23 November 2006

PM calls Quebec 'a nation'

Toronto Star article here
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I have rather mixed feelings about this. In a way it’s good, but in another way it’s rather insulting. Why are only Quebecers a ‘nation’ and not all French-Canadians? Does that mean that Anglo-Quebecers are a part of that nation as well? What about First Nations’ people who live in Quebec; do they belong to their aboriginal nation or their Quebec nation?

Declaring a nation of all the people who happen to live in the arbitrarily delineated geographical area of Quebec is problematic since it excludes the millions of Franco-Ontarians, Franco-Manitobans and Acadians who made this country part of what it is, and who struggled (much harder than Quebecers, I’d say) to maintain their cultural identity against the dominant Anglo culture.

Yet again I’m frustrated by how Quebecers have shanghaied this whole issue and made it about politics and self-aggrandisement and basically nothing at all to do with preserving French language and culture in North America. In a way this declaration is a double slap in the face to non-Quebec French Canadians; the perpetual we-don’t-care-about-you slap from the Québécois, and now the you-are-irrelevant slap from the federal government.

For a group which is the largest language minority in six out of nine provinces, we’re not getting much love!

7 comments:

Dave said...

Conservative Minister of of Intergovernmental Affairs & Sport Resigns over motion

I agree with him, the motion seems to recognize ethnicity and makes no mention of the diversity in Quebec, and the presence of French-Canadian culture outside of Quebec. It feels like a grab for more Quebec votes, since they only got 10 in the last fed-election.

Stupid Stephen Harpoon.

tokyo tintin said...

In the original text of Harper's speech, he refers to the 'Québécois nation' - which was inaccurately transliterated as 'Quebec nation' by some English-language media sources. I guess that clears up the confusion as to whether Anglo-Quebecers, Allophones or First Nations get to be a part of this new nation (essentially no). But it still leaves me with all my exclusionary frustration at being left out of the nation myself.

I find it aggravating that non-Quebec French-Canadians have been painted into a political corner because of this issue; basically NQFCs have to support the federal government in whatever it does because the federal government is responsible for the position of French in Canada. Yet the federal government treats identity politics as a Quebec-only issue. According to them, it would seem that NQFCs are distinct from Québécois, but not in any way deserving of recognition or special status.

The conspiracy theorist in me would suggest that the federal government might have a vested interest in promoting this (artificial) division. A united movement representing nearly a third of the population would be able to achieve more than the current fragmentation of separatists, federalists and NQFCs. With attention splintered between different groups with different priorities, the Anglo establishment is able to divide and conquer; thereby maintaining their hegemonic control over Canadian governance.

Look at me getting all worked into a tizzy — I don't think I've used the word 'hegemony' since university.

I just wish this had been a well-calvulated political motion that was inclusive to all French Canadians, as opposed to a transparent Im-Stephen-Harper-Vote-For-Me move which he seems to fond of.

As dave said, stupid Stephen Harpoon indeed.

tokyo tintin said...

Alright, now things are getting out of hand.

Ottawa, Charest at odds on Québécois meaning

Although I was initially confused about this issue myself, when I read the text of Stephen Harper's speech, the meaning of this declaration became clear when he used the word "Québécois" in an English text. If he had been speaking in French, "Québécois" could mean all the people living in Quebec. Similarly, if he had used the English word "Quebecer" it would include all inhabitants of the province. To use the term "Québécois" in English, however, is to use a word with latent meaning. Using it in this way, in my mind at least, clearly means French-speaking Quebecers to the exclusion of all other groups.

But now Jean Charest is trying to say that all people who live within the borders of Quebec are a part of this Québécois nation. This is bad for two reasons; firstly because it is not true. Quebec Inuit or Anglo-Quebecers have more in common with other Inuits or other Anglophones in Canada than they do with French-speaking Quebecers. Secondly, saying that all inhabitants of Quebec form a nation completely erases intent of this declaration in recognising Francophones as a distinct and unique socio-cultural group within Canada.

Since Jean Charest is the premier of Quebec, and not the premier of French-Canadians, it is politically expedient for him to try to make these claims. If Jean Charest really cared about protecting French in Canada, he would acknowledge the intended nature of this nationhood. Instead, he, like so many other Quebec politicians, is trying to use it as leverage for his own gains, saying that this could redefine the relationship between Canada and Quebec. Most commentators disagree with Mr Charest, the declaration has no political impact, but it freaks-out and angers other Canadians who have a perception that Quebec always get special perks.

Perhaps if instead of the Québécois, Stephen Harper had recognised French-Canadians as a nation, there would have been more clarity and less backlash (and of course the added bonus of finally acknowledging NQFCs). People in the rest of Canada have a lot of antipathy for Quebecers and their spiteful Bloc, trying to split up Canada, but generally there seems to be rather warmer feelings for the broader term French-Canadians. English Canadians might be more receptive to the idea of French-Canadians as a nation, especially since they are by very name 'Canadians' and not a cohesive political group of nasty splittists.

dave said...

This is a huge can of worms. Qubecois and French-Canadians aren't the only Canadians who face issues of assimilation and cultural preservation. If we're going to grant nationhood to one group based on language-geography-culture, should we grant nationhood to all such groups?

If French-Quebecois are a nation within Canada, is the same for are Anglo-Canadians outside of Quebec? Are we our own nation within Canada? Is Nunavut a nation within Canada? What about the 974,000 Aboriginal Canadians outisde Nunavut?

Bah, too much time at work. Harpoon really didn't think this one through.

tokyo tintin said...

There more I think about it, the more I'm frustrated by Jean Charest's actions. He clearly doesn't really care about the position of French culture in North America; he only cares about politics. Instead of saying "as a Québécois, I thank you, Mr Prime Minister, for finally acknowledging the historic uniqueness of French-Canadians," he instead just wants to use this to further his own career and make a name for himself.

Mr Charest; another dissappointment in a long line of self-serving Quebec politicians. You ignore the very people you proport to represent. I'm calling you out — it's a blogosphere smack-down: you are a French-Canadian traitor. I'm putting you "On Notice"; and know that the sword over your head is hanging by a very thin thread. Unless you start channeling your chesese-eating, surrender-monkey ancestors and do a complete 180 on this issue post haste, you will be joining the fowl company of Shintarō and Benedict. –And trust me, that's not a place you want to be!

Jennifer said...

TT, I don't get your logic here, Charest doesn't purport to represent anyone outside of Quebec does he? I don't know, maybe he did.

Also, I think 'Quebecker' has a k in it.

tokyo tintin said...

jenni—

I absolutely hate the spelling of Quebecer with a 'k'. It looks stupid and is unnecessary. The Globe and Mail insists on spelling it that way, but most other news sources i've seen, including the Montreal Gazette and the CBC both spell it the logical way, which is sans 'k'. —and i won't hear any 'orthography rules' nonsense. if English followed even one-tenth of the orthography rules it proports to have, the written language would look completely different.

As for Charest, I think I was being tad a bit dramatic (just a tad), but now it's out there and I can't take it back.

You're right in saying that Charest doesn't say he's representing all French-Canadians. I was majorly annoyed with him because instead of taking the Québécois nation declaration as a historic watershed for French-Canadians, he was thinking "hmn, how can I use this to further my political career?"

It would be as though the government in the 1920s made a dramatic 'women's equality' declaration and a woman politician used the declaration to win more votes. She's taking advantage of something that's really much bigger and more important than a politician's power grab.

Maybe my language was too strong, but my sentiment remains the same; boo to you, Mr Charest.