Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Is Québec a "nation"?

With the Conservative federal government in disarray on several fronts at the moment, the opposition Liberals ought to be making hay. Instead, they seem to be in almost as much disarray themselves as they agonize over the election of a new leader.
It's not exactly compelling stuff, nor is it particularly edifying to watch. But unfortunately most of the agonizing is being restricted to one particular issue so that, rather than focussing on how to improve the lot of country as a whole and its inhabitants severally, the candidates are tearing their hair out over an issue which might never have reared its ugly, pointed, little head.
Is Québec a "nation"? Or is it a "province"? Or a "distinct society"? Maybe a "sociological nation"? Or even a "country"? Or ... so it goes on. Non-Canadians will be forgiven for absolute incredulity that such a topic could possibly be exercising some of the best minds in the country. Surely, it's just semantics? Who really cares?
Apparently the Liberal Party cares. Since front-running, Johnny-come-lately candidate Michael Ignatieff inadvisedly raised this spectre right at the start of his campaign, it has proved the most divisive single issue in the whole discussion, and has the potential, if not to tear the party apart, at least to reduce its effectiveness in fighting off the Tories in a likely Spring general election.
My own feeling is that Stephane Dion's approach is probably about right - play it down, make some concilatory noises, but don't allow the issue to drag the country into another Meech Lake-type quagmire. Been there, done that, solved nothing.
If they are worried about losing votes in Québec, I would have thought that most of the Québécois who are worried about the issue would likely be voting for the Bloc Québécois rather than the Liberals anyway, when push comes to shove (just a gut feeling, I don't have any evidence for this).
And, party politics aside, my own take on the subject is that Québec is just a province like any other, and no more constitutes a nation in the constitutional sense than Newfoundland or the Métis. The fact that most of them speak French as a first language is no more relevant than the fact that over a million Canadian have Chinese as a mother tongue. The fact that Québec's history has followed a slightly different route than English Canada's is no more relevant than the history of the Ukrainian population of Manitoba - French Canadians are immigrants like most of the rest of Canadians.
The various First Nations have a much stronger case for nationhood, but they happen to be spread all over the country and secession as a separate nation would be impractical and all but meaningless.
Maybe I'm just naive and ingenuous, but I don't really understand why we can't just play nice and all be Canadians together. Haven't we wasted enough time and energy on all this navel-gazing already?

No comments: