Centre for Research and Information on Canada

What Happened

The Centre for Research and Information on Canada (CRIC) was established in 1996 by the Canadian Unity Council (CUC). In 2009, CRIC ceased its operations, three years after funding cuts by the Harper government in its September 2006 budget.

The CRIC, like the CUC, was widely perceived to be closely associated with the Liberal Party of Canada and thus a natural target for Conservatives.

As a result of the cuts, Canadians nevertheless lost important instruments for self-knowledge and opportunities for better appreciating the state of the Canadian nation.


Background

With roots dating to 1964 and Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, the CUC was inseparable from a national vision associated with Liberal prime ministers Trudeau, Turner, Chrétien, and Martin.

Partially in response to the Quebec sovereignist movement (notably the independence referenda of 1980 and 1995), CUC created the CRIC in 1996.

For all its partisan associations, the CRIC undertook surveys, focus groups and similar initiatives to explore Canadian public opinion. It generally took a strongly pro-federalist stance, and its work sought to improve the understanding of Canada as a federation.

Indeed, like the new field of Canadian Studies, CRIC should be understood as an expression of the late 20th century’s unprecedented enthusiasm for the study of the nation’s society, economics, culture, and politics. In particular, the CRIC reflected dawning recognition that the post-World War II nation was both a fragile enterprise (notably with respect to French-English relations) and that a commitment to human rights should properly be as an essential feature of national life.

Like the federal Canadian Studies initiatives undertaken by the “Understanding Canada Program”(introduced in response to Tom Symon’s classic report, To Know Ourselves, 1975), the CRIC set out to teach Canadians about themselves and to encourage mutual understanding among diverse communities. In the process, it grew attentive, as did Canadian Studies more generally, to the role of race, gender, sexuality, and class in determining economic and political opportunities for individuals and communities (Sangster).

The CRIC produced noteworthy and popular opinion surveys on issues ranging from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (2002), Comparative Federalism (2003), The New Canada (2003), and the Official Languages (2003). These surveys in turn provided the basis for major research papers, including “Voter Participation in Canada: Is Canadian Democracy in Crisis?” (2003), “Bilingualism: Part of Our Past or Part of Our Future? (2004), and “Finding Their Voice: Civic Engagement Among Aboriginal and New Canadians” (2005). The CRIC conducted the annual “Portraits of Canada” public opinion surveys from 2000 to 2005 and presented the results to diverse audiences in regional centres. Its newsletter, Opinion Canada, drew on its investigations to provide a “weekly look at the changing tides of Canadian politics.”

Funding cuts

In the September 2006 budget, the federal government cut its funding to CUC and CRIC. The Government merely cited “value” as justification but it was clear that the CRIC’s liberal associations were damning. Hostility also sprang from the Harper administration’s efforts to strengthen ties with Quebecers.The involvement of several CUC officials in the “No” campaign of the Quebec referendum led to accusations of improper spending.

Although the accusations were subsequently dropped, sources close to the CUC said that the Harper government saw the cuts as an opportunity to curry favour with Quebecers hostile to the pro-federalist stance of CUC and, by implication, the CRIC.

Democratic deficit

The loss of the CRIC occurred even as a pervasive democratic deficit associated with falling levels of public trust was growing (Lenard and Simeon). Substantial numbers of Canadians, including many young people, do not vote in municipal, provincial, and federal elections. Many appear ignorant about parliamentary traditions and historic struggles to achieve democracy (Gidengil et al).

Little federal support remains for encouraging Canada’s regions to become better informed about differences and commonalities within a single federal state. The sense of membership in a shared Canadian community seems increasingly uncertain, in part a casualty of Ottawa’s withdrawal from support for nation-wide programs such as the CRIC.

Throwing the (research) baby out with the (partisan) bathwater

Its close association with liberalism (see Rae) should not obscure the CRIC’s utility in supplying crucial information on Canadian opinions and experiences. Its research had the potential for encouraging public policies attentive to the creation of a more inclusive, activist, and democratic federal government. As one champion has argued, a strong investment in Canadian Studies helps address the “numerous rhetoric-reality gaps between articulated ideals and actual experiences” (Nimijean, 15).

The 2006 decision to end funding for the CUC and CRIC were described by then-Heritage Minister Bev Oda as part of the Harper government’s plan to “fundamentally change the way in which the federal government interacts with the provinces.” More to the point, the cuts were part of Ottawa’s withdrawal from commitment to a major role in identifying the needs of Canadians and contributing to nation-wide policies to achieve them.

Before it folded, the CRIC donated its surveys and papers to Carleton University.

Relevant Dates

  • 1964: Federalist Quebecers found the Canada Committee. This later became the Council for Canadian Unity/Conseil pour l’Unité Canadienne, and then the Canadian Unity Council
  • 1975: Publication of Tom Symons, To Know Ourselves: The Report of the Commission on Canadian Studies.
  • 1996: Creation of the CRIC
  • 2006: Loss of federal funding for the Canadian Unity Council
  • 2009: CRIC closes 

Role or Position

The Centre for Research and Information on Canada (CRIC) was a division of the Canada Unity Council, established in 1996. CRIC managed the Canadian Unity Council (CUC) research and communications activities. It focused on Canadian unity conceived broadly to incorporate a variety of issues related to the political, economic, and social union of Canada.

Implications and Consequences

Silencing Knowledge

The CRIC’s loss diminishes knowledge about the state of Canadian federalism and public opinion on a range of policy issues associated with federalism and Canadian unity. While other groups and think tanks, such as the Institute for Intergovernmental Relations, the Mowat Centre and the Canada West Foundation, share some similar concerns, they have limited resources and often focus on particular regions.

Democracy

The democratic deficit has been identified as a major problem for modern democratic countries and for Canada in particular. Solutions are more difficult to discover if citizens and policy-makers do not understand the nature of the problem and are less able to engage in informed discussion about possible solutions. The loss of the CRIC removed one more research and information tool for the inventory of knowledge and data about Canada and the state of the federation.

Published: 19 March 2015

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