par Isabelle Rodrigue and Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have recognized the existence of the `Quebecois nation’ but don’t ask him to define it.
He says there is no exact definition.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Harper resisted several attempts to get him to explain who exactly belongs to the `Quebecois nation’.
“I think you identify yourself. It’s an identity, not a legal definition,” he said.
“Being a Canadian carries a legal definition - you’re a citizen or you’re not.
“But the idea of a Quebec nation is strictly a matter of identity and you can’t define it for everyone.”
He said the concept implies ties to the French language and the territory of Quebec.
“Obviously this idea is linked to the French language. For that reason, if you’re speaking of a Quebecois nation you’re speaking of French,” he said.
“You’re speaking of the Quebecois, not Quebecers.”
He was asked: does that mean anglophone Quebecers aren’t part of the Quebecois nation?
“I think some anglophones and some ethnic groups identify with the Quebecois nation. Maybe some don’t,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s possible to put precise terms to it.”
If the main criterion is an attachment to the French language, then does that mean all French-Canadians - even those outside Quebec - belong to the Quebecois nation?
“I’m not sure,” Harper said, speaking in French.
“As I said, I think it’s an identity. Those who share that identity belong to that identity. Those who don’t share it aren’t part of it.”
Harper pointed out that he never wanted to hold a debate on whether Quebec was a nation. He says it was foisted on the federal Parliament as part of a political tactic by the Bloc Quebecois.
The prime minister responded last month by tabling his own motion which read: “That this House recognize that the Quebecois form a nation within a united Canada.”
Harper consulted then-Liberal leadership candidate Stephane Dion on the wording of the motion, which passed the house of Commons by a vote of 266-16.
Fifteen Liberals voted against the motion, as did Independent MP Garth Turner. The move also prompted the resignation of Michael Chong as intergovernmental affairs minister.
But Harper says his motion has helped improve national unity.
“There was a good reaction in Quebec, there is no great resistance elsewhere, and everyone will accept the results and move on to other things,” he said.
Neutralizing the separatist threat in Quebec has been one of Harper’s long-term goals since he confounded prognosticators by winning 10 seats in the province earlier this year in the January federal election.
He said allowing Quebec a more formal role at the United Nations culture organization and recognizing the Quebecois as a nation have set back the separatist cause.
“Our whole goal - my whole goal as prime minister - has been to get Canadians to see the potential of this country,” he said.
“In particular to get Quebecers to understand the importance of their role and to look forward to the future rather than fighting old battles of separatists versus centralists.”