Saturday, November 25, 2006

The "Nation" Debate

The blogosphere is buzzing over the debate as to whether or not, as suggested by Stephen Harper, "Quebec is a nation".

First of all, that's not what he said, that wasn't the motion he put forward, and the careful wording of the motion as presented was completely intentional.

Secondly, and sadly predictably, the partisan daggers have already come out, in Blogger-land and in real life. Many "progressive" blogs dismiss the notion as another idiotic Conservative idea, and either gloss over, ignore, or explain away the fact that the Liberal party, and most of its leadership contenders, have come out in full support of the motion. Jack Layton, normally a font of good suggestions on how to BUILD bridges, takes advantage of his time in the House of Commons to side-step the issue completely, and implores the rest of the country to make Quebecers feel more valued and at home in the rest of Canada by voting for the NDP. Thanks for that, Jack. Way to be a leader among men and put partisanship aside for the sake of nation-building.

Let's get back to the real issue. The motion, as put forward, reads PRECISELY thus:

“That this House recognize that the Quebecois form a nation within a united Canada.”


Not to start speaking “Clintonese” or anything, but we’ve got two very important words that need defining before we can continue this debate. Those 2 words are the foundation of the whole argument, and based on the Bloc’s sudden about-face and stated intention to support the motion, I’ve got to believe that their lawyers have researched the definitions and found a court, somewhere, that has or will define the words the way they’re hoping for.

Those words?

Quebecois and nation.

Let’s start with nation most of us agree that common sense dictates that the word nation is meant in this context in the sociological term, and is not meant to imply independent statehood. Clearly, most clear-headed Canadians know that the Conservatives and Liberals are taking “nation” to mean the same thing that it means when referring to the “First Nations” of Canada, or the “Nation of Islam” in the U.S. BUT… the Bloc clearly intends to pursue a binding statement, likely from an international court, defining “nation” as an independent, self-determining political entity. Which definition stands could have dramatic impact on the legal importance of the statement.

Second term needing definition: Quebecois. Who ARE the Quebecois? Anyone living in Quebec? All Francophone Canadians? Or the cultural and linguistic descendants of the original New France settlers?

Clearly, Quebec itself, or all people living within it, can’t be a nation, in either sense of the word. It’s NOT a nation – it’s a group of people with vastly varying beliefs and values, many of whom speak French and many of whom do not, living within a common area that was determined by the arbitrary drawing of lines on a map. Much of the area WITHIN those lines, it has also been suggested, belongs to the First Nations as result of Treaty obligations by the Canadian Crown. So the land area is not a nation in the sense of statehood (it belongs to someone else), and the people within the area are so fundamentally varied so as to eliminate the validity of the argument that “all peoples within these boundaries are the same, and therefore constitute a sociological nation”.

All Francophone Canadians as a nation… well, again clearly they can’t be a legally distinct state independent from the Dominion of Canada – they have no land or territory to call their own. There are millions of francophones in this country, many living outside of the Province of Quebec’s borders. Since, as we established in the paragraph above, the provincial administrative area now called “Quebec” is not an option, owing both to its current legal status as land within the Dominion of Canada and Native land claims, then a legally separate and distinct state for francophones would need to be located somewhere else entirely, or would need to have borders around each francophone home currently in Canadian territory, which would be a negotiator’s worst nightmare and, I would suggest, completely out-of-the-question for the Canadian Government to even consider accepting. To pursue a homeland for Canada’s francophones, outside of Quebec’s borders, would be our own, polite-in-a-uniquely-Canadian-way, nightmarish West Bank odyssey. "All Francophone Canadians" as a legally seperate and distinct nation-state, then is out of the question. All Francophone Canadians as a sociological nation, then? Well, they certainly have a common language, and (in most cases) common heritage, although increasingly the francophone population of Canada is being bolstered by immigrants from former French colonies. So, if the term “Quebecois” in fact means “francophone Canadians”, one could make an argument that in fact the term “sociological nation” might apply.

Cultural and Linguistic descendants of the original New France settlers… this would HAVE to be sociological, since the only way to found a legally separate nation made up of this population would either entail finding, though genealogy, each descendant of those original settlers, or opening the option for citizenship up to all French-speakers who claim to have the “National values”. Again, the closest parallel I can come up with is Israel, which offers citizenship to anyone who is a Jew – despite the fact that to be Jewish isn’t an issue of race, but rather of the hard-to-scientifically-prove area of belief. Even IF those hurdles were overcome, the fact remains that this legally independent nation-state would have no actual territory. The territory currently within the borders of the Province of Quebec, as well as all other territory within Canada’s borders, belongs to the Dominion of Canada, or is in dispute with the First Nations of Canada. None of that land has been found, in a court of law, to be legitimately claimed by ANY francophone "nation", of either of our definitions, as the lands of New France, and any future claims to that land by its people, were ceded, legally and bindingly, to the British crown many generations ago.

So, clearly my argument is on the side of the Federalist camp, when I declare that in fact there is legal precedent to declare that, in more complete terms,
“That this House recognize that the peoples of Canada whom share a commonality of francophone descent, culture and language form a sociologically distinct group within a united Canada.”

Although, to frame the statement that way would not exactly give the Federalist cause the political boost it’s hoping for among those living in Quebec. It's like proposing to your girlfriend by explaining the response your autonomous system has when it detects her pheromones.

The Separatist element, on the other hand, is hoping that the statement is legally interpreted, likely by an international court, thusly:

“That this House recognize that the lands and people currently within the legislated boundaries of the Province of Quebec form a separate, self-determining political entity and independent state located within the current territorial borders of a united Canada that, by this definition, does not include Quebec.”

Is it a stretch to think that a court, ANYWHERE, would define the statement as above? Of course it is. But stranger things have happened in court… 10 years ago, O.J. Simpson was found “not guilty”

- ES

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