home > this article
Treason and patriotism in Canada and the current-day world (Part Six)
By Mark Wegierski
The situation for the Québécois nationalist is rather different. Certainly, he or she holds little respect for the institutions of the old Canada. Much like the case of Irish nationalism, Québécois nationalism is invariably republican. At the same time, the Québécois nationalist also probably holds the legal framework and institutions of the new Canada in contempt. Ironically, the Canadian system of provinces has allowed an enormous degree of autonomy for the province of Quebec, in which the French-Canadians are today guaranteed a large majority of power. Indeed, apart from the Anglophone (English-speaking), Allophone (non-English, non-French-speaking), and Aboriginal minorities in the province, there is no "pro-Canada faction" in Quebec. Rather, there are, generally-speaking, fédéralistes and "non-separatist nationalists," who think French Quebec's interests are best served by remaining in Canada, and the Québécois separatists or nationalists or sovereigntistes, who think that Quebec can do better outside of Canada.
The attitude of the new Canadian elites today to Quebec separatism is clear -- it is close to "enemy number one." To the typical member of these elites, Quebec nationalism is today seen as a dangerous tribalism, an atavism, "the fly in the ointment" that threatens to disrupt the dream of the multicultural, new Canadian state. The new Canadian elites are even not averse to enlisting some of the traditional disdain of English Canadians against Quebec, as a weapon to be deployed against the Québécois. On the other hand, the congenital squeamishness of the new Canadian elites in regard to upholding any serious definition of Canadian nationhood, has meant that many actions that would have traditionally been considered treasonous, e.g., the circulation of written materials by a member of Parliament urging military personnel to join a secessionist cause, have met with only a very tepid response. According to English-Canadian ultra-traditionalist criteria, a Quebec separatist party would in all likelihood not even be permitted to sit in Parliament. Indeed, the standpoint of most of the English Canadian right wing is to stand strongly against Quebec. They are often the ones who are the most likely to fling the accusations of treason against the Québécois separatists.
Yet, a more thoughtful English-speaking Canadian traditionalist would be able to see that enlisting oneself in the new "war" against Quebec separatism, might well be supportive only of the new Canadian elites. As a result of the processes of fundamental transformation carried out since the 1960s in Canada, there is a situation where -- as Ray Conlogue argues in his book, Impossible Nation: The Longing for Homeland in Canada and Quebec (Stratford, Ontario, Canada: Mercury Press, 1996) -- French Quebec is a manifestly real nation -- without a state; whereas Canada has mostly descended into being merely a state -- a soulless apparatus -- without a solid national definition.
It has been suggested by a variety of persons that a positive resolution between the current over-centralization of the Canadian federal regime, and the complete break-up of the country, might well lie in a major regionalization or “provincialization” -- the devolution of many powers to the provinces. Even though typical English-Canadian right-wingers had been strongly opposed to the recognition of Quebec as "a distinct society" (during the battle over the Meech Lake Accords in 1987-1990) they typically also favour massive devolution of federal powers to the provincial level, which might prove a lasting, workable solution to keeping Quebec in Canada. For Canada today, the province or the region might be the best place to build a sense of identity simultaneously more respectful of Canadian tradition, and distinct from the American.
So the distinctions between treason and patriotism in current-day Canada are not as stark, and rather more complex in the weight of meanings and consequences which they carry, than has been the case in more traditional societies and situations.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.