Polling continues to reveal jaw-dropping statistics with respect to the basic knowledge Canadians possess about their country.
In a new national survey commissioned by the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), which examines the basic knowledge Canadians have about their Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, barely half of Canadians surveyed (53 per cent) knew that Canada’s original Constitution came into force on July 1, 1867. Only 28 per cent of Canadians were correctly able to identify the four provinces (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) that initially formed the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Fully 61 per cent of Canadians did not know that the Constitution Act, 1867 listed the distribution of powers between the federal and provincial levels of government and only 9 per cent of Canadians surveyed knew that the Charter does not include protection for private property. Canadians with only a high school diploma fared even worse.
Understanding Canada’s basic values
This is not rocket science – just simple information that Canadians ought to know about their Constitution, the supreme law of the land. Canada’s Constitution is the framework for the organization of the Canadian government and for the relationship of the federal government with the provinces, citizens and all people in this country. Every Canadian, especially young Canadians graduating with a high school diploma in this country, should understand the country’s basic values, symbols and institutions, all of which are reflected in our Constitution.
A little bit of constitutional history: In their respective years on March 29th, as Acts of the British Parliament, the two main statutes of our Constitution, the British North America Act, 1867 (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867), and the Canada Act, 1982, (the Constitution Act, 1982, was a Schedule to the Canada Act) received Royal Assent on the same day.
Given Canadians’ lack of knowledge about their Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms as revealed by this new national survey, the CCF launched “Constitution Day” to be held annually on March 29th. “Constitution Day” attempts to facilitate a common understanding of the nature of our Constitution, our country’s democratic institutions, traditions and values, and how they have developed since Confederation. The United States, which in many ways has always done a better job of educating its youth and citizens about their history, whether their Declaration of Independence or their Bill of Rights, celebrates “Citizenship and Constitution Day” each year.
It has been said that civic literacy is the lifeblood of democracy. Failing to ensure that every citizen shares a basic familiarity with the country’s history, its foundational documents (such as the British North America Act, 1867 and the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms), its political systems, etc., is a failure of many systems, including our public education system. The fact remains that if you don’t know what happened in 1867 and that, for example, Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government, you are at a disadvantage in terms of participating in the significant debates that continue to shape our country each year.