Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A New Flag for Ontario?

This year two of Canada's flags mark their fiftieth birthdays. The most prominent is, of course, the national flag, the red maple leaf. However, as the Red Ensign was lowered in Ottawa and across the country and replaced with the red maple leaf it rose somewhere else. Until 1960s Ontario did not have an official flag. There was significant resistance to replacing the Red Ensign so Premier Robarts of Ontario decided to adopt it as Ontario's flag and replaced the Canadian coat of arms with the Ontario one. Thus the flag of Ontario was born. Steve Paikin outlined the history of Ontario's flag here

Ontario's Red Ensign

Last week in the Worth Reading I included an article by Martin Regg Cohn suggesting the merits of replacing Ontario's flag. As Cohn put it, "Today, that flag flies in the face of our diversity - its design unheralded, its anniversary unmarked, its inspiration utterly unoriginal. Like our flagging monarchy and segregated schools for Catholics, it is an anachronism that defines Ontario's political culture of inertia." I am not so hard on Ontario's Red Ensign, but the knowledge that its origins comes something more out of reactionary spite than proud tradition certainly dampens what few warm sentiments I may have had towards it at one time.

I assume that the main objection that Mr. Cohn has about the Ontario Red Ensign is that it is overtly British. Let's leave aside the question of whether or not the Union Jack should be on our provincial flag, is the Ontario flag a good flag? The North American Vexillological Association has five simple principles of flag design.

1. Keep it Simple - The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.

2. Use Meaningful Symbolism - The flag's images, colours, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.

3. Use 2 or 3 Basic Colours - Limit the number of colours on the flag to three which contrast well and come from the standard colour set.

4. No Lettering or Seals - Never use writing or any kind or an organization's seal.

5. Be Distinctive or Be Related - Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.

Canada's National and Provincial Flags, note Ontario and Manitoba's Red Ensigns

Ontario's Red Ensign fails four of these five criteria. No child could draw it from memory, it contains several colours, and its sole distinguishing feature is the inclusion of the seal of Ontario. The worst though, in my opinion is that it is not distinctive. Looking at a picture of all of Canada's flags it takes a careful eye to not mix up Manitoba and Ontario. Canada is fortunate in that many of our provincial flags are quite beautiful and distinctive. Newfoundland and Labrador (and the separate Labrador flag), Saskatchewan and Nunavut's flags are all very appealing, in my opinion, and even New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia, despite being overly complex, are unique and unlikely to be confused for something else.

A more serious flag debate is taking place in NewZealand. New Zealand's flag is not too different from Ontario's in conception, but worse still, it is very similar to Australia's. For decades there has been pressure to swap the Kiwi flag for something more appropriate. A binding referendum is planned for 2015 and 2016. New Zealand's process may provide a handy guide if Ontario chooses to replace its own flag. A panel of New Zealanders were assembled to select four of the best candidates for flag replacements, submitted by anyone. The public will vote this winter on which of the four they prefer and in April the question will be asked which flag should be the national flag going forward.

When I first considered writing about this I thought the idea of replacing Ontario's flag was silly, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. I was once asked by a friend from Alberta if there was such a thing as an Ontarian identity. I'm sure the lack of easy symbols doesn't help. Perhaps a new flag more representative and pleasing could forge a more cohesive identity. Looking online people already have some ideas, usually incorporating the provincial flower, the trillium. Obviously there are bigger problems facing the province, but there always will be, just like Canada in 1965, but I doubt few today would object to the change once made.


J A Hart said...
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J A Hart said...

Interesting post, but not a very convincing argument, I must say. Any comment in the wake of the New Zealand Flag referendum? Despite the empty rhetoric of change for the sake of 'progress', 'multiculturalism' and to shed a 'colonial feature', the people voted pretty convincingly to maintain the old flag.

I found an article on the NZ Herald website quite interesting, '3/4 NZ youths would vote for current flag - survey'. "More than three quarters of New Zealand youth would vote for the current flag, according to a survey. Youthtown asked 13- to 17-year-olds on its Facebook page which flag they would vote for if they were able to vote in the referendum." Quite significant that the youth respect their history and heritage. Shall we keep the old flag for the sake of the children…? ;-)

When I read articles like your post and the linked website, I cringe and despair. I conceive of us as a self-confident nation, secure in our identity and our history. But sometimes I wonder whether it is just an older generation refighting the battles of the 1960s...

Just a few thoughts.