Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Nations & Nations

Much has been scribbled on the subject of whether or not the Quebecois (or Quebecers or Quebec) constitutes a nation. Much of it has been nonsense or worse.

Michael Bliss in the National Post claimed that there were only two definitions of "nation": the political and the ethnic. Sorry, but he's so very wrong. Everyone else has been talking about the sociological definition of nation. Admitted, ethnic ties can contribute to sociological nationhood, but ethnicity is not a prerequisite to national membership. So, is Quebec a nation in the sociological sense? The Quebecois share a culture, a language, and many also share a history and religious identity (if no longer practice). Many also share ethnic ties. Quebec is more distinct as a sociological nation than, say, the United States is.

Is Canada also a nation? Indeed, and not merely in the political sense. Canadians share a history and a culture. We have settled the eastern coasts, the shores of the St. Laurence, the fields of Southern Ontario and the vast plains of the West. We have sought the paths of this land, reaching down rivers and valleys to the sea. We have harnessed the bequests of this country, with generations of Canadians in every part of the country journeying to remote sites to farm, to mine, to fish or log- and there raise families and conquer the elements. We have wrested an unequalled glory from the rocks and trees, rivers and plains that make up Canada.

We have no need to jealously deny the national identities of some of the peoples who make up Canada- the Quebecois and the First Nations principally. Reducing or denying the stature of these nations within Canada does not increase the national stature of Canada as a whole. Indeed, it often diminishes Canada, forcing people to choose between their identity as Quebecois or Cree and Canadian. This has been the strategy of the sovereigntist movement in Quebec- demanding the recognition of their national identity with the expectation that it will not be forthcoming. When we are asked to choose between such identities, many will opt for that which defines their commonality with their family and neighbours, the particular and local rather than the broad and general. Local patriotism is at the root of any true nationalism; you cannot love your nation without first loving your neighbours and your town- the land on which you were raised and the people that one knows. It is through such lesser loves that we form our love for our common purpose and identity as Canadians.

So what of the recent proposals? I can't find the text, but the Globe and Mail described the resolution championed by Michael Ignatieff in these terms:
The Quebec wing of the party last month adopted a resolution recognizing Quebec as a nation within Canada and calling for the creation of a task force to advise the next leader on how best to "officialize" that status.
Clearly, the choice of the term Quebec rather than Quebecers or Quebecois is inapt, as it hints at a more political definition of nation. Moreover, it would seem to include all residents of Quebec, regardless of shared culture or attachment. Think of the McGill student who may live there but will certainly identify as an Ontarian or an Albertan.

The resolution proposed and passed by the Conservatives was far better. By using the term Quebecois, Harper clarified that it was the people who formed the nation, rather than the political unit. By including "within a unified Canada" he frustrated any attempts sovereigntists may make to ask the Quebecois to choose between their national identities. As for the silly cavilling over the use of the term "Quebecois" rather than "Quebecer"- Quebecois implies a greater degree of cultural connection, whereas Quebecer weighs more towards mere residency. As such, Quebecois is entirely correct and preferable.

Confederation marked the willingness of two distinct nations to forge a common bond and destiny. The past 139 years have witnessed the grand success of that mission- and we have brought into our national understanding both First Nations and succeeding waves of immigrants. Perhaps regrettably, the English national identity present at confederation has lost its coherence; nevertheless, the Quebecois have retained their national identity. We should not be so foolish as to deny or to ignore this essential fact.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Income Splitting

And now for something my diminutive readership will find absolutely fascinating: tax policy!

Word is out that the Tories are considering instituting income splitting. This is wonderful news- income splitting eliminates counter-incentives to division of labour efficiencies within households.* (Be enthused, people!) But at the same time, income splitting gives a financial incentive to marriages of convenience. How to solve the problem? Any definition based on marriage likely won't pass constitutional muster. So here's the solution: make the income-splitting dependent on whether the couple have children. Most household labour division relates to raising children, so it is a restricting the tax benefit to parents is fair while also inoculating the initiative against most of the adverse incentives in the system. The simplest way to do this is to confine the income-splitting privilege to couples with natural children. This would provide a disincentive against divorce and remarriage (astute observers will observe that income-splitting in general provides an incentive against divorce generally). Income splitting should also be available for 1) foster parents and 2) adoptive parents**.

This policy immediately is pro-family stability (if not pro-marriage); pro-adoption; anti-bobo***; pro-natalist; and pro-efficiency. What more can one ask for in a policy? (Yeah, World Peace, but let's not get greedy.)

*Yes, that's code for stay-at-home parents. Up with the Patriarchy!
**I'd originally said adoptive parents of two children- in order to avoid the possibility of people adopting principally for the tax benefit. After further reflection, I don't think this is a significant risk.
***Those famous bourgeois bohemians, many of whom are DINKs (Dual-Income, No Kids) who won't get anything. Bobos also tend to have children later (more time without income splitting) and break up more often (losing the benefit).

More discussion at the Blogging Party of Canada.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Rocco at Whispers in the Loggia has an important post on the shakeup looming in Ontario's episcopal seats due to retirements and illness. I've met Bishop Pendergast briefly, who impressed both in capability and holiness.