A Nation Alone

Barring some dramatic change of heart by one of the main parties it appears the House will pass a resolution acknowledging Quebec as a nation within a nation. Obviously, the news commentary has focused on what this means for the country and its politics. This is clearly a departure from Trudeau’s vision of Canada, but beyond that, it is unclear if anyone understands the implications of this vote. As my friends know, I work as a negotiation consultant, and despite all the discussion surrounding the resolution, from a negotiation perspective, I feel one issue has gone unmentioned.

For many Quebecers this resolution is likely not an affirmation, but a reaffirmation. For declaring Quebec a nation within a nation reaffirms the ‘two’ founding nations vision of Canada. And therein lies the problem. Nationalist Quebecers don’t need Canada to recognize or affirm it as a nation – it already knows it is. The challenge for Quebec nationalists is that they need the rest of Canada to perceive itself as an (English) nation. And yet, most Canadians outside Quebec don’t see themselves as part of any (particularly English) nation. I’m not sure ‘English Canada’ shares a common sense of heritage, destiny, collective identity or any of the other ingredients of nationhood… independent of Quebec. (Sidenote: Some Ontarians who see themselves as part of a nation, might disagree, but I can inform you that Nova Scotians and BCers don’t feel part of the Ontario nation). While this could change, as it stands today ‘English’ Canada appears to possess a largely post-nationalist view of itself. They see their country as composed of 10 provinces and 3 territories that are more or less equal. Shaking them from this view will be neither easy, nor pleasant. Which brings us back to that serious dilemma confronting Quebec nationalists. Specifically, what is the value of being the sole nation in what is supposed to be a bi-national federation? If who you perceive as ‘the other’ doesn’t share this bi-national vision – who do you negotiate with?

Consequently, this resolution doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. It does not reconcile the two competing conceptions of the country (10 equal provinces vs. two founding nations). Instead, the resolution is premised on the assumption that enough soft-nationalist Quebecers will be satisfied with a theoretical reaffirmation of the two founding nation thesis to counterbalance harder nationalist who either want out of the federal structure altogether, or who wish it operationalized and/or re-institutionalized their bi-national view of Canada.

That assumption may be correct – I genuinely don’t know. But is seems to me that, nation or no nation, resolution or no resolution, the real question, and answer, to the issue of Canadian unity remains unchanged: Are ‘English Canadians’ willing to re-cast the federal structure along bi-national lines or do Quebecers believe their national aspirations can be achieved as one of ten provinces within a federated Canada?

[tags]canadian politics, quebec, negotiation[/tags]

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