Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Quebeckers and the Quebecois

Just who are Quebeckers? Quebecois? Apparently the question contributed to the 15 Liberal dissenting votes on the recent Canadian Parliamentary vote on the nationhood of Quebec. It also goes to just who the people of Quebec are and who among them, if anyone, constitutes a nation.

The debate centres on whether or not residents of Quebec who are not francophone, born-in, culturally ‘pure’ Quebecois are included in the putative nation of Quebec. The question, really, is about ethnicity versus geography—it’s a variation on the distinction between ethnic/national identity and civic/political identity. That is, who you are on the paperwork versus who you are culturally.

The trouble in the federal Liberal Party seems to have been over the idea that the recent parliamentary motion on the subject might implicitly recognize only ‘pure laine’ Quebecois as a nation. Apparently this is supposed to be a bad thing.

I think it’s a pretty good idea. For one thing, it’s more accurate to call ‘ethnic’ Quebeckers a nation—immigrant and Anglophone Quebeckers are less historically attached to the cultural history of francophone culture. Further, this would mean recognising a nation without fixed ties to territory—one could be nationally Quebecois and live outside Quebec, or not be Quebecois and be a Quebec resident. Finally, as a pragmatic advantage for federalist politics, it would mean a smaller opposed group with a weaker territorial claim in any future independence negotiations.

Separatists probably know this, and have largely abandoned ethnic language. That said, ethnic nationalism remains at the heart of the separatist movement, and the federal government should be honest about that. Recognising that a relatively small portion of Quebec residents constitute a nation in the ethnic sense, without constituting the population of any future state, is probably a much better idea than identifying the nation with the province of Quebec, setting up the newly recognized nation as a political entity with territory attached.

In short, this would recognize a nation of Quebec within Canada, while also recognising it for what it is—an ethnically driven cultural movement at odds with the multicultural values of contemporary Canada. It is right to allow officially that a cultural distinction is at work in Quebec, but we should all be honest with ourselves about just what it is and what form it takes.

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