranteed Roman Catholics in Quebec the right to their religion and allowed French civil law to exist alongside English common law.

In the House, Harper conceded the importance of the 1763 proclamation.

But the back and forth about the Royal Proclamation comes as all political parties look to a variety of events in Canada's history as jumping-off points for celebration or argument.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, for example, said the Harper government's campaign to mark the War of 1812 did not account for the failure of British and, later, Canadian commitments to honour deals made with Indian allies.

But for Harper, as he said to his caucus, the "the War of 1812 (was) the struggle that united Canadians and defined our land as forever separate from the United States."

Commemorating the First World War may be more problematic.

French Canada did not share English Canada's enthusiasm for that conflict. The two solitudes were bitterly divided, for example, by the conscription crisis of 1917.

Notably, while Harper addressed his caucus in both English and French when he spoke about his government's intention to focus on the economy and public safety issues, he used English only to talk about marking the First World War and the bicentennial of Macdonald's birthday.

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