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Tory MP wraps himself in the flag - but forgets to fly one at home

Conservative MP John Carmichael is photographed on the steps of Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail/dave chan The Globe and Mail

John Carmichael, the Conservative MP who wants to jail Canadians who prohibit a fellow citizen from flying the flag, doesn't fly the Maple Leaf at his own Toronto home.

Oops. An oversight.

In fact, his wife pointed this out to him the other day. "I guess we'll have to get a flag up," she said to him.

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The rookie MP from Don Valley West is working on it. In the meantime, he's working on his private members' bill, which he introduced last week to a flurry of publicity.

His National Flag of Canada Act would make it illegal – a fine or in the most egregious cases, up to two years in jail – for someone who stops another person from flying the flag at his or her home or residence. It does not apply to workplaces.

It is certainly patriotic, adding to the Harper Conservative government's nationalistic narrative. But it's curious, too, as there seems hardly a rash of complaints from citizens.

Was he put up to this by the PMO?

Mr. Carmichael says no. After he was elected in May, he said, he received a few complaints from constituents about not being able to fly flags at home.

The 59-year-old father and grandfather describes himself as a very patriotic Canadian and thought there might be something to this flag issue.

So he canvassed fellow MPs and discovered a few more cases, mostly involving ratepayer or condominium associations with rules about flying or displaying flags on the exterior of buildings.

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Over the summer, he said, he attended many citizenship swearing-in ceremonies. And he was struck by the "emotion that burst from the faces" of new Canadians when he handed them a small Maple Leaf flag.

In addition, he wanted to protect veterans and families of veterans from being penalized for flying a Canadian flag at home.

He said the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, which he watched from start to finish, were a turning point for Canadians in terms of showing national pride.

"I thought the mood of the country really shifted," he said, noting that before, Canadians were understated in their flag-waving and patriotism.

The country, he believed, is ready for something like this. And he also believes his bill could really "open up dialogue."

But he didn't come to Parliament to wrap himself in the flag. In fact, just after election night in May, Mr. Carmichael said he wanted to concentrate on jobs for new Canadians. He is, after all, a businessman. He runs a successful car dealership in Toronto.

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He was pursuing two industry-related ideas as possibilities for a private members' bill. In the end, they proved too difficult to frame into legal language. The flag bill was not.

There seemed, too, to be some support for it. Mr. Carmichael noted that in the last Parliament, his colleague Jeff Watson, a Tory MP from Essex in southwestern Ontario, researched the flag issue, uncovering some cases in his region. He seconded Mr. Carmichael's bill.

Supporting him, too, is Heritage Minister James Moore, who appeared at the press conference in which Mr. Carmichael outlined his bill.

The MP said that when Mr. Moore read it, he said it was "right up our alley."

The Harper government has been emphasizing Canada's symbols. Defence Minister Peter MacKay recently restored the "royal" prefix to the air force and navy, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has ordered Canada's missions and embassies abroad to feature portraits of the Queen, and Mr. Moore is overseeing an elaborate commemoration for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

Next month, Mr. Carmichael's proposed legislation, which is seventh in the queue of private members' bills, will be debated in the House before it goes to committee.

And it could be law soon after that. With both chambers full of Conservatives and the support of the minister, who would oppose waving the flag?

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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