Thursday, November 23, 2006

Face the Nation, Part II

As the Irish question vexed our British forebears with its maddening insolubility, so too has the Quebec question frustrated generations of Canadians.

Few would have denied that the Irish people constituted as distinct a nation as Scotland did within the Union, but the mere recognition thereof was so tied up with centuries of historical freight that nothing could have satisfied either side, short of breaking up the Union or extinguishing the Irish race.

Will the recognition of Quebec as a nation within Canada prove to be ultimately as fatal to Confederation as the issue of Home Rule proved to be in Britain?

Andrew Coyne drew his analogy with Belgium instead of Ireland, but the idea is the same:

Somewhere along the way the political class in this country lost the will to live. For a time it suited them to believe they still believed, to pretend that Canada was still the country the Fathers of Confederation created, to pay lip service to the vision of prime ministers from Macdonald through Trudeau: that Canada was a great nation, capable of great things, called by history and immense good fortune to greatness.

But they did not feel it in their gut. Because a nation is hard work. To assert a national will, national objectives, a national interest, in a polyethnic, multilingual, transcontinental country, means upholding a national idea, a transcendent nationalism of ideals, against the more earthly delights of ethnic and cultural tribalism. It suggests that we are tied by something more than blood, something higher than ethnicity. And in turn it demands that we live up to that vision, that we hold a greater ambition for ourselves than mere existence.


So let us give thanks for one thing: at least the pretense is over. The Prime Minister’s statement in the House yesterday, a statement no prime minister has ever made before, marks the moment when the idea of Canada finally shrugged, sighed, heaved and expired. The hollowing out of the national idea -- of a vision of Canada as a coherent national entity, capable of acting with a single national purpose -- is now complete. We are well on our way to Belgiumhood, and that suits our political class just fine.

And in this vein, he has a collection of editorial condemnations , if not in quite the same funereal tone.

Coyne's lament for the Canadian nation is a lament for the inability of an abstraction to win the hearts and minds of people over the reality.

In every real sense--cultural, historical, political--the Quebecois are a nation unto themselves, bound to Canada only by accidents of history and political expediency.

Recognition of that fact, all political calculations aside, will simply recognize what too many of us have long denied: Quebec is a nation, English Canada may be a nation, but Canada is a state.

No constitutional formula can change that fact, merely work out the logistics of the nations' current living arrangements.

If and when Canada loses the forces and reasons currently keeping it together, it will break up, as have other binational and multinational states before it.

No comments: