Friday, July 1, 2016

Competing Nationalisms


CHANGES IN QUEBEC DURING THE 1960s


The transformation of nationalist ideology in Quebec is a well known story. With a new conception of the nation as urban, industrial, and modern that became dominant in the 1960, old constitutional arrangements were no longer sufficient. The Quebec government needed additional powers if it were to meet its responsibilities as the only government in Canada controlled by a francophone majority. By the same token, now that francophones formed a modem society their status within Canada had to be redefined so as to be truly based on equality. Francophones had always believed that their relationship with the rest of the country must be based on equality, but English Canadians clearly did not; in fact few of them were even aware that francophones saw Canada as a compact.  

In short, the 1960s saw growing demands for a formal revision of the Canadian constitution so as both to entrench a dualist vision of Canada and, especially, to secure needed powers for the government of Quebec.  

During the 1960s, there were some serious attempts among political and intellectual leaders to grapple with these issues. In 1963 the Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson created a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism whose mandate included recommending what steps should be taken to develop the Canadian Confederation on the basis of an equal partnership between the two founding nations.  

As for the status of Quebec itself, during the early 1960s Prime Minister Pearson openly recognized Quebec's distinctiveness with such statements as: 

"While Quebec is a province in the national confederation, it is more than a province because it is the heartland of a people: in a very real sense it is a nation within a nation."  

Moreover, during this period the Pearson government allowed Quebec to exercise a de facto particular status by opting out of a large number of joint federal-provincial cost-shared programmes and even exclusively federal programmes.

Although there may not have been majority support among English-Canadian political and intellectual elites, the "two nations" thesis and a special status for Quebec were viewed as legitimate positions for discussion, and did have advocates in English Canada.


CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW CANADIAN COUNTER-IDENTITY AND A NEW CANADIAN NATIONALISM


By late 1960s, however, this effort to accommodate the new Quebec nationalism had been replaced with a new strategy: to deny outright Quebec nationalism, in fact to seek to undermine its underlying bases. In effect, the new Quebec identity was to be challenged with a new Canadian identity. The primary architect of this new strategy was, of course, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a Montreal-based intellectual and political activist who became Prime Minister in 1968.  

Within this new Canadian identity, there are at least five discrete components: official bilingualism; a charter of rights; multiculturalism; absolute equality of the provinces and the reinforcement of national institutions. Each of these elements of Canadian political nationality can be directly traced to the fundamental objective of defeating the Quebec independence movement.  


Official Bilingualism


Through official bilingualism the Trudeau government sought to establish the myth that the French language was present throughout Canada. Demographically, this manifestly is not the case, and never has been. The use of French has always varied enormously from province to province. Only in Quebec does the majority (80%) use French; the next largest francophone proportion, New Brunswik’s is only 31 %. Moreover, in all provinces but Quebec and New Brunswick assimilation has been very high. As a result, in most provinces the proportion of the population which uses primarily French at home is now below 3%. Nonetheless, official bilingualism gave French the same formal status as English throughout the country, at least for federal purposes, however marginal it might be to day-to-day life.

On this basis, official bilingualism promised to nullify Quebec's claim to distinctiveness on the basis of language by making all of Canada like Quebec. Canada as a whole, rather than just Quebec, would be the home of francophones. As Pierre Trudeau declared in 1968 if minority language rights are entrenched throughout Canada then the French-Canadian nation would stretch from Maillardville in BC to the Acadian community on the Atlantic Coast:

"Once you have done that, Quebec cannot say it alone speaks for French Canadians... Mr. Robarts will be speaking for French Canadians in Ontario, Mr. Robichaud will be speaking for French Canadians in New Brunswick, Mr. Thatcher will speak for French Canadians in Saskatchewan, and Mr. Pearson will be speaking for all French Canadians. Nobody will be able to say, "I need more power because I speak for the French-Canadian nation""


The Charter of Rights and Freedoms


Reinforcement of language rights was, in turn, the central purpose of the second element of the Trudeau government's pan-Canadian counter identity to Quebec's: an entrenched bill of rights which was incorporated as part of 1982 constitutional revision. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms deals with many other rights than linguistic ones: political, legal, mobility, social, etc... But language rights clearly were its raison d'être. The provision for minority-language education rights is the only section of the Charter not to be subject to the notwithstanding clause.


