(This post is dedicated to a close friend who died suddenly on March 28th. It doesn’t presume to express faithfully Patricia Dumas’ views. But, it is inspired by her passion for politics, her service to Canada, her pride, and her confidence in the Quebecois nation and its prospects.)
Civilized people have their fingers crossed that nationalist feelings will continue to soften globally, that great powers and struggling small ones will remember: unbridled nationalism only feeds graveyards. Divided loyalties, we’ve finally discovered, can make us greater, and the world a better and more useful place.
Liberal partisans are especially sure that Canada’s open, compromising nationalism is a positive example to others; they insist that it helps us “punch above our weight”. They’re less sure, however, about the soft nationalism that’s beating in the hearts of the Quebecois nation—in the Canadian province of Quebec.
Liberal Prime Ministers have been the architects of a soft Canadian identity—literally, of a country that formally recognizes two languages, the cultures of all legal immigrants, and strong local as well as national governments. They’ve not been as enthusiastic as Conservatives in supporting traditional Anglo alliances and favor multi-lateral decision-making. In their efforts to eliminate old divisions—and their divisive underlying sentiments—Liberals have been modern Canada’s most aggressive nation-builders.
Justin Trudeau expressed this proud willfulness when he promised last week that the Liberal Party he leads will be “one hundred percent undeniably Canadian”.
Abroad, being so vehemently Canadian is a benign as Swiss cheese and Belgium chocolate. At home, it is less so. Unfortunately, Justin Trudeau’s one hundred percent soft Canadian nationalism doesn’t respect the soft nationalism felt by most Quebecois.
His 100% formulation wasn’t the tin-eared indulgence of an innumerate speechwriter. In the nicest way, Trudeau was assigning failing grads to those who’d dare fiddle with his father’s constitutional reforms and conception of Canada.
Earlier this spring, in an attack on Mulcair's opportunism over the appropriate terms for negotiating with the Quebec Government after a possible winning referendum on Quebec independence, Justin Trudeau demonstrated how he intends to play politics as a 100% Canadian:
“To have Mr. Mulcair pandering to his sovereigntist or soft-nationalist base in Quebec at the expense of national unity,” Trudeau told Postmedia News, “indicates a brand of cynical politics that is exactly what the country needs least.”
Quebec nationalists, according to Trudeau, are “soft” in every pejorative sense of the word. They might join the separatists or demand more from the rest of Canada, and are still unsure where they stand. To ask for their votes without first turning them into “one hundred percent undeniable” Canadian federalists, apparently, is naive and vaguely dishonorable.
Ambivalence may be an accepted Canadian characteristic—but it’s not to be admired, accommodated, or reasoned with in Quebec.
The accommodative, sunny liberalism of Wilfred Laurier—historically, their most important Prime Minister—may be practiced by partisan Liberals in Ontario and in the West, but must be left to their opponents to practice in Quebec.
On re-opening the Canadian Constitution for further amendment and amending the provocative Clarity Act of 1999 the federal Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau must be all spine and no ears.
The soft Quebec nationalist isn’t going anywhere, but doesn’t see the Canadian status quo as either Heaven on earth or beyond repair.
It’s argued that standing up to Quebec nationalism has worked in keeping Quebec within Canada—and that intolerance (and transfer payments) will work again. However, Liberals should at least recognize that they are now the constitutional reactionaries in their country.
For Justin Trudeau and his father’s acolytes to claim that the federalist constitutional victories in the 1980’s settled Canada’s future is no more convincing than the Empire Loyalists’ insistence that Canada’s destiny was decided by the victory of one European army or another European army in Quebec City, in 1759.