The Politics of the "Canadian Way": Branding the Canadian Identity

Professor Richard Nimijean

Summary of a talk given by Richard Nimijean, Professor, School of Canadian Studies, Carleton University (Ottawa)

The Canadian government—and the Prime Minister in particular—frequently refer to "The Canadian Way": a collection of values, traits, and characteristics that define Canada, Canadians, and their governments. This talk, given by Professor Richard Nimijean of Carleton University, explored how the federal government in Canada uses the Canadian identity politically, and the possible existence of a gap between this vision of "The Canadian Way" and the reality of Canadian society. During his talk, Professor Nimijean argued that an identity strategy—the branding of Canada—has become an important dimension of the government's policy and political agenda.

Nimijean prefaced his remarks with a discussion of how values and identity shape public policy. In particular, he discussed the tendency of using "identity" to formulate a "brand" which is then used to achieve political ends on both the domestic and international political agendas. He used the example of the United Kingdom's "Cool Britannia" campaign, highlighting the practice of self?branding in order to attract investment and skilled labor from the international arena. He also cited Belgium's promotion of its ".be" internet domain as a method of having a brand, of being "cool," and, at the same time, steering public policy.

Turning to Canada, Nimijean discussed the use of "Brand Canada" as an international promotional tool to help differentiate Canadian companies from American companies, to help shed the "outdoorsy" tourist image for one that is more high tech and modern, and to attract foreign investment. The "re?articulation of values" campaign (Nimijean pointed out that the government "established" The Canadian Way, in order for public policy to "fit" into Canadian values) also served to give the federal government a visual presence on federal buildings in Quebec, where identity of the federal government was often given less public attention than the provincial (or Quebec "national") government.

Nimijean continued his remarks by examining where Canadian values and identity might differ from the brand embodied in "The Canadian Way." Alluding to the "rhetoric/reality gap," Nimijean used Canada's peacekeeping record as an example of this gap, for although Canadians pride themselves on their international peacekeeping efforts, they have fallen behind many other countries in national contributions to U.N. peacekeeping efforts. On the domestic front, he cited the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the arts, and Canadian railway projects as having long?standing histories of manipulating Canadian values and identity for political means. He stressed the need to challenge stereotypes in order to raise the level of public debate and to combat misconceptions of Canadian identity.

Nimijean concluded his talk by briefly touching upon the implications of national branding. The primary effect of the branding strategy has been a false sense of security of identity given to the Canadian public. People have been asked to place their faith in a political agenda that constantly shifts according to policy demands that do not necessarily reflect values stated in official documents.