Quebec a nation? In a Dominion of Canada

Par Neil Reynolds

La nation québécoise vue du Canada

OTTAWA - We are, beyond all doubt, two nations, precisely as Arthur Lower, the celebrated historian, described 60 years ago. "There are, as yet, two Canadas, inhabited by two peoples," he wrote. "In the strictest sense, there can be no History of Canada. There can be histories of French Canada. There can be histories of English Canada. There are can be histories of Canada written by French authors or English authors, which will hardly refer to the same country. Writing Canadian history remains an act of faith -- the substance of things hoped for."

Deep down, can anyone doubt it? Deep down, can anyone get disturbed by it?
Sheer exhaustion aside, can anyone think of a real reason to dispute it or to deny it? It was 70 years ago, in 1936, that Maurice Duplessis and his newly designated Union Nationale party won a the provincial election. It was almost 40 years ago, in 1968, that Jean-Jacques Bertrand, a Union Nationale premier, abolished Quebec's legislative assembly and replaced it with a National Assembly.

It was this National Assembly that established the province's national library and national archives, instructing these institutions to ensure "democratic access to Quebec's national heritage." (The Quebec national archives, by the way, catalogues documents either as collection nationale or collection universelle, which pretty much relegates the Rest of Canada to the Rest of the World.) It was this National Assembly that designated Quebec's national symbols: the snowy owl, the multicoloured iris and the yellow birch as, respectively, the avian emblem, the floral emblem and the official tree.

Whatever the political or constitutional consequences of Michael Ignatieff's deux nations gambit ("Quebec is my nation, but Canada my country"), symbolic recognition of Quebec as a nation would help end English Canada's tedious and rote repetition of a One Canada mythology. Quebeckers have considered themselves La Nation Canadienne for two hundred years. Are they going to stop now?

The easiest way for English Canada to get comfortable with all this is simply to respect the sense of nationhood as it survives in its own history.
Back in the Old Country, to cite a single example, look at the famous Six Nations Rugby Tournament. Four of the nations that compete are England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. (The other two are France and Italy.) England and Scotland are separate kingdoms, of course. Wales has never been a kingdom -- still isn't. It's a principality. Northern Ireland is a province. England, Scotland and Wales make up Great Britain, which, when Northern Ireland is added, makes the United Kingdom. By comparison, a two-nation Canada is quite simple, indeed.

Nevertheless, deals are always best when both sides give and get. For its admission that French Canada is a nation within a country, English Canada should require something back. English Canada has never minded the granting of concessions to Quebec; it has resented the lack of reciprocity. In any future negotiations, we need to ensure that both Canadas emerge with something to show for it. So let's make a deal.

The best way to proceed would be to pursue the Nash Equilibrium, the fundamental principle of deal making enunciated in 1950 by John Nash, the American mathematician made famous by the film A Beautiful Mind. The question that engaged Mr. Nash was this: How do two people reach agreement when they bargain for a deal? Precise monetary evaluations alone don't necessarily produce deals. Mr. Nash's theoretical breakthrough was recognition of a factor beyond price -- the alternative transactions that could take place, for either bargainer, in the event that one of them walked.

Each negotiator always seeks the best deal that he or she can make, but balances this hypothetical deal against the risk that the other negotiator will walk. The deal gets struck at the point where neither person has an incentive to change position -- at the point where each negotiator deems it better to deal than to walk.

In a two-nation negotiation, what should English Canada seek from French Canada? It can't ask too much, though constitutional recognition of Quebec as a nation would be worth much more than a mere parliamentary declaration. The best swap would be constitutional symbol for constitutional symbol. Here's one: Quebec will be recognized by English Canada as a nation provided Canada is recognized by Quebec as a dominion.

The Dominion of Canada -- it expresses a sea-to-sea sweep of continental magnitude. Used in English tradition for hundreds of years, the dominion designation preserved historical bonds. Taken from the psalms, it conveyed a biblical blessing on a country. Though not in any way exclusive to Canada, the title fit Canada better than any other country or realm. Winston Churchill called Canada "the Great Dominion," and meant it. It was Liberal prime minister Louis St. Laurent, in 1951, who ordered the word excised from federal documents. It was Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, in 1982, who stripped Dominion Day from the calendar -- though neither he nor Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark bothered to vote on the revisionist motion.

It would be a great Nash Equilibrium trade: Quebec gets back its nation and Canada gets back its dominion.

Or we walk.

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