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The 39th Parliament

Québécois nationhood? Canada reacts

Last Updated November 23, 2006

Is it dividing the country, acknowledging a reality or a suave political move to pre-empt the Bloc Québécois?

Canada's politicians, pundits and the public have had a divided reaction after Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced a motion on Nov. 22, 2006, that recognized the Québécois form a nation "within a united Canada." The Liberals and the NDP immediately indicated their support for the motion.

The Tories made the move a day before Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe planned to introduce his own motion that would recognize Quebec as a nation, but did not include the words "in Canada." Duceppe quickly changed the separatist motion to declare Quebec a nation "that is currently within Canada."

Acknowledging a reality

"Never will I accept that the only condition for nationhood is that we have to stay in Canada. We're a nation, because we are what we are, regardless of what we choose to do in the future."

– Michel Guimond, MP Montmorency-Charlevoix-Haute-Côte-Nord

"Unity doesn't necessarily mean uniformity. … I say that Quebec is a nation within Canada."

– Denise Savoie, MP Victoria

"It is ridiculous to get hung up on the word 'nation,' as the word does not change the facts. Quebec is a unique culture within Canada. We can embrace these facts that make us Canadian and try to move past our ugly past, or we live in denial and allow our country to become split."

– Craig Rennie of Montreal to CBC.ca

"Quebec-is-a-nation is the same kind of thing as same-sex marriage … for anyone under 40, it's so obvious that Quebec is its own nation that the subject isn't worth discussing. They know that what matters more is the progress of the Quebec nation and the evolving post-national Canada to which it belongs as we continue the adventure of shaping the world's first truly multicultural state."

– John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail columnist

"If we can have the First Nation peoples, then why not allow Quebec to call themselves a nation? As long as they are within Canada and are governed by the same law and federal government as everyone else, then I see no harm."

– Michael Perham to CBC.ca

"I believe that the people of Quebec do form a nation in the sociological sense that they are united by a common language, history and culture. This is a fact and anybody who has been to Quebec or lives there knows this very well. We failed at reaching constitutional talks three times. We must get it right this time. If we want to reach out to Quebec, we must recognize this fact that they do form a nation."

– Andrew Campbell to CBC.ca

"Let Quebec separate. Then all the other provinces will separate and join with Quebec. We can all become the country of Quebec. Then we can have a referendum and change the name back to Canada."

– Griffin, of Halifax, to CBC.ca, saying he is quoting comedian Rick Mercer

A bad idea

"My grandfather and the men he served with in the trenches would roll in their graves to hear these debates. Let's get it together, Canada, and finish what our forefathers began. Together, as one."

– Christopher Letourneau to CBC.ca

"We are now at the 'it's just a recognition of a historical fact' stage. The next stage, as the virus progresses through the patient (i.e. Canada) is the 'the words have no meaning if we aren't prepared to give them effect' stage. Thereafter, the 'we are in deep shit, we have stirred the nationalists and we'd better keep going or they'll win' stage. Then, rigor mortis: 'referendum.' Happens every time."

– Warren Kinsella, a Toronto-based lawyer, former Liberal party strategist, blogger

"The very moment you introduce the concept of a nation within Canada, you open the door to the Acadian Nation, to the First Nations, to all the other groups that might form a cultural community."

– Senator Serge Joyal

"It will be a nation founded on Liberal disarray, sovereigntist mischief and, ultimately, government desperations. Quebec: A let's-pretend nation created by political expediency."

– Don Martin, National Post columnist

Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine explains why aboriginal leaders are concerned by the Quebecois "nation" debate. (Runs 6:28)

"This is so absurd! The placation, mollification and accommodation of Quebec always becomes Job One whenever there is some federal political volatility - whether it's a tenuous minority government trying to hang on, or a major party electing a leader."

– Tim Elliott of Calgary to CBC.ca

"Why did the prime minister say one of our provinces is essentially a country on its own? What brought our leader to this point after we have fought separatists and referenda and even terrorists over the past 30 years? Why within days — when that motion passes — will the MPs we send to Ottawa [have] just thrown in the towel on a long battle to keep the homeland intact?"

– Garth Turner, Independent MP for Halton, Ont.

"I find the prime minister's announcement less than helpful for the building of a better Canada. He has taken a step that defines Canadians as being a hyphenated Canadian. We need to focus on being one people rather than being a nation within a nation."

– Peter Swire to CBC.ca

"I am totally and absolutely against allowing Quebec to have a nation within our nation. If they don't want to be Canadians let them leave the confederacy, and stop all tax moneys to Quebec, stop Canadian railroads at the borders of Quebec. Let them print their own foreign currency. Have border crossing stations just as we in Canada have with the U.S."

– Chris Richards to CBC.ca

"So to be delicate, it is not helpful for the prime minister of Canada to reach in among those nested, often competing claims of national allegiance to pluck out one, more or less entirely, so he can enjoy a relatively peaceful day at the office."

– Paul Wells, Macleans.ca blogger

"This is all about semantics. If Quebec is considered a 'nation' then so are the Acadians, the Inuit and Newfoundlanders. The list goes on with broader and broader definitions but where do you draw the line of what constitutes difference? Is Switzerland made up of four 'nations' because it has four regions with different languages? The only thing that this has accomplished is to reaffirm the Quebec stereotype that there are only two cultures/nations within Canada."

– Ryan Godfrey to CBC.ca

A smart political move

"The aim was to mousetrap both the Tories and the Liberals by daring them to vote against something that most Quebecers take as self-evident — that they form a distinct community defined by the French language and culture. Harper's counter-proposal, to recognize Quebec as a nation but only 'within a united Canada,' got the federalist side out of its immediate dilemma. The longer-term question — which won't be answered until the next election — is whether Harper's move will pay off at the polls."

– Jim Brown, Canadian Press

"I think this was an absolutely brilliant move by Harper. He cut the Bloc off at their knees."

– Caller to station CKNW (Vancouver)

"What a super day for all of Canada! Recognizing Quebec as a nation within Canada shows that Quebec is different from the rest of this great country, but at the same time, gives no power whatsoever for Quebec to separate. The Conservative Party of Canada has yet again shown us the great things it is able to do. This may sound like an ad for the Conservatives, (and it's not) but I must say that we would have never gotten anything this smart done to all of us if we were under a Liberal or New Democrat government!"

– Viktor M. to CBC.ca

"I agree entirely with the prime minister. An insightful twist in a grand Canadian tradition: A nation if necessary but not necessarily a nation."

– Richard Lamothe to CBC.ca

"Would recognizing the Québécois as a nation, even in the restrained terms of Mr. Harper's motion, be used out of context by sovereigntists to press their separatist cause? No doubt. But Mr. Harper has mitigated the damage by removing most of the political sting from the word, while leaving the recognition of Quebecers as a special community within Canada. Hard to argue with that, even if you belong to a different special community."

– Globe and Mail editorial

"I commend the prime minister for his careful words to allow Quebec to be a nation within a unified Canada. Well done!"

– Ferdi van Dongen to CBC.ca

"The answer to the question matters, or not, legally and constitutionally and emotionally. The evidence suggests that francophone Quebecers, in particular, are in little doubt that they do constitute a nation, as they understand the term. Our own view in this space has been that while francophones in all parts of Canada might in some senses be a nation, Quebec is a political division within a state. Artfully, Harper's resolution speaks of 'Quebecers,' not 'Quebec' as a nation."

– Montreal Gazette editorial

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