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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to sort through all this stuff myself. Where do you think Anglophone Quebecers fit into all this?

November 28, 2006 8:04 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

While I don't hold myself out as an expert, I'd say more and more anglophone Quebecers are part of the Quebecois nation. Certainly a few generations ago, that wouldn't have been the case. Anglophones held themselves separate, generally not even learning French. Today, I think the situation is different, and the Anglophone community is increasingly becoming an integral part of the Quebecois nation.

I'd note that this appears to be an ongoing process. No one now disputes that an extremely large chunk of the Irish became Quebecois.
The Greek and Italian immigrant communities integrated earlier than the Anglophones, in part no doubt due to their common Catholicism and blue-collar identities. These communities integrating into the sociological Quebecois nation do not merely become submerged, but have also served to broaden it.

November 28, 2006 10:33 PM  
Blogger matthew christopher davidson said...

It makes way more sense to define 'nation' in terms of local and tribal ties than in terms of a ruling superstructure.

That is why I am becoming Orthodox and not Catholic.


By the way, I'm entering the catechumenate on the Sunday following Theophany; that is, January 7th.

I hope to see both you and David over the holidays.

December 17, 2006 3:28 PM  

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