Nation debate as clear as poutine

Par Slinger

La nation québécoise vue du Canada

Confused? How could you be?
When you take two of the most respected commentators in the business, and one of them, Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star, wrote in his column that the Conservative motion recognizing that the Québécois constitute a nation was just more of the same old yadda-yadda, and signifies nothing, while the other, Chantal Hébert of the Toronto Star, wrote in her column that it would very likely "blunt one of the most potent weapons left in the sovereignist psychological arsenal."
When Stephen Harper said recognizing the Québécois as a nation will cure every Canadian ailment for generations to come without opening a barrel of constitutional worms, while Michael Chong resigned as minister of intergovernmental affairs rather than vote for his Prime Minister's motion because "recognizing the Québécois as a nation will provide the sovereignists with an argument they will use to confuse Quebecers in any future debate on sovereignty."
When Gerard Kennedy blew the doors off his own Liberal leadership campaign by condemning the motion because the words are ambiguous, and either "we don't know what they mean, or we intend others to be misled by them."
When Bob Rae, modelling his entire fall wardrobe of tactical skills, called Harper's move "a terrible way to run Parliament." Although he supported the motion because the Liberal caucus was going to vote for it anyway. But if he were prime minister he would never have introduced such an absurd resolution. However, he doubted that it would affect the Liberal leadership race "one way or the other."
And how could you possibly be confused by the wording?
Everybody knows what a nation is. And if every expert in the country has weighed in with a different definition, that's because when something is this obvious they all follow the lead of the patron saint of political scientists, Humpty Dumpty: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
Of course "Québécois" is a little trickier.
Depending on how it is used, it can mean all the French Canadians in all of Canada, although most of the time it means only the French Canadians in Quebec.
Except when it means everybody, French Canadian or not, who lives in Quebec.
When it doesn't, though, don't get the idea it refers to all francophone Quebecers, since sometimes it is used to mean only the "pure laine" descendants of Quebec's original French settlers.
The Prime Minister dispatched two of his cabinet's brightest lights, Senator Marjory LeBreton and Lawrence Cannon, the minister of transport, to clarify things.
LeBreton was succinct. "I know anglophone Quebecers who call themselves Quebecois."
Asked if he agreed with her that the motion applied to everybody who lives in Quebec, "regardless of the boat their ancestors came over on," Cannon was equally succinct. "No, it doesn't. Let's be clear on this."
Then Cannon began to wobble even more. "Québécois" in the Conservative motion meant exactly the same as it did in the Bloc Québécois motion it was introduced to counter - namely the pure laine, old-stock francophones.
The difference was that the BQ had used the term in order to divide; the Conservatives were using it to unite.
After being taken into the shop and tinkered with, however, Cannon's wobble was so thoroughly corrected that when it came time for the vote, he was steering in precisely the opposite direction. The motion now included "all who live in the province of Quebec." It didn't matter "what language they speak."
Finally, Stephen Harper himself rumbled in to set everybody straight with words Humpty Dumpty would be proud to use if he were still together enough to talk. "The Québécois know who they are."
So, you see, it's not that tricky at all.
Probably the only reason you thought you were confused was because of all the outsmarting that had gone on.
But it, too, turns out to have been perfectly straightforward. Stephen Harper had outsmarted Gilles Duceppe who had been attempting to outsmart the Liberal Party which had been outsmarted by Michael Ignatieff who, as he manages to do every single time, had outsmarted himself.
It's the sort of thing we have to expect when we have such smart people running the country. And hoping to run the country. And trying to split the country up so they can run part of it.
That's fine with me. Think of the mess we'd be in if they didn't know what they were doing.
Slinger's column appears Tuesday and Thursday.

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