Exactly when Canada became a sovereign nation — its own real country — is a matter of some debate.
There are legal arguments and philosophical ones.
Nearly three out of four Canadians apparently believe it happened in 1867. Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, says they’re wrong. But he also recognizes there isn’t an easy answer.
A national survey found that 74 per cent of Canadians believe the country achieved independence 150 years ago. According to the poll, conducted for Postmedia by the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger Marketing, 14 per cent said it was in 1982, when the Queen and then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau signed the Constitution Act.
Only five per cent of respondents chose 1919 as the milestone year. Six per cent said it was 1931.
The poll was conducted online between Dec. 19 and 22 and received responses from 1,518 Canadians aged 18 and older. There is a margin of error of 3.9 points, 19 times out of 20.
The real date lies somewhere between 1919 (the year Canada joined the League of Nations) and 1931, when Canada ceased to be under the rule of the British Empire, according to Jedwab.
“We usually associate nations as things that are sovereign and independent. From that standpoint, Canada was not sovereign and independent in 1867, but it is probably one of the most critical events in its eventual emergence as a nation state in a contemporary understanding of those things,” he said.
Most Canadians are missing this “critical nuance”, but it doesn’t mean the 150th anniversary of Confederation this year shouldn’t be celebrated, he added. He just thinks Canadians need to know the difference.
Baby boomers and francophone Quebecers were more likely to choose the year of patriation of the Constitution — 1982 — when Canada reached independence, the poll found.
It also appears over the course of 2016 that more millennials seemed to think Aboriginal Peoples were among the Fathers of Confederation.
The ACS-Leger survey showed 40 per cent of Canadians between 18 and 34 said Aboriginal Peoples, the French, and the British best described their view of the founding partners, an increase of five per cent from January 2016 when respondents were asked the same question.
Comparatively, 26 per cent of respondents aged 55 and older chose the same answer, a decrease from 32 per cent at the beginning of 2016.
Almost one third (30 per cent) of millennials and 39 per cent of people 55 and older chose the four provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick as their answer.
The younger cohort might be propagating a revisionist history of those political deliberations, but Jedwab said history tells us the prejudices at the time excluded indigenous populations from meaningful participation in the meetings that led to Confederation.
“As much as we’d like to, we can’t wish these things into reality,” Jedwab said.