Canadian Nations

December 21, 2007 at 2:56 pm 4 comments

Quebec is, of course, a huge issue in the politics and being of Canada.

I’ve been reading Roy MacGregor’s book Canadians. It’s a good overview of what makes Canada, Canada, and all things and people Canadian throughout the history of this land. You can’t write a book without discussing the Quebec situation, and he does so at several points throughout the book.

On page 305 he writes: “(Michael) Ignatieff was widely ridiculed for calling for Quebec to be recognized as a nation within a province within a country… It was a misstep, that, weeks later, surely contributed to his coming up short in the Liberal Party leadership race.”

Claiming nationhood for Quebec is always such a touchy subject in English Canada. But why? Let’s face it, Quebec is a distinct society, one of many, within Canada. In fact each province has evolved its own particular character and slight differences in culture, so much so that there is more difference between a person born and raised in Ontario and one raised in Nova Scotia than there is between that Ontario person and someone living in New York State. So, why not recognize provinces as nations unto themselves?

It does get tricky, though, with all the movement of people both internally within Canada, and from immigrants from other countries. Let’s look at the issue in Quebec. The failure of past rerferendums for Quebec sovereignty has been, by some, blamed on immigrants, and their fear of what life in a Nation of Quebec would be like for them. It’s hard to blame them when laws like Bill 101 are passed (language law) to keep Quebec distinct within its French culture and heritage. I wonder what Quebec Sovereigntists would think if they drove through some neighbourhoods in Toronto where all the signs are in some dialect of Chinese, or Russian or Indian, or some other language, with only minimal, or no, reference to English anywhere.

So, if Quebec is to receive identification as a Nation then other regions and people should be given the same distinction. First and foremost the First Peoples of Canada should receive it, and have more right to the identity as a nation or nations than Quebec ever will. Way to go Nanavut.

The feeling, at least from this English Canadian, is that Quebec Sovereigntists want to be superior rather than equal, whereas the goal is to recognize the difference between the different regions of Canada. Recognizing the equality of all individuals should be the prime goal of any sane society.


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The Evolution of Democracy. A New Nation?

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. angryfrenchguy  |  January 2, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    The thing is there would be no need for Quebec’s language laws if the the situation was only about Chinese and Urdu signs in some neighborhoods.

    The reality is before these laws, Eaton’s, Simpsons’s, McDonald’s had ENGLISH ONLY signs. Even though Montreal was an overwhelmingly French-speaking society.

    Nunavut (not Nanavut) recently adopted legislation inspired by Québec’s laws. Apparently the gringo’s rushing up to cash in on the new territory’s growing prosperity did not feel they needed to respect the original inhabitants language and culture there either.

    By the way: different does not mean superior. Equality does not mean uniformity either.


  • 2. bailiwicked  |  January 4, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    I don’t think there should be a ‘need’ for language laws at all, whether it’s about Chinese or Urdu signage in some neighbourhoods, or French signs in Quebec. Why should English Canada be OK with foreign signs in English Canada, whereas French Canada needs language laws to enforce what language signs are posted?

    Anyway, that ultimately gets away from my point. If there were English only signs in corporate stores in Quebec, why wouldn’t economic forces dictate what happened to these businesses? If French speaking people didn’t appreciate that there were only signs in English in a particular store, then I wouldn’t blame them for not shopping there. If stores with only English signs were doing well or even thriving, then, obviously, there was a market for what they were selling and people were OK with shopping there.

    Language promotion should be based on education, and not laws. Language is culture, and culture is taught and passed from one generation to the next. Enforcing culture on people is rarely good for society and the people that live within it. French-Canadian society should (and I assume does?) promote French culture and language through public schools. If people want to send their children to other language/culture oriented schools, then they can send them to private schools.

    You are right, different does not mean superior as equality does not mean uniformity. I agree %100. If that’s what I came across as meaning, then I’ll have to rethink how I present things. Either that or you need to rethink on how you make assumptions.

  • 3. angryfrenchguy  |  January 4, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    So tell me, then. Why does Canada need an official languages act? Where were all the billingual signs in Ontario before the Legislative Assembly made them mandatory on provincial property? How about in New-Brunswick where over 30% of the population speaks French? And What about on Native lands?

    Canada, you’ve changed your talk, not your walk. If the culture of discrimination against non anglos was gone, why do we still need all these language laws, in and outside Québec?

  • 4. bailiwicked  |  January 4, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    First, Angryfrenchguy, let me thank you for your discussion, you bring up some interesting points, and this is a big reason why I started this blog in the first place. So, welcome and I hope you continue to post and prod.

    You asked, “Why does Canada need an official languages act?” My answer: I have no idea. I have to plead ignorance. I’ve lived most of my adult life outside of Canada, and so a big reason why I started Canadian Fermentation in the first place was to push myself to learn more of the ‘ins and outs’ of this country. I’m hoping that people such as yourself come on and leave comments or join discussions so that I can, selfishly, improve my knowledge of this political entity.

    I believe, ideologically, that Canada is a good experiment with much to offer the world. What I want to do now is to empirically prove or disprove that.

    That being said, why does Canada need an official languages act? I’ll have to study what it’s all about before I can give an educated answer, but my feeling right now is that, no, Canada doesn’t need a languages act, and I think what I’ve said previously backs up my sentiment.

    Historically it probably seemed like a good idea, and I’m sure it was a good idea for Anglo-Canadians, in terms of the historical context within which it was provided (to clarify I mean it was probably something good for Anglo-Canadians at the time, don’t take this as a judgement, it’s just a statement). Today I would argue that language laws should be abolished. This, remember, is being said while I really don’t know what the contents of the law is. I reserve the right to change my mind on further research and meditation on the subject.

    As for New Brunswick, my Grandfather is from there, and although he mainly speaks English, he does retain some of his French as well (he’s lived in Toronto for around 60 years or so). When I was a child I visited New Brunswick many times, a very rural part, and was always impressed by the different culture, and vast natural beauty of the place. The people in that region were and are Roman Catholic. Most of them are bilingual. I say good on them.

    Native people/nations should always maintain control of their own cultures. They should teach their children their languages and ways. Why shouldn’t they? Do we have to have laws to make sure this happens?

    It would be naive to argue that discrimination is gone, and so I won’t and have not. My premise is one of respect for all cultures — and that is, of course, a two way street. I think French culture in Quebec is strong enough to withstand ‘incursions’ without having to resort to legal force. Again, forcing people into particular cultural norms is not the sign of a healthy society. People will either be naturally attracted to cultures within which they are immersed, or they will shun it, and sequester themselves away. Laws won’t change this.

    As I’ve stated elsewhere in this blog, I believe that it’s time to re-examine the importance of nationalism. My working hypothesis right now is that we should give more power, politically and culturally, to smaller regions. I think the time of strong federal governments are past and we need to move towards greater local control. I’m all for Quebec having more autonomy over all things Quebec, as I’m all for Ontario having more autonomy over all things Ontario. I’m not advocating the dissolution of Canada, I just want more regional power. So, laws like Canada’s language act, should also be a thing of the past, and allow the different regions to decide for themselves what course they wish to take.


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