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As manifestos go, Rudyard Griffiths’ new book isn’t quite as bold as history’s more famous examples. Who We Are offers a few ideas for reforming Canadian citizenship, which Griffiths believes will serve to strengthen Canada’s weakened social bonds and better prepare it for the main challenges of the future – climate change, immigration, and the socioeconomic stresses of Canada’s aging population. Griffiths is shrewd enough to admit that citizenship may seem like a “dubious rallying point.” But he doesn’t do enough to dissuade potentially unconvinced readers from that notion. He proposes a series of reforms to the institutions of citizenship – including mandatory voting, mandatory national civic service for young people, and a national civics exam – that are already employed in a number of other jurisdictions. None of these suggestions are especially objectionable, or particularly helpful. The most significant problem with Griffiths’ argument is that it appears to be based on little more than a longstanding hunch. More than a decade ago, he co-founded the Dominion Institute, a group “dedicated to creating active and informed citizens through greater knowledge and appreciation of the Canadian story.” You may know them best for their annual polls, which get attention from the press – usually right before Canada Day – for illustrating how little Canadians know about their history. (My favourite, included in the book, is that fewer than half of Canadians between the age of 18 and 24 “could name John A. Macdonald as our first prime minister.”) The problem with using measures of political and civic knowledge like the surveys commissioned by the Dominion Institute and repeatedly cited in Who We Are is that, in isolation, they are meaningless. Of course, on the surface, it seems like it would be a good thing if a greater percentage of young people knew more about our history. But Griffiths offers no firm evidence that there is any causal link between Canada’s seemingly low levels of civic engagement and the public’s knowledge of its national institutions, symbols, and traditions. As a result, it is unlikely that Griffiths’ manifesto will serve as a rallying point for anything.
"Who We Are's diagnosis of the postnational predicament is compelling, refreshing and highly relevant...While Who We Are doesn't present all the answers, it does us an enormous service by opening up the debate. Taking on myths might seem very un-Canadian, but in writing this book, Griffiths distinguishes himself as one of the very best Canadians of his generation." (Globe & Mail 2009-03-14)
"[Griffiths] book melds logical clarity with truly excellent prose." (Inside Queen's Park 2009-03-24)
"Who We Are: A Citizen's Manifesto isn't only about who we are but also about who, in Griffiths opinion, we ought to be." (National Post 2009-04-01)
"In this provocative work, Griffiths argues that at this critical juncture Canadians need to rediscover our country's founding principles -- robust civic values and social solidarity -- so that we can create a movement of passionate citizenship, one which will keep us accountable not just to our neighbourhoods and cities, but to our country." (Argyle Magazine 2009-04-07)
"Who We Are is a bold and sometimes provocative book: while rejecting crude nationalism, Griffiths insists that multicultural Canada in a complicated, often volatile world is best served by a more robust idea of citizenship and a stronger allegiance to its traditions and institutions...it is...the starting point of a conversation that we can only ignore at our peril." (The Walrus 2009-04-16)
"In his new book Who We Are...Rudyard Griffiths challenges Canadians to rediscover the founding principals of Canadian nationhood and revitalize our sense of citizenship." (Financial Post 2009-05-09)
"An eloquent and hard-headed argument for reinventing a shared vision of what it means to be Canadian." (Margaret Wente)
"A genuine cri de coeur...for a new and better Canada written by one of the brightest stars of the rising generation." (J.L. Granatstein)
"A must-read for every Canadian concerned about where we are headed as a nation." (Rick Mercer)