Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Loosey-goosey federations can grow too

More than 60 per cent of Quebec residents define themselves as Quebecers first or exclusively, according to the survey by Leger Marketing . . . 
“Results of the survey for the Association for Canadian Studies suggest that almost one-third of Quebec francophones define themselves as Quebecers only, while 39 per cent see themselves as Quebecers first but also as Canadians.”
"I [Jack Jedwab, Executive Director, Association for Canadian Studies] think we'll have to live with the fact that selling the Canadian project in Quebec can't be about a love affair for most Quebecers," he added. "It's a marriage of convenience, not a marriage of love."

—“Quebecers Put Province Before Canada: Poll,” The Montreal Gazette, December 28, 2010

Rather than working up new ways to sell the “Canadian project” to Quebec, let’s first read the data calmly, as federalists.

Canadian nationalists use their fair share of nation-building “projects” to romanticize the Canadian union.  Railways, public healthcare, and graves in northern France have been evoked to embellish the case for Canada. However, federalists have consistently made a winning case for Canada’s federation without asking for a change of heart. Indeed, our greatest unifiers have insisted we keep the heart in its place.

Laurier and Trudeau were immensely appealing. They loved British liberalism and the liberal possibilities of a federal state. However, they never seriously asked Canadians to love one another, sight unseen. Their case for Canada didn’t ask Quebecers to feel less passionately about Quebec, but to appreciate the benefits of the wider federation. They insisted that federalism was honourable and viable because they were Quebecers and Canadians at the same time.

As Oliver Wendell Holms said slightly differently about taxes, divided loyalties is a price we pay for living in a free and dynamic society. It is not the thin edge of the wedge that will eventually break Canada up or, for that matter, America’s federation.

Of course, it offends federalists that a plurality of Quebecers has recently been electing separatists to Canada’s federal parliament. However, saying Quebec has all the benefits with none of the responsibility of looking out for the federation is a morbid stretch. In the 2008 federal election, the Bloc Quebecois won only 38% of the popular vote in Quebec. Furthermore, the turn-out in that federal election in Quebec was above the Canadian average. Indeed, it was above loyal Ontario: 61.1% compared to 59.1%. On tests of sacrifice—for instance, paying federal taxes and volunteering to fight in Afghanistan—Quebecers are as reliable as Canadians elsewhere.

However, could this palpable lack of emotion about Canada in the province of Quebec lead to separation by accident? Surely, countries that have stayed together freely as long as Canada has do not come apart by accident.

A more emotional transCanada nationalism in Quebec, of course, is something that romantic nationalists want to see more of in other parts of Canada as well. Without Quebec, that nationalism would be no easier to manufacture elsewhere.

An unsentimental union also harbors a larger idea, one that also grates with nationalists. If British Columbians and Quebecers can do politics together without loving each other, why not with Californians and Bostonians as well?

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