September 17, 2006

French Press Keeps Calling English Press Wrong

Educating Canada
by Alain Dubuc (La Presse September 15th 2006)

When Michael Ignatieff, one of the favored Liberal Party leadership candidates, proposed to recognize Quebec as a nation and set that in stone by inscribing into the Constitution, the reaction was lively in English Canada. They accused him of wanting to awaken the Constitutional beast. The beast he awoke, however, was not that of the constitution, but one which was dormant in the subconscious of the Canadian collective.

It is true that the road to constitutional negotiations is painful. All those who went down that road have been scarred by the experiences of Meech and Charlottetown and never want to re-live the experience. That is the main reason why Ignatieff’s main rivals, Bob Rae and Stephane Dion have criticized the idea of wanting to open this Pandora’s box.

But there is one question people refue to answer on the surface and that is: why is this a Pandora’s Box? Because the idea of recognizing Quebec by anything other than a province causes a scandal throughout English Canada. First, distinct society, an empty term, caused trouble. The idea of a nation will provoke a real indigestion. It is not the constitutional negotiations that are the problem, but the fact that they will reveal a profound fracture.

This rejection (of Michael’s ideas) is well expressed by Toronto’s two most important editorial boards. The Globe and Mail, in an editorial entitled “Ignatieff’s Folly” fears that the recognition of Quebec as a nation will serve to dismantle Canada because nations, in legal terms, have the right t self-determination. Same argument in the Toronto Star: “When it will be inscribed in the Canadian Constitution, the word (nation) can have a much more precise legal definition. International law, for example, gives nations the right to secede. The sovereigntists can maneuver the law to invoke their right.” The reasoning is specious, is it not true that the Supreme Court has already recognized Quebec’s right to secede, if expressed in a referendum with a clear question and a majority. But these arguments, in their weakness, reveal the reluctance provoked by the idea of a nation.

Yet, this proposal by Mr. Ignatieff consists of recognizing a political and sociological truth. “Quebecers came to recognize themselves as a nation, with a language, a history, a culture, and a territory, which make them a distinct people. Quebec is a civic nation, not an ethnic nation” Something Stephane Dion also always said, although never believing that it justified creating a distinct country.

This brings Michael Ignatieff, taking into account the place of Aboriginals, to state that Canada is a country where many nations co-exist. Several industrialized countries are pluri-national: Great Britain, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium. What distinguishes Canada from this group is that it refuses to admit it. In that sense, Canadian nationalism is somewhat dream-like, hanging on to a definition of a country which does not correspond to the country’s reality.

This rejection is not just a socio-political curiosity. It perhaps relates to an Anglo-Saxon reflex to throw everything which is disagreeable under the rug, hoping it disappears. There is a problem; however, one thing which will not disappear is the significance of the symbols, and the importance, for most Quebecers, of the recognition of their identity; that which other countries have understood with regards to their national minorities.

A recognition will not be thought of as a gift to Quebec. Canada would give a gift to itself, by accepting to define what it is, which would go a long way in achieving political maturity.

We are not there. My colleague Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and mail, points out a survey showing how much this question can divide a people. Only 24% of Ontarians see Quebec as a nation and 22% of Westerners. There is the reason why constitutional negotiations seem so far off.

But the intervention of Mr. Ignatieff remains useful if we see it less as a constitutional measure and more of an educational experience. The fact that Canadian leaders define Quebec as a nation, without necessarily making it a big deal, helps English Canada swallow the notion and integrate it into its implicit definition of our country, to play down a concept, which is no longer a big issue in Quebec but is still politically explosive elsewhere in Canada.

12 Commentaires:

Blogger Ed King a dit...

This rejection is not just a socio-political curiosity. It perhaps relates to an Anglo-Saxon reflex to throw everything which is disagreeable under the rug, hoping it disappears.

So now it's a racial thing, eh? Some English Canadians refuse to recognize that Quebec is a nation because of some inherent Anglo-Saxon character flaw. I guess an Arnold Schwarzenegger joke would be appropriate here but I am too disgusted to think of one. I'm disappointed that you would reprint this garbage, Antonio.

9/17/2006 12:35 p.m.  
Blogger anna yanuk a dit...

Although I disagree with the anglo-saxon comment, I think the idea he was trying to get across is that countries can be composed of many nations, just like the UK, Spain, Belgium, etc.

