Saturday, November 25, 2006

Canada Under Attack

Historian Michael Bliss has a fantastic article in today's Post:


Let there be no misunderstanding about concepts of nation and nationality. The only two meanings of "nation" are (1) a human group bound together by ethnic ties, i.e. ties of blood; (2) a territorial unit that exercises political independence. We call aboriginal Canadians "nations" in that racial or ethnic sense; they used to be seen as tribes. We call Canada a "nation" in the political sense because it is an independent country.

In what sense can Quebecers be considered a nation? Quebec is not an independent country. If Quebecers are a nation because they are of the French-Canadian tribe, the volk, as the Germans used to say, then we are legitimizing racial/ethnic concepts that
are ugly almost beyond belief in the 21st century. We turn all Quebecers who don't have the right blood -- all the Schwartzes and Cohens and others -- into second-class citizens.

"Oh, no," say the politicians and Quebecers who know how offensive the old ethnic nationalism has become. "We're talking here about Quebec and Quebecers as a civic nation -- all those people who live in a territory with a distinctive mix of language, ethnic groups, culture and historical experiences."

The trouble with that redefinition of nation is that all other poliltical territories become nations because every jurisdiction has its own distinctive mix of language, ethnic groups, culture and historical experiences. If Quebec forms a civic nation, then the people of every province of Canada also form civic nations. So, perhaps, do most Canadian cities, towns and villages. The redefined term is meaninglessness and those who use it are spouting intellectual fraud that many of us think is a front for the covert
racism of the old ethnic nationalists.


Bliss is bang on. If you take the definition of nation as a people with a common language, culture, history and territory, you wind up in a world of hurt. First of all, Quebec is an incredibly diverse society, made up of people from a wide range of backgrounds so, unless you want to make the argument that only pure laine are part of the nation, there's no real case to be made. Because, at that point, who isn't a nation. Let's look at the Calgary Nation:

Common land? Yup. Calgary.
Common language? English. A larger percentage of Calgarians speak English than Quebeckers who speak French.
Common culture? There's Stampede. The Flames. The music (country) and the politics (Tory). Seems fairly unique to me.
Common history? Bitching about Ottawa together since 1905.

What about Scott Tribe's Leafs Nation?

Common land? The GTA. Much like francophones outside Quebec, Leaf fans outside Toronto are chopped liver.
Common language? English, by and large. They also have their own chants.
Common culture? Culture of defeat (which, according to Stephen Harper, doesn't make them any different from the Maritime nation I guess...).
Common history? A history of failure.


I could go on and on. But the bottom line is that there is no way to intellectually defend Harper's nation proposal. It's made the Bloc look stupid so call it smart politics if you want but I have yet to hear a compelling argument as to why this is the right thing to do.

23 Comments:

  • you haven't heard one cause there is no compelling argument ;-).

    By Blogger canuckistanian, at 8:00 PM  

  • Well, I was going to write this to Paul Wells, but since he seems to read this blog quite regularly (maybe not the comments), I thought I’d try here instead.

    So, I was watching the tail end of the Vanier Cup, what used to be referred to as the College Bowl or the National Championship for University football. I have an interest since I attended UWO way back when these types of wins were common and expected by the fans.

    It seemed a lame game in terms of offence, but was eventually won by Laval’s Rouge et Or. Congratulations. Never heard of them a few years ago, but they seem to be kicking English butt in recent memory.

    So, it made me wonder, with all of this nation debate this past week…

    To get into the playoffs, the Rouge and Gold would have had to been champions in Quebec. So, for the players born in Quebec, they were “National” (Quebecois) Champions. The non-Quebec born were nothing.

    As a result of winning today’s Vanier Cup (named after a Montreal born former GG who fought for the nation of Canada, and founding member of the Vandoos just to complicate matters), the Rouge et Or Quebecois football players were “National-National champions”, the non-Quebecois were just” National champions”, and the Saskatchewan Huskies were just losers.

    However, if the tide had turned, and the ineffective Husky offense not made some late game bonehead moves, and won, the non-Quebecois Husky players would have been “National Champions”, the Quebecois Huskies (if any were stupid enough to leave Quebec to attend university in the prairies) would have been “no contest- National champions”, and the Rouge et Or would have either been just “Loser-National Champions” or just losers, depending if they were born in Quebec or outside.

