Patriot love, Quebec-style

Canada-Québec : "un dialogue de sourds"

On Tuesday I was lamenting the prevalence of nationalism (negative and jealous) over patriotism (positive and proud) in English Canada. So you may be expecting something similar today with regard to Quebec nationalism. Euh, yes, well. See, the thing is, it's a lot less one-sided over there. Strange, but true.

For some Quebecers, separation of sovereignty is a tool for intimidating the rest of Canada into giving Quebec more power or money, or both, within the Canadian federation.

And, boy, do we know who they are. They are the ones who want Quebec's specificity, or its nation-ness, officially recognized in the Constitution.

And don't think they're all separatists hovering over Jacques Parizeau's dentist chair. They include the current provincial Liberal government, starting with Premier Jean Charest and his Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Benoît Pelletier, who recently said that while there were no immediate plans to launch a new round of talks on the subject of Quebec's special place within Canada, "constitutional ambitions remain". Such people may not be explicitely using the direct threat of separation to get what they want. But a bit like former Liberal premier Robert Bourassa at the time of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, they know they don't have to take the "S" weapon out and wave it around for everyone to know it's there.

It's hard to classify these "federalists" or so-called soft nationalists as either patriotic or really nationalist. In the immortal words of comic Yvon Deschamps, what they want is a strong Quebec within a unified Canada. So there's not much proud patriotism there. But also not a whole lot of bitter jealousy. More a kind of emotional void. (Arguably, it's an intellectual one as well).

This group also seems to me to include the likes of current Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair, who openly say they want Quebec to be sovereign but don't quite mean it. It's as though they were more interested in gaining and wielding power than in "emancipating" their people. Neither hot nor cold, they keep explaining, like Mr. Boisclair did last month, that "sovereignty is not an end in itself," but rather "a toolbox for the future" and that "we want more than sovereignty...we want a successful Quebec." It sounds superficially reasonable, but it's really quite reasonless. A true patriot knows why sovereignty spells success.

Listening to such lukewarm mush almost makes you appreciate the anti-anglo separatist nationalist types who want their own country to be rid of what they see as anglais domination. It's a predominantly negative sentiment: they want a sandbox of their own to guard jealously against invasion. It's a silly reason to want a new country, but at least it beats not having one.

Slightly better, in terms of patriotism, are those who wish to have their own country not because they hate anglos but because they believe it's important, perhaps even crucial, for this numerically small people of French language and culture to protect their heritage and distinct way of life with all the disposal of a sovereign state. PQ founder René Lévesque was very much like that - at least in this early political years. While he famously said Canada wasn't the gulag, he also evidently thought it wasn't good enough for Quebecers' aspirations as a people. But his separatism was not primarily characterized by intense resentment.

His followers today (not all of whom are in the PQ) have an almost semi-messianic mission. Just last week former PQ leadership contender Louis Bernard wrote in Le Devoir that being a country would give Quebec a way to fulfill "its responsibilities vis-à-vis humanity" by being "a model for the world, different than Canada's". The example he gave was implementing Kyoto, though there have been others in the past, from promoting peace and understanding to celebrating francophone cultural accomplishments to implementing always more generous social policies. Thus, he wrote, while "Quebec may not have good reasons to break up Canada, it has good reasons to want to become a country."

Of course creating their own country would mean breaking up Canada. But to people like Mr. Bernard it's collateral damage, not the main motivation. And the main motive is positive not negative.

Perhaps you wouldn't care to live in his country if it existed. I know I wouldn't - too small, too French and certainly too lefty for me. But at least the vision Mr. Bernard and his ideological fellows have of their hypothetical country's mission is a positive one, something that, were they to pull it off, would probably make them extremely proud. In a very patriotic way.

I know it sounds weird, but English-Canadians might want to follow these guys' example in how they think about their country.

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