Québec!: Part Two
By Mark Wegierski
It might be argued in hindsight that perhaps the formal construction of Canadian Confederation was faulty from the start – as a "dualist" concept of two separate Parliaments – one for Quebec, one for the rest of Canada – might have worked better. Nevertheless, the consequences of the Quebec Liberal bastion in federal elections, could be seen as one where three-quarters of the country had largely been submerged into a system which they, for the most part, did not vote for, and fundamentally disagreed with. This makes a mockery of the ideal of Canada as originally founded on a partnership of the French and the British.
It could be argued that Canadian Confederation was originally established on the premise of two nations joining together in a state-structure, but retaining their prior cultural traditions, heritage, and identity. Quebec was the centre of the French nation, and the rest of Canada, of the English. (Or what can be functionally considered to be "English" or "British", in the North American context.) The unifying factors were to be the federal structure of the country, the state symbols and institutions (including the Monarchy, an institution considered at that time as standing above particular nationalism), and the necessity of uniting against the American behemoth to the south. While minorities in the two parts of the country would have certain well-delineated rights, there would be no question as to what the dominant culture in each area would be. (The legal grounds for some kind of special status for the Aboriginal peoples had long ago been implicit, by their close relationship and long-standing association with the Crown.) Thus, it could be argued, Canada could properly exist and thrive as a country only as a partnership between two equally strong and vital nationalisms, the British and the French, both warily co-operating with each other for the sake of avoiding absorption into America, while extending a reasonable tolerance to their respective minorities.
The evolution of the Liberal Party and its co-optation of Quebec had allowed, by the 1980s, for a fundamental dislocation of the premises and underpinnings of Confederation, along with the shift of most federal political power to the Liberal Party and Quebec. In the 1990s, further lines of fissure opened, with the intensifying of multiculturalism in English Canada, and the rise of radicalism among the Aboriginal peoples. All these forces are attenuating to almost nothing the traditional sense of national identity in English-speaking Canada.
In the 1990s, just as their influence in Quebec waned, shifting mostly to the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberals were able to establish a new bastion – Ontario. The Liberal triumph in Ontario was based on mainly three factors – the annihilation since the mid-1960s of "Tory Toronto" through mass, dissimilar immigration and cultural fragmentation; the deep suspicion of most Ontarians of the new Reform Party, which was considered as far too Western-Canadian-based, right-wing, and anti-Quebec; and many Ontarians' desire to vote for the party that they believed would have the best chances of accommodating Quebec, and of "keeping the country together."
As the political seismic shifts of the 1990s and early 2000s have continued, it is clear that the federal "Centre-Right Opposition" have become far, far more astute in their policies towards Quebec.
With the Bloc Quebecois supporting the Conservative federal budget, it looks like Quebec has become quite considerably friendly towards the federal Conservative Party. The emergence of the ADQ (Action democratique du Quebec) in the provincial election, can be seen as the rise of a centre-right Quebec party that can hopefully negotiate with the federal Conservative government a more "autonomous" status for Quebec, without having to go on the far more potentially disruptive statehood/sovereignty route. The ADQ could be considered a party that consists largely of "non-separatist nationalists" and that resents the increasingly "anti-nationalist nationalism" of the current Parti Quebecois (especially such as that recently expressed in one of PQ leader Andre Boisclair's weepy speeches about "inclusiveness"). Insofar as ever greater degrees of leftism and "political correctness" have overtaken the Parti Quebecois, to that extent it has become less and less attractive to its nationalist core base, especially in rural and suburban areas. If Boisclair's sexual orientation was an issue for some Quebecois nationalists, perhaps he could have risked making some nationalist arguments at least slightly similar to those of Pim Fortuyn, who, it may be recalled, was a flamboyant homosexual and former Marxist professor. Perhaps the chance of winning a majority in the Quebec National Assembly may have been worth the risk for Boisclair. Of course, Boisclair chose to hew to the most extreme forms of "political correctness."
In earlier years, the Quebecois nationalists had declared that "the social question is the national question." Insofar as the bureaucratic structures of the Quebec provincial administration, Hydro-Quebec, and the Caisses depot (Quebec credit unions) manifestly served so-called "old stock" Quebecois, and attacked the status of the long-time anglais exploiters, Quebecois nationalism could clearly be seen as having discernible traditionalist elements. Now, however, when Montreal has been almost as demographically changed as Toronto, it is perceived that an extensive welfare-state is increasingly operating on behalf of the newcomers – very few of whom have any interest in Quebecois nationalism.
While, in earlier decades, Quebecois nationalism was one of only a few nationalisms in the Western world that were highly valorized by the Left – there has been a considerable shift from the 1990s onward. Overwrought accusations were made in the 1990s that Quebecois nationalism represented something like "Catholic tribal racism". As successive waves of "political correctness" rolled over the Western world, the Parti Quebecois ever more intensively embraced extreme anticlericalism and multifarious minorities – until it has become – it is possible to argue – something which embodies what could be called an almost entirely "anti-nationalist nationalism." This gave an opportunity to the ADQ to portray itself as at least somewhat less nationally self-hating than the PQ – something which would naturally appeal to the more authentic Quebecois nationalists.
While rejecting the drive for full statehood/sovereignty – which it probably perceives as too chimerical -- it could be argued that the ADQ is working towards policies that will ensure the persistence of a far more socially and culturally substantive Quebec – a Quebec that will retain at least some relation to the historic Quebec nation that has existed for four previous centuries. And such national preservation and thriving through time and space would appear to be one of the main goals of any more authentic nationalism.
It could be argued that the ADQ today, although non-separatist, is more substantively Quebec-nationalist than today's Parti Quebecois.
To be continued next week.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.