    The possibilities are mind boggling.

    By Blogger The Anonymous Green, at 8:12 PM  

  • I agree - I've been a strong supporter of Harper til now. He's made strong decisions, he's been bold, and even when I disagree with him, I like his conviction. But this is wrong - it is not 21st Century, it is backwards, and it's throwing a bone to separatists. I didn't support Ignatieff's version - I don't support this (much better, admittedly) version, either. One Canada - you're in or you're out.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 9:14 PM  

  • The Liberals coming up on their opo day should pull a Newfoundlander as a nation, or Albertans as a nation.

    Would be interesting to see the votes come down on that one.

    By Blogger Kyle G. Olsen, at 9:24 PM  

  • yeah, but what's Canada.

    what's missing from the one Canada crowd is some coherent articulation fo a vision of Canada that actually jibes with the facts on the ground.

    I don't have to give you a compelling argument so much as recognize there's no compelling argument from you and the facts look very different.

    There is a Canadian Idol and a Star Academie. Slippery slope? Who else has a Star Academie? New Powers? Quebecois already have Star Academie.

    It is the assumption that this one Canada view is obvious and without need for explanation that has killed your side of the debate.

    Unlike the United States that has similar ethnic diversity, Canada has two film industries, two sets of tv channels.

    I was all on board of the "Canada is my nation" campaign that Andrew Coyne dreamt up, until something better came along. And the reason the "Canada is my nation" campaign lost it is because it can't be understood.

    Surely they aren't suggesting the CBC fulfills its mandate of telling Canada's "story".

    And what's to gain from keeping trying to make Canada something like Finland? What's the benefit in that? How has that helped us in the battle against separatists?

    By Blogger Chuckercanuck, at 9:24 PM  

  • Newfoundlanders form a nation, no question. an awesome nation.

    By Blogger Chuckercanuck, at 9:36 PM  

  • I have to admit to being a bit surprised at all the of the teethgrinding and hair-yanking that is going on over the CPC resolution to recognize the quebecious as a nation WITHIN the nation of canada.

    I mean really. Why is Gilles Duceppe (in spite of his turnabout, which is only an attempt to save face) the only person who fully understands that Harper has cut the seperatists off at the knees?

    The motion makes it clear that the quebecious are a sociological people-group that exist within the civic nation of Canada who make a positive contribution to our overall national fabric. That's the extent of it. all this is is a nod to the reality of multiculturalism which is already enshrined within our laws and institutions. The Quebecious now have that special nod to themselves that they've always wanted. Why can't we just let them have that?

    There are no special powers or priviledges here, it does not imply that the rest of us are all second-class citizens, as Michael Bliss and far too many others seem to think. It simply acknowledges their uniqueness. That's the extent of it. And by the way,just because this acknowledgement does not come with any specific legal powers does not mean that it is a meaningless jumble of words. An acknowledgement of a reality is as powerful as a denial of reality.

    And what if some other minority group within Canada wants the same thing, as some have proposed? Well, if the liberal leadership should ever again decide to play politics with national unity by pandering to the wimperings of a very few, and if their pandering should (once again) create a national crisis which unscrupulous seperatists should (once again) try to exploit, then perhaps the leading politician of the day will have the wherewithal to turn the table on the whole lot of them, and declare that they are a sociologically unique and distinct nation (without special privileges) that exist solidly within the civic nation of Canada.

    so comb your hair back.

    By Blogger just a guy..., at 9:38 PM  

  • Precisely. Under this definition of "nation," the maritimes most certainly constitute their own nation, as does Newfoundland, British Columbia, Alberta, the praeries, various parts of Ontario, and pretty much every big city in Canada. This is very divisive; the only type of nation that matters in the post-racist 21st century is the political type. Defining Quebec as a nation is the first step towards its separation. Why else would Andre Boisclair and Gilles Duceppe embrace it so? Heck, Boisclair even said outright that this will give the Parti Quebecois another argument to make in favour of separation!

    By Blogger Clear Grit, at 9:53 PM  

  • Well said, CG... As an anglo Quebecer (and proud of both my Quebec and Canadian roots), I've been spinning into an out of control spiral of identity crisis, since this whole thing began...

