The Quebec Nation

I know I promised to stay off unrelated topics but after hearing a plethora of callers to Rex Murphy’s Cross Country Check Up talk about their ‘disgust’ and one saying this was the ‘end of Canada’, I still feel compelled, somewhat, to throw, for what it’s worth, my position on the thing into the public domain.

As I understand it based on some readings and talks with staunch Federalists in Quebec, there is a desire among a good portion of Quebeckers to ensure that the province’s distinctive language, culture and heritage do not get steamrolled over in a Canadian context that is vastly English-language based. As of the last Census, 97% of Canadians (or a similar #) claim to speak English including something like 80% of Francophones in Quebec.

They look at Louisiana and want to ensure that Quebec over generations does not become that. They also look at Quebec in the 1950s and reflect that in many ways the province was moving in that direction.

So, since the 1960s dozens of things have been done in Quebec by the provincial and/or Federal levels of government that would be completely untolerated elsewhere. In addition, things have been done across Canada that would have never been tolerated in the USA, as one example. Consider the sign law, consider the QPP, consider the forcing of federal government employees in Alberta to speak French. Consider the billions of dollars in language translation costs each year across the country. A friend of mine in the Canadian Navy tells me that the Belgians don’t even translate technical manuals from English into French – and we do at $1,000/page (at least that’s the cost he grumbles about).

So, in practice, if not in theory, all Canadians have been trying to accommodate the Quebec ‘nation’ and its goal of retaining its unique French language and culture for decades through their governments, actions and tax dollars.

So, to now give a forum for the confusion (as Rex does) that is is somehow about giving Quebec a status and not Nova Scotia or Quebec and not the Acadians or Quebec and not the Aboriginals – I think makes no sense whatsoever.

This is about naming something that we have been practicing for decades. It’s that simple.

Other provinces have their own issues. New Brunswick isn’t interested (as far as I know) in defensing some form of unique culture and language. Maybe someday it will but as for now it’s not.

However, New Brunswick risks dissolution as a province entirely in a generation (merged into some larger regional entity) if it doesn’t get its economic act together. I would like to see an all party resolution in the House of Commons that New Brunswick has the right to exist as a province and that Canada as its country should work on this goal. Nova Scotia, PEI, and NL should have the same issue.

We are trying to protect the unique cultural and linguistic attributes of a ‘nation’ called Quebec but doing buttkiss to protect the population and economic viability of a whole region called Atl. Canada. Here’s the thing. Without a population, you can’t have a unique culture and language to protect.

Aboriginal Canadians have a legitimate concern as to their own viability in subsequent generations and I think this should be addressed.

The Acadians (which, by the way, have the longevity of the Quebequois and better food and musical talents) have their own desire to thrive within the structure of Canada and that should be addressed.

So, let’s not cheapen this discussion to trite comments about “Quebec getting more than Alberta” or “Quebec getting more powers than Nova Scotia”.

On most measurements that matter, Alberta is considerably more powerful that Quebec. It’s people are richer. It’s economy is far stronger. It’s schools and healthcare is better funded.

Consider this. If Canada was setup based on the new Iraqi model of revenue distribution, New Brunswick would get essentially the same oil revenues as Alberta (adjusted for size). Oil, at least in that Constitution, is a national resource and profits are distributed as such.

Of course, if we set that system up in Canada, we would see our own variation of ‘sectarian’ violence, I would suggest.

In the end, and it’s where I’ll end, this ‘nation’ thing is from Harper, Iggy, Duceppe, Layton, etc. a purely political construct designed to help secure votes.

To some Quebeckers its about an affirmation that the rest of Canada supports Quebec’s efforts retain its distinctiveness within and as an important part of Canada.

But it seems commentators such as Rex Murphy want to debase this issue with this crap about equality, rights, powers, etc.

We can disagree about the “Quebec’s efforts retain its distinctiveness” and the costs born by the rest of us in that pursuit. Fine. That’s actually a worthwhile debate. Can two or more distinct ‘nation’s exist in a single country? How about Yugoslavia? How about Iraq? Etc. Etc. Etc.

Maybe the US melting pot is the right model. Maybe the dozens of initiatives going on right now in the states to ban Spanish the public square and declare English as the ‘official’ language of the US is the right model.

Now that’s an actual debate. One with scholars on both sides. One with heady discussions going on all over the world.

And it rarely comes down to petty chatter about ‘he’s getting more than me’. Woe is me.

Now, I’ll go back to a topic I have more expertise in. Promise.