Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Who's Your Daddy-land?

Oh God. It's starting again...

In response to the nation rigmarole that Ignatieff resurrected, Andrew Coyne is now asking our federal leaders to say, loud and clear: Canada is a nation. Big mistake in my view. Nationalism begets nationalism.

I remember very well the question posed to us circa 1995: Are you a Canadian first or Québécois first? I generally dodged the question, saying I was a Montrealer first. So did a number of my friends. I think that's partly why we tend to have such a strong attachment to that city...

I feel that divisive question coming back slightly altered. What's your nation: Quebec or Canada?

Coyne totally loses me here in this part of his column:
[W]hereas the idea of the Canadian nation, being civic and inclusive, can withstand competing ideas of nationhood -- you can identify, if you choose, with the Quebec nation, or the French-Canadian nation, as well as the Canadian nation -- the idea of nation that underlies Quebec nationalism, being language-based and exclusive, is necessarily a rejection of Canadian nationhood, at least as it applies to (francophone) Quebecers.
That doesn't make any sense, though. The idea of a Canadian nation can coexist with the idea of Quebec nation then, but the idea of a Quebec nation can't coexist with the idea of a Canadian nation? You can identify with the Quebec nation as well as the Canadian nation, but you can't be a Quebec nationalist and recognize the Canadian nation?

Say what you will about Quebec nationalists, but they switched to the idea of a civic nation themselves a while ago. (Most of them, anyway.) Most of them would argue that their nation is civic and inclusive, too.

But I question the idea that any idea of nation can be "inclusive," Canadian or Quebec. The very idea of nationhood is exclusive... When you say "we, the people," who are "they"?

The moment you start talking about the Canadian civic nation, you've implicitly recognized that Quebec can be a civic nation, too -- in fact, that it probably is. I mean, why one but not the other?

Anyway, if this is only going to escalate, then let me say loud and clear: my civic nation is Montreal. And that's why I'm quite happy to call myself a Montrealer even though I haven't lived there for, oh, a good three-and-a-half years now...


See why I hate this debate? Re-reading this, it all sounds ridiculous.

Please, keep in mind that we're using the sociological definition of nation here, not the definition of nation as a country. Canada is a country, of course.

Using some semblance of a sociological definition, I should note, I don't think that it is completely unreasonable to call Quebec a nation, or French Canadians a nation, or Irish-Canadians a nation, or Newfoundland a nation, or, heck, even Canada a nation. It's just: what's the point? Sociologists can argue this out in their academic conferences, but in the real world it just leads to divisions.

Can we switch back to the debate over how many angels can dance on the head of the pin debate, instead?


Emmett Macfarlane said...

To be fair, part of Andrew Coyne's point is that Quebec can't be considered a civic nation precisely because nationhood is understood in Quebec as being based on linguistic and cultural terms. If by definition the "nation of Quebec" doesn't include all Quebecers, then what are we talking about? (Not sure where I stand on much of this anymore, and I've supposedly been studying it for years).

Closet Liberal said...

If it is so irrelevant to use the term nation, then why are we engaged in this formal recognition of "Quebec as a Nation" then? If it is assumed, then enough already. Quebec should sign the charter and move on, right?

Tybalt said...

To be fair, part of Andrew Coyne's point is that Quebec can't be considered a civic nation precisely because nationhood is understood in Quebec as being based on linguistic and cultural terms.

But it isn't. At least not by the harder Quebec nationalists, who (as JKelly points out) have long since abandoned that position in favor of the perfectly sensible (though maybe wrong) position that Quebec is a civic nation. Many if not all civic nations have strong linguistic and/or cultural elements to them, as Quebec does, which does not prevent them from being defined primarily in civic terms.

That debate died (with a few exceptions) in Levesque's time, for God's sake. There are still a few holdouts and a suspicion of something more sinister going on underneath (Parizeau's famous imprecation against the "ethnic vote" being an example) but by and large the public face of Quebec nationalism, the one that should be faced in order to deal with the question honestly, is one that maintains that Quebec nationalism is a civic nationalism.

The irony of this is that it is often the soft nationalists who still see the Quebec nation in linguistic/cultural terms - which it can do because a soft nationalist isn't primarily interested (or interested at all) in a unilateral declaration of independence, for which a civic nationalism is intended to be the justification. It's much harder to justify a UDI through a strictly linguistic or cultural nationalism. Coyne's position would only serve to sideline allies of Canada from the debate... enemies of Canada would not be so marginalized.

As to whether I myself think Quebec is a nation in civic terms, I always come around to the answer that Quebec is a nation if Quebecers think they are. I lived many years in Quebec (but am not a Quebecer... I'm a Nova Scotian) and always had the sense that Quebecers generally did believe that they are a civic nation, not only because they are predominantly French, historically Catholic, and share a common history but also because they have long been self-governing, have important separate traditions (civil law, for example), have different politics (Bleu c. Rouge isn't Tory vs. Grit), and so on and so forth. There are only about a million differences between life in Quebec and life in other parts of Canada, and Quebecers generally ambrace these differences as somehow defining of themselves. And I think Quebecers as a polity (such as you can extrapolate) think of themselves as a civic nation as a result.

Of course, that'e enough for me; any attempt to shoehorn such a thing into the Constitution seems entirely unnecessary. It also seems like to open up a huge can of worms... Newfoundland, as is often pointed out, has a case as strong as Quebec to the same appellation.

But at any rate, asking someone to choose between Quebec and Canada (as if you can be a member of only a single civic nation) is like asking me to choose whether I'm primarily a husband or a father. The premise of the question doesn't make sense, not just because identity doesn't normally "work" like that but because the terms aren't mutually exclusive, but mutually reinforcing. To my mind (probably hopelessly warped by French Immersion, Pierre Trudeau, too much Canadian history and five glorious Canadiens Stanley Cup wins in my childhood) he more a Quebecer you are, the more Canadian you are, and it's hard to be the one without being the other.

Emmett Macfarlane said...

tybalt, while I agree with much of what you say, especially towards the end of your post, the distinction between civil and ethnic nationalism is almost entirely an academic one. It is also largely false.

If we accept the broad, sociological and political definition of nation, apart from the statist connotations as JKelly points out, as constituting "an imagined community" then the differences that make Quebec legitimately unique, or distinct, or that we may refer to it as a nation, are predicated entirely on French culture.

Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with formal recognition, and in fact I agree with much of what you write about your own perceptions. But the differences in terms of political tradition you point to Quebec having are entirely based on protecting the French minority in Canada and North America more broadly.

You can't call Quebec nationalism civic just because strong nationalists articulate their stance in those terms. To ignore that Quebec nationalism at its core is predicated on culture and language is silly. In fact, a pure "civic nationalism" would be more accurately described as patriotism.

Emmett Macfarlane said...

... and no one, especially me, is saying that Quebeccers are just being "patriotic".

Krupo said...

On a slightly unrelated note, that's why I hate sociology. ;)

wkh said...

I love you Kelly. :-) I said almost the same thing word for word down to being a Montrealer. Quebecer to me implies either angryphones or people from Lac. St. Jean. Of which I am neither and can't relate.

I wish Montreal would separate :-P


Adam D said...

I have found people from Lac St. Jean to be pretty nice.

Lloyd MacIlquham said...

Please see: for a posting of my proposed resolution of the Quebec as a nation motion. Thanks

Lloyd MacIlquham