What does nation motion mean for Quebec? Not much!

Quebec already enjoys all the perquisites of a national minority in a sovereign state

La nation québécoise vue par les fédéralistes québécois

Now what? The "Quebecois" are now certain to be recognized as a nation within Canada. What remains is to find out what that means. Those who think they know should think again.
Bernard Landry had his definition in January 2001, as he was about to succeed Lucien Bouchard as premier of Quebec. He spelled out in a speech the "six fundamental convictions" that "will guide me both as party leader and as premier." The first conviction was his concept of nation:
"Quebec constitutes an inclusive political nation that encompasses all the population living on the territory, except for aboriginals who belong to nations that were formally recognized as such by the National Assembly in 1985."
Indeed, in 1985, the National Assembly officially recognized 10 aboriginal collectivities as "nations" and then an 11th in 1989. Landry excludes them from the Quebec nation. Will the "Quebecois" then be recognized as one of 12 nations in the province of Quebec?
The resolution proposed by Stephen Harper does not define the Quebecois nation. The Liberal resolution to be debated at the convention next week proposes first to recognize an undefined Quebec-as-nation, then a committee of "experts" will tell us later what that will mean. It means buying a pig in a poke, which could emerge as a tiger.
The Council of Europe, encompassing 46 countries, noted in 2003 that there was "no common European legal definition of the concept of 'nation' " and proceeded to hold meetings and consultations to find one. On Jan. 26, its parliamentary assembly issued its statement on "the concept of 'nation.'" It concluded "it was difficult, not to say impossible, to arrive at a common definition of the concept of 'nation.'"
The council added a warning that Canadians should heed about the word's ambiguity. "The term 'nation' is deeply rooted in peoples' culture and history and incorporates fundamental elements of their identity. It is also closely linked to political ideologies, which have exploited it and adulterated its original meaning."
Louis Bernard, the eminence grise of the Parti Quebecois under Rene Levesque and Jacques Parizeau, gave a common interpretation in Le Devoir on Nov. 1: "Is Canada ready, yes or no, to recognize that Quebec existed long before it did and that it constitutes and has always constituted a nation in every meaning of the word? And, given that recognition, is it ready to come to the table to negotiate in good faith a new relation with the Quebec nation? Because, fundamentally, that is what the current debate is about and what gives it its meaning."
A new relationship? Meaning more powers for the Quebec government? That was certainly the interpretation Robert Bourassa gave to the "distinct society" clause of the Meech Lake accord. It is the interpretation Jean Charest would give now to the recognition of Quebec as a nation, along with most of Quebec's political class and journalists. Is the assumption founded?
In fact, the Council of Europe made recommendations for the recognition of national minorities. "The assembly believes it necessary to strengthen recognition of every European citizen's links with his identity, culture, traditions and history, to allow any individual to define himself as a member of a cultural "nation" irrespective of his country of citizenship or the civic nation to which he belongs as a citizen, and, more specifically, to satisfy the growing aspirations of minorities which have a heightened sense of belonging to a certain cultural nation."
Canada has already gone well beyond these recommendations: In 1867, it created a federation in which the distinctive cultural character of Lower Canada was recognized by creating the province of Quebec with its own government enjoying extensive powers over language, education and community institutions. Since then, the recognition of the French language has been extended, notably by the 1982 Constitution Act. The powers of the Quebec government also extended in the 20th century far beyond what was anticipated by the Fathers of Confederation.
This led the five experts in international law, consulted by the Quebec government in 1992, to conclude: "The Quebec people effectively exercises its right to self-determination within the framework of the Canadian whole and has no legal basis for invoking that right to justify a future accession to independence."
So what "new relation" should follow logically from the recognition of Quebecers as a "nation"? Absolutely none. Quebec, however defined, already enjoys to the full all the perquisites that can be claimed for a minority nation within a sovereign state. No other national minority on Earth enjoys as much self-determination as the French-Canadian population of Quebec does now.
Bernard Landry acknowledged this when, on Oct. 27, he published an open letter to Stephen Harper urging the prime minister to recognize Quebec as a nation: "Our nation-state, even without full sovereignty, is even more powerful in some respects than are in reality many nation-states that are formally sovereign. Our state already has at its disposal important legal and financial means that support crucial actions for our society in the areas of culture, of education, of social solidarity, of the economy, of the environment, of justice, of international presence and several other areas."
Landry assumed his hymn to Quebec's self-determination would invite the further step to independence: "And so, when Quebec becomes independent, to exercise the new powers and responsibilities that it will incur ... it will have practically speaking to create only one new ministry, that of national defence ... Quebec already has all the others, including the ministry of international relations, which are prepared to exercise the entirety of the powers of an independent state."
In fact, his testimony proves Quebec already has amply all the recognition it can rightly claim and that any demands for further powers would mean another descent into ambiguity, misrepresentation, illusion and conflict. We've been there, done that. Never again.
William Johnson is a Quebec writer and former president of Alliance Quebec.

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