Multiculturalism


A third element of the Canadian identity is multiculturalism, which the Trudeau government proclaimed in 1971. Canada might have two official languages, but it was to be seen to have an infinite number of cultures. The federal government committed itself to "support all of Canada's cultures". Previously, much of the public discussion had linked bilingualism with biculturalism. It was in these terms that in 1963 the federal government under Lester B. Pearson had established its royal commission to examine Canada's national unity crisis: the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.

The Trudeau government's adoption of a policy of multiculturalism often is seen simply as a reponse to the demands of Canadians whose origins were neither British or French. Many of their leaders campaigned against the concept of biculturalism. Contending that it necessarily excluded their components of the population, they argued for a more inclusive term. But the Trudeau government clearly had an additional purpose in rejecting biculturalism for multiculturalism: by recognizing a multitude of cultures multiculturalism could rein in the notion of duality and nullify Quebec's claim to distinctiveness on the basis of culture.


The Equality of the Provinces


The Trudeau government's fierce commitment to the principle of absolute equality among the provinces was clearly rooted in its determination to counter the claims of Quebec nationalists.

Insisting that "federalism cannot work unless all the provinces are in basically the same relation to the central government", Trudeau declared on one occasion that, "I think particular status for Quebec is the biggest intellectual hoax ever foisted on the people of Quebec and the people of Canada".


Reinforcement of National Institutions


Finally, this insistence on a uniform federalism was coupled with a determination that the federal government play a significant role in the lives of all Canadians (Québécois included), whether it be through programmes of direct transfer payments, such as Family Allowances, or major national undertakings, such as the National Energy Program. From the late 1960s onwards Ottawa was greatly concerned that its actions be "visible" to Canadians.


CONTRADICTORY IMPACT OF NEW CANADIAN "COUNTER-IDENTITY"


Not surprisingly, the new Canadian identity has not fared well in French Quebec, the population for which in fact it had been designed. Not only has the conception of Canada as a bilingual nation with a strong francophone presence from coast to coast lacked credibility in Quebec, but the principle of formal equality between English and French increasingly has appeared as an obstacle to the types of intervention by the Quebec state needed to strengthen the role of French within the province.

On the other hand, each of these elements of a new "pan-Canadian" identity has had a certain resonance in English Canada. Many English Canadians have embraced them as the basis of their own conception of Canada. In particular, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become a central element of the dominant notion of Canadian nationhood. Equally entrenched is the principle of absolute equality of the provinces: this was amply demonstrated in the opposition to the Meech Lake Accord.

Trudeau's success in mobilizing the federal government, and a good number of mainly of English-speaking Canadians, on behalf of this new Canadian identity presents some striking ironies. Whereas the strategy had been designed to transform the way in which Quebec francophones saw Canada, instead its impact has been primarily upon another population: English Canadians. In fact, the new Canadian identity that Trudeau helped to formulate has become the basis for a new Canadian nationalism which enjoys strong support in much of English-speaking Canada, although not in Quebec. Yet, Trudeau had always professed a deep opposition to all forms of nationalism. This was the rationale for his fierce rejection of Quebec nationalism and his decision to enter federal politics in order to combat it.

Ultimately, this new Canadian nationalism has rendered virtually impossible any constitutional reponse to the new Quebec identity. As a consequence, rather than leading to national integration, federal dissemination of this new "pan-Canadian" identity has deepened the divid between English Canada and Quebec.


Taken from a text by Professor Kenneth McRoberts, 1995



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