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Reviewed by:
  • Canadian Studies in the New Millennium
  • Emily Gilbert (bio)
Patrick James and Mark Kasoff, editors. Canadian Studies in the New Millennium. University of Toronto Press. 2007. 496. $39.00

How to interpret Canada for an American audience? This is the task set for the authors of this collection. Ten thematic chapters, many of them co-authored, provide an overview of topics ranging across history, politics, and literary and popular culture. Ample comparisons between Canada and the United States ensure that the collection is never myopically nationalistic - a danger that looms for any area studies project.

For the most part, the chapters rely on conventional tropes and truisms to frame their analysis. In their introduction, the editors assert that 'perhaps the most fundamental feature of Canada is its geography.' The first chapter by Michael J. Broadway reaffirms this axiom but brings the resource-economy framework into the present to address issues such as the flailing auto industry and climate change. In their second chapter, Munro Eagles and Sharon A. Manna examine Canadian politics, at once providing insights onto both Canada's distinctive federalism and American exceptionalism. Canadian literature and popular culture are presented as fragile and in need of state promotion and protection in the chapter by Andrew Holman and Robert Thacker. Patrice Leclerc addresses the struggles for recognition made by women, largely through the courts, but also to the sometimes fraught attempts to address discrimination within activist groups.

Economic transformation is addressed in the chapter by Mark Kasoff and Christinne Drennen. They chart the shift to a more technologically based service economy and necessarily attend to the importance of free trade for Canada, especially with the United States. In the most outwardly oriented chapter of the volume, Cynthia Kite and Douglas Nord analyze foreign policy, from the ups and downs of the country's relationship with the United States, to the country's embrace of multilateralism, which at times dovetails and at times conflicts with US interests.

The remaining chapters have strengths, but they also raise troubling questions. John Herd Thomson and Mark Paul Richard provide a succinct historical overview of the country. But is the American Revolution really the most significant historical event of both American and Canadian history? And what to make of the reassurances that, despite national cultural institutions such as the CBC and the NFB, that Canada is not socialist?

The chapter on Aboriginal peoples is perhaps the most problematic. Michael Lusztig rightfully addresses ongoing struggles, such as around land rights and residential schools. That the chapter begins with Confederation, however, undermines the foundational claims of Aboriginal peoples, while at the same time the challenges facing an increasingly [End Page 291] urbanized population are also ignored. Moreover, considerable space is devoted to the maligned arguments of Thomas Flanagan, even as it is noted that he 'does not represent the mainstream academic viewpoint' (118). By contrast, Alan Cairns's more sensitive advocacy is mentioned only in passing.

The chapter by Louis Bélanger and Charles F. Doran on 'Quebec's destiny' perhaps unfortunately reinforces a geographically bounded English-French divide but has its aim a revisionist account of the province. They debunk narratives of a 'backward' development and affirm a 'normal' trajectory of economic modernization. They also chart a shift from ethno-nationalism to a pluralistic civic nationalism. Some of the recent debates around 'reasonable accommodation' in Quebec suggest that the claim of openness to diversity is highly contested - but this is not unique to Quebec.

In fact, this last point speaks to a more pervasive concern with the volume. Across the board, contestation is subsumed to the broader national narrative. Polemic debates around immigration are not discussed. Multiculturalism is referenced only in passing. Race is almost non-existent in the book. Aside from early-twentieth-century Quebec, there is no mention of religion. A few sentences are devoted to urbanization - in 1921! As a result, some of the most pressing issues facing the country, past and present, are sidestepped. But so too are omitted interesting points of traditional divergence between Canada and the United States, including patriotism, health care, gun ownership, and the military. That there is ongoing rapprochement on many of these issues...


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