When Prime Minister Stephen Harper put the "Royal" back in the Royal Canadian Air Force and portraits of the Queen back in Canadian embassies, he raised a few eyebrows across the country.
Then came the lavish celebration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 last summer and people began to ask questions. Is Harper trying to reshape the national identity?
Last month, Harper took aim at another major cultural institution, the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, rolling out a $25-million rebranding program that will see it re-emerge as the Canadian Museum of History, with half its space to be turned over to a new gallery honouring Canadian heroes, achievements and milestones.
While some historians are pleased to see new prominence given to often-underplayed Canadian stories, others are worried about possible political meddling in history with the museum revamp.
Heritage Minister James Moore dismissed suggestions the project is partisan or driven by a desire to redefine Canadian history.
"This is not left wing or right wing but the right thing to do, to build an institution that will span all of Canada and represent all of Canada's rich diverse issues," Moore told reporters in Ottawa.
But some are still nervous. Mike Robinson, former director of Calgary's Glenbow Museum, has been watching the "incremental steps" of the Harper government with a worried eye. He's concerned about "new national-history lessons mandated from the top down," and he wonders how it is that Harper has a better understanding of history than the community leaders and curators who put those museums together.
Tom Flanagan, a Conservative insider and key adviser to the prime minister, downplays the extent of the changes.
So far, the prime minister "is nibbling around the edges [of change]," says Flanagan. "He has a particular view of Canadian patriotism, but so did the Liberals. Maybe he's just appealing to a different segment of the population. Those views were always there, but submerged under the Liberal view."
Ten months ago in at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Harper warned Canadians that "major transformations" were on the way in old-age security, immigration and health care.
Errol Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, says that a "step-by-step" approach is the key to success for Harper's change agenda (others call it "a game of inches"), a strategy that works when, in fact, he does not have the support of most Canadians.
Mendes thinks Harper's vision - much smaller federal government, more self-reliance from citizens, much less spending on social programs - is starting to look like the country in the 1950s.
That was not Preston Manning's vision, Mendes says of Harper's Reform party predecessor, but it is the vision of the "Calgary school" of right-wing academics at the University of Calgary where Harper studied.
Anne McLellan, a former Liberal MP in Edmonton and cabinet minister in the Jean ChrÃ©tien and Paul Martin governments, says there's no doubt Harper is trying "to obliterate all vestiges of the Liberal government, things that helped define who we are."
Gurston Dacks, a retired political scientist from the University of Alberta, says some of the recent symbolic changes, such as emphasizing the monarchy and the War of 1812, may merely be designed to appeal to Harper's conservative base.
But other measures are changing how Canadian democracy operates, he says. Harper's decision to cut funding to more than two dozen advocacy groups and community agencies, including the Canadian Council on Learning and KAIROS, an interfaith human-rights organization, is aimed at silencing voices that "do not echo his own," Dacks says.
Some also think Harper is tweaking the national identity by giving the military a higher profile while discarding Canada's tradition of international peacekeeping. In his latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About War, author Noah Richler argues that Harper is moving Canada away from the Pearsonian tradition of multilateral action, peacekeeping and soft power.
Lawrence Martin, author of Harperland, the Politics of Control, says Harper has dramatically changed Canada on the international level by bailing out of the Kyoto accord on climate change, showing himself lukewarm toward the UN and bringing Canada closer to Israel.
"He's a very, very true-blood conservative and I don't think being in power has changed his core beliefs," says Martin.
"I think if he had his own way, he'd go a lot further, but obviously he is restrained by public opinion in what was considered, before he came to power, a very moderate society."
Sheila Pratt is a columnist for the Edmonton Journal.
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