To think that it's not possible IS close-minded.

9/17/2006 1:46 p.m.  
Blogger goonandbleed a dit...

It perhaps relates to an Anglo-Saxon reflex to throw everything which is disagreeable under the rug, hoping it disappears.

I can't adequately put into words how offensive your post is.

When Pierre Elliott Trudeau rejected distinct soceity was it the Elliott in him that was leading the charge while the Trudeau in him was asleep at the wheel?

You would do well to read Trudeau's speech at the Paul Sauve Arena on May 14, 1980.

Here's an excerpt:

"Of course my name is Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Yes, Elliott was my mother's name. It was the name borne by the Elliotts who came to Canada more than two hundred years ago. It is the name of the Elliotts who, more than one hundred years ago, settled in Saint-Gabriel de Brandon, where you can still see their graves in the cemetery. That is what the Elliotts are.

My name is a Québec name, but my name is a Canadian name also, and that's the story of my name.

Since Mr. Lévesque has chosen to analyse my name, but let me show you how ridiculous it is to use that kind of contemptuous argument.

Mr. Pierre-Marc Johnson is a Minister. Now, I ask you, is Johnson an English name or a French name?

And Louis O'Neill- a former Minister of Mr. Lévesque's and Robert Bruns, and Daniel Johnson, I ask you, are they Quebecers, yes or no?

And, if we are looking at names, I saw in yesterday's newspaper that the leader of Quebec's Inuit, the Eskimos, they are going to vote NO. Do you know what the leader's name is? His name is Charlie Watt. Is Charlie Watt not a Quebecer? These people have lived in Quebec since the Stone Age; they have been here since time immemorial. And Mr. Watt is not a Quebecer?

And, according to yesterday's newspaper, the chief of the Micmac Band, at Restigouche, the chief of fifteen hundred Indians- what is his name? Ron Maloney. Is he not a Quebecer? The Indians have been there for a good two thousand years. And their chief is not a Quebecer?

My dear friends, Laurier said something in 1889, nearly one hundred years ago now, and it s worth taking the time to read these lines: "My Countrymen," said Laurier, "are not only those in whose veins runs the blood of France. My countrymen are all those people- no matter what their race or language- whom the fortunes of war, the twists and turns of fate, or their own choice, have brought among us."

All Quebecers have the right to vote YES or NO, as Mrs. De Santis said. And all those Nos are as valid as any YES, regardless of the name of the person voting, or the colour of his skin."

9/17/2006 1:53 p.m.  
Blogger James Bowie a dit...

Yeah, I'd be cool if Iggy just wanted to forget this whole constitution thing.

9/17/2006 2:15 p.m.  
Blogger Scarberian a dit...

I agree with the sentiment expressed thus far on the board. To call English-SPEAKING Canada's hesitance to recognize Quebec as a nation an "Anglo-Saxon" reflex shows that Quebec has a fundamental misunderstanding of the people in the rest of Canada.

On the proposal to recognize Quebec as a nation in the constitution, what Mr. Dubuc fails to see is that the government cannot change just this one thing. To re-open the constitution would mean that EVERYONE who has demands would need to be negotiated with. When trying to broker all of the disparate interests it's important to recognize the complexity of the situation, something Ignatieff and Dubuc have yet to do.

9/17/2006 2:19 p.m.  
Blogger Winnipeg Liberal a dit...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9/17/2006 3:44 p.m.  
Blogger Ed King a dit...

Concerning the point raised by anna, I am surprised that Dubuc uses the UK as an example (a largely Anglo-Saxon country!). The UK, like Canada, has an unwritten constitution, meaning there is no single document called the constitution which defines the state and outlines the rights of citizens like in the United States and many other countries. The multi-national character of that country is not enshrined in a document called a constitution, it is recognized by convention. The same is true in Canada. Although the Constitution Act of 1982 does not include an exhaustive list of nations within Canada's borders, the multinational character of the country is reflected in our statutes and institutions. The distinct characteristics of Quebec are recognized in Quebec's use of the civil code, its official language, and the many federal statutes which state that Quebec has opted out of federal programs because they do not meet its needs. If the yardstick used is the UK, Canada fully recognizes the multi-national character of the country and Quebec's specifically distinct character.