    By Blogger JJ, at 10:24 PM  

  • If Canada is divisible then so is Leaf Nation, and I want to keep my part in Canada. I'll be like West Berlin.

    By Blogger A BCer in Toronto, at 11:10 PM  

  • I don't know. Maybe it's because I was too young to remember Meech and Charlottetown, not to mention all the Trudeau quotes that are now popping up.

    I feel like it SHOULD meen something, that I should be pissed and stuff, but I don't, even reading Wells and Coyne et al, who I respect the opinions of more than those editorialists who are praising it.

    But it just doesn't click with me. Maybe it says something about my generation, I don't know.

    By Blogger Technetium, at 11:11 PM  

  • ''Defining Quebec as a nation is the first step towards its separation. Why else would Andre Boisclair and Gilles Duceppe embrace it so?''

    What did you expect? That they surrender or resign?
    It's clear that the separatists will try to turn everyting in their favor. But the important is that the public opinion in Quebec see this move as a great one by the federalists.
    http://www.cyberpresse.ca/

    By Blogger ecrelin, at 11:13 PM  

  • ''A nation exists when a significant number of people in a community consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as if they formed one''
    - Hugh Seton-Watson

    By Blogger ecrelin, at 11:27 PM  

  • The Constitution already recognises Quebec as a Nation, what is all the fuss about?

    http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/opinion/story.html?id=49d28e2e-4cdc-473b-b592-594735c752f6

    By Blogger wilson61, at 12:27 AM  

  • Again, I'm not a huge fan of this or anything, but let's keep some perspective. In '95, you had Jean Chretien(!) introducing a resolution calling QC a distinct society. Because it was only resolutions of the House - like Harper's motion, or the BQ's for that matter - it didn't have constitutional weight. And while it stirred some comment then, it didn't change much in the long run (if you can call 11 years "the long run).

    There's a diff between a not-so-good-idea and seeing the end of Canada, is all I'm saying.

    By Blogger Jason Hickman, at 2:42 AM  

  • First of all, the second defintion of nation should be scrapped as the term state is much more accurate. In light of that, Canada is not a nation, it is a federation. I firmly believe that if Canadians can begin to realize that more, the Quebec motion will be seen as miniscule.

    Also, I think you need to make more of a case for the Calgary nation that goes beyond a sports team and a town fair.

    By Blogger c-lo, at 3:28 AM  

  • I posted this on AC's blog, and I'm posting it here for your quiet (or loud) contemplation:

    Behold .... Canada:

    Everything is temporary in the grand scheme of things -- considering that our border with the United States is the longest undefended invisible dotted line in the world and some freaky people on the American side have taken it upon themselves to patrol the back woods on horseback, perhaps I should don a black Stetson and adopt their cowboy ways, because there is no Canadian way in spite of what Jack Layton has to say about it. (Or Iggy, or Gerard, or Harper or even Don Newman for that matter.)

    I don’t dislike America, how could I? They have HBO and we don’t. This is an unpardonable sin on the part of the CRTC in my view because there isn’t much of anything on Canadian television these days and some idiot at the CBC decided that George Strombolopolous, late a reject from the cult of reality programs after “The One” lasted all of “one” episode amid rabid backlash on the Canadian side because it was going to pre-empt “The National”, is relevant. He isn’t even funny.

    There is nothing more pathetic than our national broadcaster whose viewing demographic is

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:07 AM  

  • I posted this on AC's blog, and I'm posting it here for your quiet (or loud) contemplation:

    Behold .... Canada:

    Everything is temporary in the grand scheme of things -- considering that our border with the United States is the longest undefended invisible dotted line in the world and some freaky people on the American side have taken it upon themselves to patrol the back woods on horseback, perhaps I should don a black Stetson and adopt their cowboy ways, because there is no Canadian way in spite of what Jack Layton has to say about it. (Or Iggy, or Gerard, or Harper or even Don Newman for that matter.)

    I don’t dislike America, how could I? They have HBO and we don’t. This is an unpardonable sin on the part of the CRTC in my view because there isn’t much of anything on Canadian television these days and some idiot at the CBC decided that George Strombolopolous, late a reject from the cult of reality programs after “The One” lasted all of “one” episode amid rabid backlash on the Canadian side because it was going to pre-empt “The National”, is relevant. He isn’t even funny.

