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Pat MurphyThe National Post’s op-ed pages had an interesting day recently, sporting several pieces that stuck in my mind. This column is about two of them.

The first one felt like the Post’s umpteenth brief against the Harper government’s prohibition of niqabs at citizenship oath-taking ceremonies. The paper certainly hasn’t been shy about expressing its disapproval of the requirement to uncover one’s face when taking the oath!

And the piece’s author – an assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo – did a good job at explicating his case. There is, he argued, nothing to be gained in terms of security or identification, the niqab-wearer isn’t harming anyone, and the normal process of social integration will eventually render the whole thing moot.

Then there’s the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If the question goes to the Supreme Court, the government is bound to lose because, as the op-ed put it, “The Court takes a dim view of purely symbolic objectives that infringe fundamental freedoms.”

Now, I’m not personally moved – either way – on the issue of wearing a niqab while taking the oath. But I’m very much struck by the underlying assumption that Canadian symbolism counts for so little.

After all, since when do people who wish to join a club get to dictate the rules for initiation? And formally joining the Canadian nation, which is what citizenship amounts to, is surely a much more serious business than joining a club.

It’s not as if symbols don’t matter. They’re part of the social fabric, an important ingredient in our collective identity. In critical respects, they speak to who we are, or at least who we’d like to think we are. And the idea that such considerations should have little or no purchase seems bizarre. It’s almost as if we’re being told that Canada isn’t a real nation, that its traditions and rituals don’t have the same importance as those of other cultures.

The second op-ed related to the plight of millennials, defined as people born between 1981 and 1994. They are, it was stated, having a hard time in the current economy. Despite being “the most educated generation in history,” significant numbers of university graduates are “labouring in a job for which they are overqualified.”

It’s the sort of complaint that automatically makes you reflect on your own personal experience. In my case, coming to Canada as a freshly-minted university graduate in the mid-1960s initially translated into several years working in clerical roles that could have just as easily been filled by someone with a high school diploma. And my situation wasn’t unique.

That aside, though, the millennial op-ed disconnected from reality in several respects, one of which was the implicit suggestion that a university degree should result in employment for which one is academically qualified.

The reality, however, is quite different. While there are many factors that influence the quantity and quality of available jobs, it’s critical that you offer something which someone else values. “Follow your passion” may have a grand self-actualizing ring to it, but if the product of your passion doesn’t interest anyone else, why would you expect to be economically rewarded for it?

This isn’t to say that having an educated workforce is without social value. But if that workforce’s attributes aren’t reasonably synced with what the economy actually has use for, there’s bound to be disappointment. If everyone graduates from law, expect a lot of unemployed lawyers, regardless of how qualified and passionate each individual one is.

And there was more. Employers were urged to “Give millennials fulfilling development opportunities, including large, visible projects and assignments that will allow them to grow and learn.” Missing from this was any apparent recognition that such projects might have a business imperative. Both shareholder value and employees’ jobs could be riding on success.

In the real world, “large, visible” projects aren’t school assignments. And rather than being doled out as development opportunities, their staffing is driven by the practical requirements of the job at hand. Yes, people can learn along the way, but that’s a benign by-product rather than the primary object of the exercise.

I’ll leave you with this thought. If you want to get your juices flowing first thing in the morning, go straight to the op-eds. Trust me, it’s more effective than caffeine.

Pat Murphy casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in our world. Never cynical – well perhaps a little bit.

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