Spain, Switzerland and Belgium, on the other hand, each have a written constitution. While the Spanish constitution recognizes that there are several nationalities in Spain, it does not name them as far as I know. I believe the constitution of Switzerland makes no mention of nations or nationalities at all. Finally, there is Belgium. The Belgian constitution does indeed name three "Communautés": French, Flemish, and German.

Only one of the countries listed by Dubuc, Belgium, names nations in its constitution at all, and that was done over 150 years ago. Would it be realistic or practical to draw up a list of every nation in Canada today? Who will decide what is or is not a nation? To be satisfactory and to truly reflect the modern character of Canada, that list would likely include dozens of nations. The list might even approach 100.

This might be what some Quebeckers have in mind, but I doubt it would be satisfy most nationalists. Many of them insist that there are only deux nations and might be insulted if French Canadians or Franco-Quebeckers are seen as only one of several nations. However, I believe the idea of two nations is obsolete and no longer relevant in today's Canada. As Governor General Michaëlle Jean so eloquently said:

"The time of the “two solitudes” that for too long described the character of this country is past. The narrow notion of “every person for himself” does not belong in today’s world, which demands that we learn to see beyond our wounds, beyond our differences for the good of all. Quite the contrary: we must eliminate the spectre of all the solitudes and promote solidarity among all the citizens who make up the Canada of today."

In my opinion, and that of many others, there are now several nations in Canada, all entitled to equal recognition in a country which values equality and justice. That's why I believe it is wrong to re-open the constitution to meet the 'national demands' of a single group.

9/17/2006 4:20 p.m.  
Blogger Sinestra a dit...

Antonio, I believe you've gone a bit too far with this one. Of course, it might just be some inherent Anglo-Saxon character flaw on the part of this ENGLISH Lower Canadian.

What excuse do you have for the FRENCH Lower Canadians who think Iggy's way off with his consitutional ideas? Or are they just a pack of 'vendus'?

And why do you have no qualms about relating most matters to ethnicity?

9/17/2006 4:33 p.m.  
Blogger Gavin Neil a dit...


thanks for your commentary and perspective.

To be fair, however, there is only one nation in Switzerland - they have three languages, but not three nations. In Spain they have only just recently stoped bombing people over the basque identity crisis. UK has already been discussed, but also recall that the Empire included many nations so the issue isn't problematic. Can you find an example other than Belgium to ease my anglo heart?

Also, to say opening the quesiton isn't timely is not the same as saying it's impossible. It's divisive, and we don't need that right now.



9/17/2006 5:49 p.m.  
Blogger Antonio a dit...


The anglo saxon comment was clearly tongue and cheek (bad but still sarcastic)... although it is still inappropriate.

I re-printed the ENTIRE article because that is the fair thing to do. My over-arching point is that the French media is continually disagreeing with the English media.

And while I do not thing denial is exclusively anglo-saxon, there is a lot of denial in English Canada over exactly what the Quebec nation is.

9/17/2006 9:31 p.m.  
Blogger Winnipeg Liberal a dit...

Some of the comments here illustrate Dubuc's point rather well, namely that English-speaking Canada seem incapable of understanding how Quebecers - francophone, anglophone or allophone - feel about the nationhood question.

This tends to support Ignatieff's argument that there is greater risk in avoiding the issue than attempting to address it.

Also, Antonio didn't use an ethnic slur - Dubuc did. And it was a pretty mild one at that, but you would think Dubuc is a dangerous racist from the self-righteous outrage in the comments.

9/18/2006 12:41 a.m.  
Blogger Miles Lunn a dit...

I think one needs to define what a "nation" is since I think it means different things to different people. If we do it along cultural lines, that pretty much every ethnic group in Canada could be called a nation no matter how small they are. Also while Alberta may speak the same languages as English Canada, they are politically far more conservative than any other province so one could argue they are culturally distinct in that sense. I imagine if Quebec and Alberta both separated from Canada, Quebec wouldn't look much different than it does today, but Alberta would look a lot like the US does.

As for the UK, Spain, Belgium, and Switzerland, the areas defined as nations were once sovereign nations many years ago. In addition power is for more centralized in UK and Spain while only the so called areas referred to as "nations" are granted some autonomy. In Europe the boundaries have been constantly changing throughout history so the word nation is used to represent cultural groups as opposed to political entities, whereas on this side of the Atlantic the boundaries have more or less stayed the same.

9/19/2006 5:51 p.m.  

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