Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Is you is, or is you not "Quebecois"???

OK, so the Parliament of Canada overwhelmingly passed a resolution last night declaring "That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada." ("Que cette Chambre reconnaisse que les Québécoises et les Québécois forment une nation au sein d'un Canada uni".)

So, here are what should be 2 simple questions.

My best friend was born and raised in Quebec, has never lived anywhere else, is a bilingual, anglophone Montrealer with French Canadian ancestry on one side of his family, and English Canadian ancestry on the other.

Question 1. Is he a part of the "Quebecois nation" as (not) defined by Parliament?

Question 2. What if I had asked Question 1 in French, based upon the French resolution?

Don't spend too much time thinking about this one. I have a feeling there are dozens of answers to each question.

And "meaningless" resolution or not, isn't that a problem???

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7 comments:

Devon Rowcliffe said...

Why should it be a problem? Nationality is fluid and inclusive, political statehood is not.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Devon,

So are we saying that nationality has no meaning? That it is LITERALLY meaningless?

If nationality is fluid and inclusive, then isn't everyone a member of every nation? Doesn't that make the term useless?

It seems to me, one can't espouse that a certain group of people form a nation, without knowing who fits into that group of people. Not if one wants "nation" to have any meaning beyond "a random grouping of people, based on nothing, which is constantly changing".

I think the motions, taken together, and given that "Quebecois" means something different in English than it does in French amount to the following:

"A group of people we can't define, form a sociological unit we can't define within a united Canada".

They might as well have voted on a motion recognizing that pink unicorns are friendlier than blue unicorns.

Of course, to keep the metaphor alive, the problem is there are a whole lot of purple unicorns around wondering just what this all means for them!

I wish someone had an answer.

Devon Rowcliffe said...

Nationality is a feeling of belonging, or a tribalism, rather than a tangible "thing" that a government bestows upon people. It is generally based upon a common language, culture, and/or religion.

For this reason, the Québécois are a nation if they believe themselves to be, and nobody else from outside their nation can take that identity away from them.

However, whether the Québécois is a nation or not should be irrelevant to our federal government, as Canada is not a nation-state; that is, it is a state, but it is not a state built upon a nation, or nations. There is no Canadian nation. And that's a good thing, for we have an inclusive (rather than exclusive) sense of statehood.

There is Canadian statehood/identity and there is a Québécois nation; however, the the two are not mutually exclusive, and the latter does not give existence or legitimacy to the former. Thus our political system need not officially recognize the Québécois nation, nor any other nation.

Both Gerard Kennedy of the Liberals and Michael Chong of the Conservatives understand this point fully well.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

nation n.

1)a community of people of mainly common descent, history, language, etc., forming a state or inhabiting a territory. 2) a tribe or confederation of tribes of North American Indians.

nationality

1a) the status of belonging to a particular nation.

1b) a nation

OED

We can pretend all we like that "nations" are just connections people feel, and that if you believe you are a member of a nation, you ARE a member of that nation and that this is all just some thought experiment we're collectively participating in.

The problem is, abstract sociological theories have CONSEQUENCES when expressed in a political context. Words have meanings, and the import of those words are different in an academic sociological theory, then they are in political reality.

We can act as though we have merely re-stated a sociological fact all we like. Doing it in a resolution in the Parliament of Canada has political consequences.

When Jacques Parizeau commented that the 1995 vote had been won by the "ethnic vote" wasn't he just stating a sociological fact? Of course he was. But in a political context, such an academic sociological truism was WHOLLY unacceptable.

All that being said, I don't necessarily have a problem with recognizing the Quebecois nation. It's worrisome, but not terrible, imho. My larger concern is that I'm not sure this resolution DOES recognize the Quebecois nation (or rather, I think either the English version does, or the French version does, or possibly neither do but not both... or at the very least, both resolutions don't recognize the SAME nation).

Words have meanings. ESPECIALLY in a highly charged political context. You don't scribble down a resolution defining a "nation" in the political context of a healthy separatist movement trying to break up the country and leave ambiguities. You certainly don't craft a resolution which reasonable people can argue recognizes one Quebecois nation in French, and another, wholly different nation in English.

It's evident to me that half the MPs who voted for this resolution had no idea what they were voting for, a quarter thought they were voting for X, and a quarter thought they were voting for Y.

Anyway, we'll see what kind of motions the Bloc brings forward in the future. I don't know what the motion will demand, but I'm pretty sure it willl begin "Given that the Parliament of Canada has overwhelmingly recognized the Quebecois nation..."

If any of the BQ MPs have access to a dictionary, we could be in trouble...

Anonymous said...

Lord Kitchener,

Your friend himself is the best person to ask whether he is part of the Québécois nation.

Harper tabled his motion because other similar motions had been proposed. Not because he felt that the word "nation" deserved discussion at this very moment. Notice that Harper did not table that Quebeckers be acknowledged as a "people" (this is probably what a BQ MP would have preferred, judging by ).

In my experience of Quebec, although the word nation does have a rather variable meaning, it also fits well in a number of contexts (there are my First Nations to begin with). If you hang on to this, you could construe the Québécois nation as some sort of East-coast Métis undertaking).

Like Devon Rowcliffe, I am not sure I understand your aversion to the term, since you repeatedly pointed out that you do not really understand what it means. Should it not be the least of your worries?

My own objection to the word "nation" rather has to do with translation concerns. The word "nation" is a bad word because it instills confusion in documents translated back and forth in the Canadian context, i.e.:

From French into English, "la capitale nationale" = the capital of the Province of Quebec.

From English into French, "a nation-wide initiative" would have to be translated "federal" or "country-wide" to correctly convey that this initiative has bearing on the entire coutry (Canada).

See what I mean? In Canadian material, I feel "the nation" and "la nation" are false cognates.

Guillaume Perreault

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note to point out that "Parliament" didn't adopt anything. The House of Commons did.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I'm not too concerned about NATION.

What I want to know is, what does QUEBECOIS mean in English? The dictionary says it means FRENCH CANADIANS from Quebec. Is THAT what we just recognized as a nation?