    There is nothing more pathetic than our national broadcaster whose viewing demographic is made up of blue collar hockey fans and agendized special interest types, trying desperately to be hip when the hipsters and those in the know are actually online watching some overweight retard make a fool of himself by lip-syncing the words to some obscure dance song on You-Tube.

    Kevin Newman is by far the better anchor for a national news broadcast, and though I have always looked up to Lloyd Robertson as a fatherly kind of guy. His bullet proof hair can’t compete with Kevin’s stylish glasses and svelt physique. I won’t c

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:11 AM  

  • I posted this on AC's blog, and I'm posting it here for your quiet (or loud) contemplation:

    Behold .... Canada:

    Everything is temporary in the grand scheme of things -- considering that our border with the United States is the longest undefended invisible dotted line in the world and some freaky people on the American side have taken it upon themselves to patrol the back woods on horseback, perhaps I should don a black Stetson and adopt their cowboy ways, because there is no Canadian way in spite of what Jack Layton has to say about it. (Or Iggy, or Gerard, or Harper or even Don Newman for that matter.)

    I don’t dislike America, how could I? They have HBO and we don’t. This is an unpardonable sin on the part of the CRTC in my view because there isn’t much of anything on Canadian television these days and some idiot at the CBC decided that George Strombolopolous, late a reject from the cult of reality programs after “The One” lasted all of “one” episode amid rabid backlash on the Canadian side because it was going to pre-empt “The National”, is relevant. He isn’t even funny.

    There is nothing more pathetic than our national broadcaster whose viewing demographic is made up of blue collar hockey fans and agendized special interest types, trying desperately to be hip when the hipsters and those in the know are actually online watching some overweight retard make a fool of himself by lip-syncing the words to some obscure dance song on You-Tube.

    Kevin Newman is by far the better anchor for a national news broadcast, and though I have always looked up to Lloyd Robertson as a fatherly kind of guy. His bullet proof hair can’t compete with Kevin’s stylish glasses and svelt physique. I won’t complain about Peter Mansbridge too loudly, at least he had the wherewithal to publicly question the wisdom of the CBC when The National was about to be bumped by “The One”.

    Canadian popular culture is a myth (or nationhood, or whatever you care to call it) and there are probably reasons beyond the fact that we are a country that loves to splash about in a stew of mediocrity because we don’t have cowboys riding horse back through the backwoods of our side of the border and because Avi Lewis has his own show on Newsworld.

    Who is this guy anyway? I mean his mother’s columns in the Toronto Star were little more than radical feminist bafflegabbery and his father is a tiresome do-gooder that nobody but the CBC really pays attention to. Not that his mission as the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa isn’t noble enough; but why does he get his own show? Better still, does anyone actually watch it?

    The best programming on Canadian television can be found on Space, the best newspaper in the country is The Montreal Gazette and the best cheeseburgers can be found at Peter’s Drive-In on 16th Avenue in Calgary. The worst host we’ve ever produced is Ben Mulroney, the worst weather depends on where you live and the worst drivers can be found on the 401.

    I believe we have an overly-inflated sense of our place in the world and I surely know that our involvement in Afghanistan is better than standing from a safe distance while other countries do the fighting. The war in that God-forsaken country has claimed forty Canadian lives at the time of this writing while back home, Jack Layton pontificates about the wrong mission at the wrong time in the wrong place and suggests that we should sit down for peace talks with the Taliban.

    Though his comments pissed off a lot of people, they serve as a reminder of why the NDP has about as much chance of forming a government as the Leafs have of winning a Stanley Cup. (If the Leafs ever do win a cup, I'm moving.)

    Stephen Harper is still the Prime Minister, who would have thunk it, right? The guy was written off as yesterday’s man less than two years ago and now he’s in there kicking serious ass wherever he goes and it is scaring the living shit out of the Canadian establishement.

    I didn’t vote for him, but I kinda like the guy because even when he is wrong, he at least has the balls to take a position, which brings me to my next point about the state of Canada.

    The hot chick isn’t going to notice you if your primary goal is to blend into the wallpaper and hope that you’re not going to be noticed. It’s an established fact that women like bad boys and Canada has, until very recently, lived the life of a pimple-faced adolescent who plays Dungeons and Dragons in his mother’s basement whilst sipping green Kool-Aid from a plastic cup with a faded image of Disney’s Aladdin.

