YCYC and our crisis in civic literacy

Those of you who follow me over on the Twitter Machine know that I’ve been highly critical of the new “educational charity” Your Canada/Your Constitution pretty much since its inception. Last week they put out yet another press release that demonstrates their civic illiteracy, and more than that, the fact that they are deliberately misleading the public when they say that their goals are about education around our system of governance.

On the mandate page of their website, YCYC purports to do “research and education about the history, and ongoing development, of Canada’s Constitution and governments.” And in order to solicit donations from the public, they promise to use the money to develop education materials, host workshops and public forums for discussion, and hold contests to get people engaged. According to the site:

YCYC’s activities will all be aimed especially at increasing public knowledge, and generating public discussion and full consideration of:

  • Canada’s history as a constitutional monarchy, past proposals for change, and possible future as a fully independent democracy based on popular sovereignty;
  • the role of the Governor General and provincial lieutenant governors, and the relationship between them and the Prime Minister, provincial premiers and cabinets and legislatures and politicians; and
  • how people in other countries have addressed questions and issues concerning their constitutions and fundamental structures and operations of their governments.

Which sounds all well and good, until you actually read that a bit more closely. “Fully independent democracy based on popular sovereignty.” That sounds awfully republican, no? And then judge by their press releases to date, and they continually refer to the “British monarchy” being the “head of government” here in Canada – two patently false statements. Since the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the head of state in Canada has been the Canadian Monarchy – currently the Queen of Canada, not the Queen of the United Kingdom. Also, she is the head of state – the Prime Minister of Canada is the head of government. And yet, one would think that a supposed education charity would actually know the difference between either.

More egregiously, YCYC relies on misleading push-polls to try and justify their positions. Consider this result in the release last week: “52% of Canadians want Canada to become fully independent by retiring the British monarchy as Canada’s head of state.”

This is based on two misleading premises – that Canada is not “fully independent,” which is patently false (the last vestige of our connection with the British government ended with the patriation of the Constitution in 1982), and that the British monarchy is our head of state, which again, is false as it’s the Canadian monarchy – a separate and distinct institution that simply shares the same monarchy as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and a handful of other countries.

And if you look at the phrasing of this particular poll they commissioned, you can see the same and even more egregious falsehoods being pushed: “To what extent do you agree or disagree that Canada’s Constitution should be changed to make Canada a fully independent country by retiring the British Monarchy as Head of Canada’s federal and provincial governments?” Again notice the false characterisation of the Canadian Crown and the confusion between head of state and head of government. One has to question why Harris/Decima, an otherwise reputable polling firm, would be engaging in such blatant falsehoods and push-polling.

There are other examples of YCYC’s lack of civil literacy, such as its push to make Crown prerogatives subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court of Canada – a notion that ignores the fact that Parliament is itself a court – the grand inquest of the nation. It also unduly politicises the Supreme Court more than it already is a political body, and would threaten to make it a partisan body. Much of this push appears to come from their spokesperson Duff Conacher, who previously ran the organisation Democracy Watch under the rubric that there is no legitimate place for prerogative powers in our system of government, which betrays yet another example of ways in which actual awareness about how our system of government operates is sorely lacking. However, this rhetoric has been dovetailed into the very same ignorant discourse that they are pushing when it comes to the role of the Crown, further proving that they have zero credibility when it comes to civic literacy.

Given that one has to out YCYC as a republican front-group that relies on false and misleading information and illegitimate polling to try and build their arguments for getting rid of the monarchy, one has to really question the validity and integrity of such an organisation. While they have some fairly reputable scholars attached in advisory capacities, one further has to wonder if any of them are now feeling uncomfortable about their role in an organisation that promulgates falsehoods.

The tone of determinism around republicanism that YCYC pushes is also a sign of its intellectual bankruptcy. It ignores the fact that there is nothing illegitimate about a constitutional monarchy, and further, it ignores the fact that the most progressive countries on the planet are constitutional monarchies. And if one has to rely on false and misleading information in order to build support for a republican movement, one has to question the legitimacy of said movement in the first place.

I’d like to end by contrasting YCYC with another champion for civic literacy in this country – Nathan Tidridge. While one may try to dismiss Tidridge’s activism because of his monarchist credentials, one should note that he’s actually trying to provide civic education that reflects the reality of our system of government – that the Canadian Monarchy plays a central role. That he’s examined the curricula of our high school courses, and is trying to change those that are factually incorrect (such as the curriculum document currently being employed in Ontario) is encouraging.

The fact that we are reliant on monarchists to provide an accurate reflection of our system of governance and that a republican front group is masquerading as an educational charity that trades in false and misleading information is telling. It’s even more disturbing that YCYC isn’t being challenged for their false and misleading information in the mainstream media. Above all, this is further proof as to why we are facing a crisis when it comes to the level of civic literacy in this country.