MPs battle for most patriotic riding title

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St. Albert’s member of Parliament plans to blanket the city with flags this month as part of a patriotic throw-down with Sherwood Park.

Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber kicked off his Proud to Be Canadian campaign this week. The event aims to get as many people as possible to display a Canadian flag on Canada Day as part of a contest amongst Conservative MPs to figure out who has the most patriotic riding.

“In many countries you wouldn’t be free to put a flag in your window,” Rathgeber says. “When you look around the world and see some of the problems that are happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Somalia, it causes one to ponder the true value of being Canadian.”

Rathgeber says his office will mail about 50,500 six-by-12 inch paper flags to homes in his riding in the next few weeks along with information on the flag’s history. He encouraged residents to stick the flag in a window and to mail the enclosed reply card to his office postage-free to show that they have done so. The riding with the highest percentage of participating residents will be declared the most patriotic riding this fall.

Rathgeber also has a bet with Edmonton-Sherwood Park MP Tim Uppal riding on the contest. If St. Albert has more participants than Sherwood Park, Uppal will have to donate $100 to the Sturgeon Hospital Foundation and volunteer four hours at the St. Albert Farmers’ Market. Rathgeber will make a similar donation if Sherwood Park wins.

St. Albert residents are very patriotic, Rathgeber says, as are many of the naturalized immigrants in north Edmonton. “Notwithstanding our current economic problems, this is still the best country in the world and we should be proud of it.”

Flags are patriotism?

Political scientists have long been concerned about the state of Canada’s national identity. Recent surveys by the Dominion Institute, for example, suggest that Canadians lack basic knowledge of Canada’s parliamentary system and knew slightly more about American history than Canadian.

St. Albert residents tend to come out in droves on Canada Day, says Mayor Nolan Crouse, but they probably aren’t the most patriotic people in the country. “We’re probably okay, but I wouldn’t call it outstanding.” You don’t see many Canadian flag pins around town, he notes, and he’s been to many events where people forget to sing the national anthem.

But this doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of national pride, says Gaelan Murphy, political scientist at Grant MacEwan College. Big visible displays of patriotism such as flag-waving are not part of the country’s political culture, he says, making them poor indicators of nationalism. “Putting up a flag is easy, but volunteering for the army or donating to charity … those are hard.” People who make such commitments to their country don’t always fly flags at home.

Canadians seem to have a strong sense of national identity, he continues. “If you went out in St. Albert and started asking people if they thought of themselves as North American, the number of people [who did]would be astonishingly low.” This is probably because Canada is so dwarfed by its neighbour, the United States.

“Living next to this cultural and economic behemoth [the U.S.]has made Canadians consolidate their sense of national pride.”

Waving a flag isn’t the only way to show your pride as a Canadian, according to Rathgeber. “Just by being a good neighbour and volunteering, you’re promoting a sense of community and a sense of Canadianism.”

Rathgeber says he would be happy if even 10 per cent of his constituents put up a flag. “There are no losers in this,” he adds. “I hope the residents of Edmonton-Sherwood Park are almost as patriotic as we are.”

Uppal was out of the country and unavailable for an interview.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.