«Non quia timemus non audemus, sed quia non audemus, timemus»
«Ce n'est pas parce que nous avons peur que nous n'osons pas; c'est parce que nous n'osons pas que nous avons peur».

It’s futile to make Quebec feel wanted

Rest of Canadians deeply passionate about their country, poll says

dimanche 2 janvier 2011

Canadians love Canada, more even than we imagined. Quebecers ? Not so much.

By Lorne Gunter, edmontonjournal.com - The Association of Canadian Studies — the sponsors of a recent poll of Canadians’ attitudes about the country — is an admittedly biased source. The ACS has long been committed to the Trudeauvian image of Canada : a strong federal government, official bilingualism, plenty of transfer payments and passionate support for the notion that a united, multicultural, socially just culture can be engineered from the top down.

While the results of the ACS’s survey must be viewed through this lens, there are nonetheless fascinating, if not surprising.

Ninety-five per cent of Canadians outside Quebec claim to be devoted to their country, compared to 92 per cent of Americans, 84 per cent of Germans and 81 per cent of Spaniards. That’s right, we Canadians are even more patriotic than the Americans, just perhaps not so jingoistic.

Seven out of 10 Canadians outside Quebec feel "very attached" to their country, compared to 67 per cent of Americans, 47 per cent of Germans and 55 per cent of Spaniards.

However, when less-than-enthusiastic Quebecers are added to the national mix, just 87 per cent of Canadians feel attached to Canada, less than Americans, but still more than Germans and Spaniards.

One-third of Quebec francophones define themselves as Quebecers only, while 39 per cent see themselves as Quebecers first, Canadians second. Just 20 per cent are equally Quebecois and Canadian. Among young Quebecois, of course, the trends are even worse. Just 18 per cent of francophone Quebecers aged 18-24 claim any attachment to Canada.

The results almost certainly indicate Quebec and the rest of the country are drifting further apart, which is being reported as a bad and dangerous development. But is it ? I would argue that if the country is to be kept together, it will only be done through decentralization and respect for regional diversity. Unity will never be forced from above or dictated by national elites.

Two recent federal bills illustrate what I mean.

New Brunswick NDP MP Yvon Godin introduced a private member’s bill in 2009 that would mandate that all future appointees to the Supreme Court be fluently bilingual in the legal language of both Canada’s Common Law and Civil Law traditions. His intent was to make francophones feel more comfortable at the country’s highest court, and thereby increase their devotion to Confederation. The practical effect of his bill, though, (if it is able to get through the Senate), would be to exclude most potential appointees from outside the Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City-Moncton "bilingual belt."

Just as more than 40 years of official bilingualism has failed to make Quebecers feel more at home in Canada, Godin’s bill would do little to increase francophones’ attachment to Canada. At the same time, though, what he and our political and cultural elites see as purely a symbolic gesture, would alienate anglophone Canadians. It would weaken national unity in English Canada while failing to strengthen it in Quebec.

So, too, would Senate Bill S-220, which contains amendments to our bilingualism laws that would, among other things, require Mounties patrolling the Trans-Canada Highway to be bilingual. This Liberalsponsored law would require officers from St. John’s, N.L., to Tofino. B.C. be fluent in both English and French, except in Quebec. Because the Quebec provincial police patrol the Trans-Canada in that province, and because S-220 does not apply to the Surete du Quebec, Quebec officers would be exempt.

Elsewhere across the country. hundreds of Mounties would be at risk of losing their jobs if they would not (or could not) learn French, while francophone officers in Quebec would suffer no similar threat.

Even though there is almost no chance of a francophone-only driver being pulled over in Smithers, B.C., or Gull Lake, Sask., our national elites see no harm in displacing scores of Mounties from their jobs in the name of passing largely symbolic legislation aimed at showing Quebecers how loved they are.

But as the recent Canadian Studies poll shows, Quebecers aren’t seduced by these sentimental bonbons. Four decades of these vain and hollow gestures, accompanied by billions of tax dollars to promote and enforce federalism in Quebec and the rest of the country, has not made Quebecers — and especially francophone Quebecers -feel more Canadian.

Besides, separatist sentiment is at a low point in Quebec. Polls show no more than a third of Quebecers want another independent referendum, less than at any time since Rene Levesque and the Parti Quebecois first came to power in 1976.

In November, 50 young hard-line separatists demanded in an open letter that PQ Leader Pauline Marois stop dragging her feet and set a date for a referendum should the PQ win the next provincial election. Marois resisted. Even though she was a hardliner herself when she took over the party in 2007, Marois has since come to see the futility of taking another vote when so few Quebecers are clamouring to leave.

So while Quebecers may not feel closely bound to Canada, they aren’t eager to leave, either. So long as the transfers keep coming and Ottawa stays out of the province’s business, they’re happy.

So let the rest of us stop trying to remake Canada in an image that appeals to Quebec and just leave them alone.

lgunter gV9 shaw.ca

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