Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Is Quebec a nation?

Yesterday, the House of Commons passed a motion recognizing the "Québécois" as a "nation". Not the territory of Quebec, but just the people therein. In advance of the resolution, the country had been engaging in hair-splitting as to what exactly constitutes a "nation". Since the resolution, the discussion has focussed on what or who actually makes up the "Québécois".

Many have a confused notion as to what, exactly, a nation is. People have pointed out the contrast in which the term is defined in English and in French. In English, we often use the term nation interchangably with "state", meaning an autonomous country with borders, an independant government and international recognition. In French, it is said that the term merely means a people with a common and distinct history, language, culture, customs, etc. I would sugges - and I have a degree in political science - that the French definition is also the English one, but English-speakers, particularly those blind unitary Canadian nationalists of the Pierre Trudeau ilk, don't distinguish between nation and state.

The government lost a Cabinet Minister over it. Michael Chong, who had held the post of Minister of Amateur Sport and Intergovernmental Affairs (hows that for a Cabinet Combo? Maybe we can settle those federal-provincial scuffles with a cross-country race, or something!). Chong, now merely the M.P. for Wellington-Halton Hills, believes that the notion of Canada as a nation is indivisible. Thus, he could not support Prime Minister Harper's motion and had to leave cabinet. He believes, like many others, that we cannot have a "nation within a nation", or, as Joe Clark used to call it, a "community of communities".

This is unfortunate, because I think the strength of Canada is that we can and do have nations within this nation of ours (although I often ask myself whether Canada is, in fact, a nation. Its certainly a state, but not every state is a nation, just the same as not every nation has its own state). In my view Quebec, or Quebeckers (I hate when they use the term "Québécois" when speaking English) at least certainly constitute a nation. I believe the Acadien people, although smaller in numbers, constitute a nation. Heck, for anyone following the whole Caledonia debacle, we've got six nations right up Hwy. 6 from Hamilton! You don't want to tell the various aboriginal sects, from the Six Nations, to the Cree to the Dene, that they don't constitute a nation.

Where I would agree with Trudeau - and I don't often admit to agreeing with that bastard, at least not when it can be traced back to me in writing - is where he dealt with the issue of national self-determination in his seminal essay "New Treason of the Intellectuals". In challenging the notion of "national self-determination", he argued that nationhood does not necessarily lead to an automatic claim to statehood. If so, we would have national groups claiming statehood on a daily basis. Once the Quebec nation achieved statehood, then certain "nations" within Quebec, chiefly the anglophone minority and aboriginal groups, such as the Cree, would have an equal claim to sub-statehood. Whether or not he would admit it himself, I think Trudeau was tacitly agreeing with the notion that nations can exist within nations...or states. Erego, he would have had to have supported Harper's motion this week.

In any event, many see this as a cynical ploy on the part of Harper and the Conservatives to shore up support in La belle province....or la belle nation...in advance of an impending election. They're currently getting killed there in the polls, thanks to Kyoto and Afghanistan. Others suggest it was a shot in the arm to the Liberal leadership campaign of Michael Ignatieff, whom Harper feels he can thump in an election. But when it comes down to it, because it lacks constitutional authority, this whole thing may be little more than a trumped up version of a similar debate following the 1995 referendum, where a weak-kneed Jean Chrétien had his government pass a similar motion recognizing Quebec as a "distinct society". This, after basing his whole leadership campaign on opposing the Meech Lake Accord.

Typical Liberal. F***ing hypocrites when it comes to national unity.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with ya Rich - I was more meandering in my comments.