Montreal

What is a Québécois? Quebecers ask

A day after the Québécois were formally recognized in the House of Commons as a nation within Canada, Quebecers asked themselves the next logical question: just what does that mean?

A day after the Québécois were formally recognized in the House of Commons as a nation within Canada,Quebecers asked themselves the next logical question: just what does that mean?

The Conservative party's motion raises several questions about the possible political ramifications of a Québécois nation, of course, but on Tuesday many in Quebec searched for an answer to a more simple question: who are the Québécois?

After the motion was adopted by Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper dodged the volatile question by returning the ball to la belle province's court. "The Québécois know who the Québécois are," he told the House of Commons in French.

But whether they actually do know depends on who you ask— and where they live. On Ste-Catherine Street in downtown Montreal, there was some confusion.

"Out here we're Quebecers. But if you go a bit further east [in the city], we're Québécois. But what it means to me? I don't know exactly," said Phil Letour, a Montreal resident.

Others took the motion on the Québécois as an affront to the province's English-speaking population.

English-speaking Quebecers confused

"The Québécois signifies the French Quebecer, which kind of leaves us English Quebecers as … I don't know what we are. And what about all the Franco-Canadians in the rest of Canada? What are they? Are they only Canadian?" mused Heather Laing, another Montreal resident.

Traditionally, the Québécois referred to people who could claim deep heritage and history in the province— the pure laine or de souche, those "true" Quebecers, whose ancestors thread back to the first French-speaking colonists who toiledthe fields, when the province was still known as New France.

Most Québécois would agree that exclusive definition is evolving and expanding, and after Monday's motion, Quebec politicians took the opportunity to drive home that fact.

"When you look at the history here, in Quebec, and in Canada, you will see that it's not only the fact that we are differentiated by our language or our culture … it's more than that," said Lucienne Robillard, the Liberal MP representing Montreal's Westmount riding.

"It's the institutions we've built with the anglophone community. It's also the fact that we've received immigrants from all over the world. We've developed common interests here in Quebec."

Liberal leadership contender Michael Ignatieff, who was in Montreal Tuesday for the impending leadership convention, said the concept needs more discussion— not just in Quebec, but across the country.

"This is a conversation that involves all Canadians. This is a conversation for all of us. To take slowly, patiently, in a way that reinforces what we hold in common. That strengthens the ties that bind."

now