Why Québec Will Survive

The Culture Paradox

Canada is not a real country.

Lucien Bouchard

The InterviewsYou can’t spend more then five years living and working in the province of Québec without speculating on the future of the province and the future of Canada.

Will Québec eventually go its own way?

Unless government policies, both at the federal and provincial level change and the attitude of the rest of country towards Québec changes, I believe it is inevitable.

Various Québec administrations have paved the way to separation from playing on native French Canadian distrust of outsiders, their fear of being ridiculed, inadequate second language instructions and the promotion of the notion that only a sovereign Québec can adequately protect the French language and French Canadian culture in a predominantly English North America.

The argument of a sovereign Québec being a more effective defence against contamination of their culture and their language gained a lot of credence when Canada refused to acknowledged that the culture, it claimed to have saved, had any distinguishing features or characteristics that made it distinct.

At a time when Québec felt it was an equal in the Canadian Federation, that its unique contribution to the fabric of the Canadian Nation was about to be recognized — finally — the rest of Canada not only minimized this contribution but refused to even acknowledge it in theory.

This minimization of Québec’s contribution stems in part from a new vision of Canada born about a generation ago that brought us the doctrine of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism Canadian-style is anathema to Québec. It is a perversion of multiculturalism, a well-meaning doctrine which seeks to accommodate the innocuous traditions and customs of all cultures within a national identity.

Canadian-style multiculturalism denies that Québec's contribution to keeping Canada from becoming an adjunct of the United States is of much importance; that its more than three hundred years of history is trivial, not more or less significant than any other minority.

Québec’s vision of what constitutes a Nation will increasingly diverge from what the rest of the country perceives as Canada in the twenty-first century.

While the rest of Canada, under Canadian-style multiculturalism encourages its newcomers to keep their culture and their language, Québec does the exact opposite. Speak our language, accept and become part of our culture, live according to our values or get out!

What the rest of Canada perceives as intolerance, Québec perceives as the only way to ensure the survival of its language and cultural distinctiveness.

Québec also sees Canadian-style multiculturalism, not as a culture in itself, but as the death of a culture. How can you pretend to be a Nation if you don’t have a culture you can claim as your own?

A former separatist Premier said that Canada wasn’t a country. Did he have a point? From a Québecquers perspective is Canada a country?

A definition of a country, with which I believe a Québecquer would identify, is a people having a shared history, shared values, occupying a geographical area which they consider their own, which is centrally administered and to which its inhabitants feel an attachment so strong that most would be willing to die to maintain its geographical and cultural integrity.

From this perspective, our separatist Premier was not completely off the mark.

Ever since France traded Québec for the island of Guadeloupe, Québecquers have been pre-occupied with the preservation of their language and culture. In their minds, the two are inseparable.

Québec’s priorities and beliefs have not changed over time but the rest of Canada have.

The rest of Canada evolved into the so-called tolerant society, a society, according to its champions, that tolerates all beliefs and which some critics like David Warren, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, claim is a society that believes in nothing; his argument being that if you believe in everything, you believe in nothing.

Native French Québecquers, with their Cartesian definition of what it means to be a Québecquer, cannot identify with the official wishy-washy definition of what it means to be a Canadian.

Québec has become even more concerned about preserving what it considers important, its language and culture, as the country moves to being a country of minorities, where the majority that set the tone becomes just another minority, or community among other communities as Joe Clark would describe it.

They are concerned that the less desirable characteristics of group dynamics will set in (in some minds they already have) such as jealousy of real or imagined inequities among groups, delineation of territories where the majority of your group is located, and identifying with your group or clan rather than the greater collective.

This new group dynamic, from a Québecquer's point of view, will lead to a new kind of power politics where Québec will be at a distinct (no pun intended) disadvantage.

They see the power politics of the new Canada as a series of strategic and tactical alliances between minorities to deny or take away an existing right of another minority (alliances that they already blame, in part, for denying Québec’s independence and for denying Québec's distinctiveness within Canada).

Add to this fear that a changing Canada will become less tolerant of their aspirations, the general feeling that most French-speaking Québecquers have, with some justification, that the rest of Canada doesn’t like them, and the odds of keeping Canada together for the next decade, let alone another hundred years, diminish substantially.

There is one reason why French-speaking Québecquers vacation in Florida, and it's not just because of the weather. On an American peninsula they form little communities where they feel they belong. This is a need which the founding fathers and the drafters of the Official Languages Act understood, but which the rest of Canada today seems to no longer appreciate.

Québec uses language as a unifying force because it believes it is a country. I would add to my definition of a country: "a people sharing a common language".

A shrinking English-Canada, on the other hand, as part of its promotion of multiculturalism, sees speaking different languages which your fellow citizens don't understand as a unifying force. If it does lead to greater unity, it will be a world first. History has shown that countries that have the best chance of survival over the long term e.g. Japan, are those that share one common language, maybe two.

I have no doubt that should Québec separate it will endure. I don’t feel as confident about the rest of Canada as others use the Québec example, fostered by Canadian-style multiculturalism, to create a home away from home.

Bernard Payeur, August 2008