Friday, November 24, 2006

Good move, Harper!

If you pay any attention to the winds that blow from up north, you know that there has been a debate among the politicos for a few weeks now: is Quebec (the province) a nation? This debate was sparked by the Liberal Party's Quebec branch, which, in advance of the upcoming leadership convention, passed a resolution declaring that the LPC should recognize Quebec as a nation, and sending it on to the convention. This has, thereby, stirred up a great deal of controversy in Liberal (and non-Liberal) ranks, with Michael Ignatieff generally blamed for having brought the issue up and played with the constitution for his own political ends, and other candidates paying lip service to "Quebec-as-nation" but saying further steps are not currently necessary.

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe finally seized on this entire issue to introduce, in the House of Commons, a resolution that "Quebeckers form a nation." And then Prime Minister Stephen Harper (a Conservative, for those not familiar), who wisely had avoided commenting on the entire situation and had been allowing the Liberals to self-destruct arguing about it, was forced into action. He pulled a very astute move: he introduced a resolution declaring that "the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada." In English-speaking Canada, "Quebeckers" generally refers to everyone from Quebec, and "Québécois" to French-speaking Quebeckers. (In French, of course, the entire thing is much more complicated, and much of this matter is the semantics: exactly what you define a "nation" to be and who or what is being referred to in the statement).

Essentially, Harper proposes to recognize French-speaking Quebeckers as a (sociological) nation. This is not a particularly controversial statement, not nearly as controversial as according the status to a legal entity, the province, which might indicate more rights. It is generally accepted, at least as far as I am aware, that the Québécois are a nation. Harper used words carefully and, as far as I can tell, he definitely wants this resolution to be interpreted as applying to francophone residents of Quebec only. [I tried to discern everything I could from the various blog entries, news articles, and the Hansard record of debate]. He has outflanked nationalists while reaffirming the unity of Canada, and all he is really conceding is that the francophones in Quebec are their own nation, which everybody knows anyway.

Now, I know there are a lot of details about this that I might not understand, not being Canadian or a lifelong student of Canadian politics, so I could be entirely wrong on my interpretation. Indeed, there are plenty of Canadians who are mad about it, there have been newspaper editorials against Harper for this. But much of the reason has been a lack of clarity about the two points I note above: who or what is being defined as a nation? and what is a nation?

Again, my take in the end--Harper did what he had to do, and well. The only people who really should be angry (besides the separatists, who got outdone) are the francophones everywhere else, who really are kind of cheated by this.

I'm posting only one link, to a blog post, but rest assured everyone is writing about it, so just search for "people from Canada" and you'll probably get about 30 million human comments and 9 million from polar bears (who, by the way, are the next in line to get nation status).*

*I love Canada. All in good humor.

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