    This begs the question: do we want the hot chick or are we content to assume that she’ll notice us? Why should she notice us? Is there anything worth noticing - you tell me. Maybe we just want to fantasize about the prospect of touching her breasts and just leave it at that.

    This is a country with a low self esteem -- we wear it like a comfortable sweater actually. We make heroes out of athletes who win a bronze medal in an obscure Olympic sport like pistol shooting and we reward the guy a McCain’s Drinkin’ Box commercial. (ELVIS STOJKO GOES FOR THE BIG ONE! Remember that?)

    Christ, Steve Nash has won the NBA’s MVP award for two years and the only commercial endorsement I’ve seen him do is for MDG Computers! That’s like endorsing a Studebaker when everyone else is lining up in droves at the Toyota dealership to buy those funky new Land Cruisers!

    We covet the prospect of being the world’s best at something and then when a Canadian person actually distinguishes himself, we pillory the poor bastard on The Rick Mercer Report!

    I love my country but it pisses me off. I think Canadian Tire is still the place to shop for auto parts and I love Timmies coffee but the drive thru line-up is tedious. I think the Flames are notorious for choking and their fans are made up of fair weather corporate types who’d rather frequent the corridor of the Saddledome to negotiate real estate deals instead of cheering for Iggy.

    I think Toronto blows and Fredericton rocks. I think Warren Kinsella is usually right and that he’s quite possibly a superhero in his off hours. I believe that Paul Wells is the best political pundit this country has ever produced and the best place to go on a honeymoon with an ex-wife is Montreal. (Her hair was a triumph. The best stylists are in Montreal and I am a bald man.)

    Saskatoon is the prettiest damned town west of Lunenburg, Moses Znaimer needs to take over the CBC right bloody now, the Canadian publishing industry is in tatters, we have the best fucking rock and roll bands on planet fucking earth and Gloria Makarenko is hot -- she’s got this slight accent that I can’t quite pick out in a Heddy Lamaar kind of way. Yummers! Stuart McLean is a national treasure that nobody outside of the CBC’s demographic has ever heard of.

    When I die, I hope that God’s voice sounds like Peter Gzowski’s. Am I right? Nope. I’m Canadian, whatever the hell that means.

    Now then: Can anyone who lives outside of Quebec hone in on cultural icons that Quebeckers hold dear? Somehow I doubt it. Until the rest of Canada "gets" Quebec, its institutions, its values, its linguistic and cultural history, then I'm gonna call them a nation, a salt shaker, a pony or whatever the hell we need to call them if it will bring about some measure of domestic peace.

    Very simply, those who do not know Quebec cannot possibly understand why this issue is important to them. (Then again, if Iggy hadn't opened his yap, we'd be sucking back on moose milk and planning the festive season instead of worrying about the breakup of Canada. Gotta love the poindexters of the world who've spent their adult lives working and living amid the insular world of University where everything can be solved by a big idea and everyone gets a say.)

    By Blogger Left Right and Center, at 10:18 AM  

  • Isn't there a conflict between Coyne and Bliss' counsel on this matter? Coyne says someone should advance a case for Canada as a nation. Bliss seems to think defining nations is inherently fraught with pitfalls. So which is it? Should we refuse to define Quebec as a nation, and instead push the idea of a Canadian nation? Or should we avoid this "nation" business altogether?

    I don't say this flippantly. I would be lying if I didn't think the Harper resolution was risky. But at the same time, I don't understand the howls from some detractors - how is this any further down the slope than we've already come?

    By Blogger ALW, at 10:25 AM  

  • It always baffles me as to why leaders reject the notion of bilingualism. Why can't French and English be the national languages of Canada, and Spanish and English those of the U.S.?

    By Blogger Digital Art Photography for Dummies, at 11:00 AM  

  • alw; I think Coyne and Bliss are on the same page. Bliss says off the bat that countries are nations. For him it'd just be a redundancy to define Canada as a nation likely.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:49 PM  

  • We still have 11 Stanley Cups 'Grit. 2nd only to Montreal. When Calgary gets that high.. talk to me about "Culture of failure" ;)

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 8:19 PM  

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