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In Depth

The 39th Parliament

In their own words: Québécois the nation

Last Updated Nov. 28, 2006

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stepped into the unity debate in November 2006, introducing a motion recognizing that the Qu�b�cois form a nation "within a united Canada."

Harper made the motion in anticipation of a motion by Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe that would call for the Québécois to be recognized as a nation but did not include any mention of Canada. An amended motion would declare the Québécois a nation "currently within Canada."

On Nov. 27, 2006, Harper's motion passed. Duceppe's motions failed.

The issue has been brewing in recent weeks. Here are quotes from politicians and pundits drawn from media reports.

Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon and Marjory LeBreton, government leader in the Senate, respond to reporters' questions on the resignation of Michael Chong and the definition of "Québécois."

"Our position is clear. Do the Québécois form a nation within Canada? The answer is yes. Do the Québécois form an independent nation? The answer is no and the answer will always be no."

– Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons, Nov. 22

"It isn't up to the prime minister to decide what Quebecers will choose as an option. It's up to Quebecers. The refusal to recognize the Quebec nation, the refusal to acknowledge an obvious reality, is something that we could call a blockage in Canada. Never will I accept that the only condition to be a nation is to recognize the right to remain in Canada."

– Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe in the House of Commons, Nov. 22

"Does Quebec constitute a nation? My approach is yes, but it's a nation within a federated framework."

– Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon

"It seems evident to me that we are a nation. We are part of the founding peoples of this country. We were there from the start."

– Quebec MP and Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn

"Apart from its meaning as a 'sovereign country,' the word 'nation' designates a people bound by history, language and territory. In this sense, the "nation" that is referred to is the French-Canadian nation, formed by the descendants of the French colonizers of 'Nouvelle France;" even though the vast majority is concentrated in Quebec, the actual territory of this nation is Canada at large. Provinces are not nations because they all are multicultural, including Quebec."

– Lysiane Gagnon, writing recently in the Globe and Mail

"Rather than an occasion for divisions, the recognition of the Quebec nation by the whole of Canadian society would constitute, in my view, a source for calming this debate and would undoubtedly contribute to making Canada a stronger and more united country. To those who, in the rest of Canada, fear the repeat of the constitutional debate about the specificity of Quebec, I must say that this is inevitable."

– Quebec Premier Jean Charest

"I have no particular problem with the formulation of the words, 'Quebec is a nation.' Where I part company with some is whether we should be reopening the Constitution at this point in time. I think we all know it's an incredible expenditure of time from the political leadership of the country."

– Bob Rae, Liberal leadership candidate

"We could certainly find a definition of the word 'nation' that respects the reality of Quebec. The error isn't there. The mistake is to make these semantic debates the centrepiece of a national unity strategy."

– Stéphane Dion, Liberal leadership candidate

"Other candidates have said … recognizing Quebec as a nation in the Constitution is too difficult. Yes, it's difficult, but we must do it."

– Michael Ignatieff, Liberal leadership candidate

"Unfortunately, some people these days are wrapped up in this idea of nation for Quebec, which stands against everything my father ever believed. We need to start looking forward."

– Justin Trudeau

"It is not the concept of nation that is retrograde; it is the idea that the nation must necessarily be sovereign."

– Pierre Trudeau in 1962

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