“In my country…”
I’ve lived in Ottawa, ON for five years or so now. It was never supposed to last this long – and I’m starting to get used to it. I’m from the Canadian prairies – Winnipeg, MB specifically. So, there are subtle differences in culture that predominate both in Canada and the U.S. between east and west. But there’s one difference germane to Canada’s side I’ll likely never get used to…this rediculous tension which exists between anglophones and francophones.
Take the lady I overheard in my doctor’s clinic this evening. She managed to get into a silly little debate with the receptionist ovver whether Quebec was a country. The patient in question was trying to buy a doctor’s note (yeah, they sell those here) and in asking for it she said "..it’s not like that in my country; we need a doctor’s note and we don’t have to pay for it."
To which the receptionist replied, "You mean province, don’t you?"
"No! Country!" came the swift retort.
If we want to be truly technical – and it doesn’t matter a damn if you’re a francophone or anglophone, favour soverignty for Quebec or Canadian federalism; Quebec is not a country either culturally, philosophically or politically. It’s a province. You can’t have a cultural country anymore than you can have a cultural nation. You can have a culture. You can even have a Quebec nationalism. At least that’s how it is in the english language.
And that’s how it is in french too, at least so far as I understand it. You can have "une culture de la francophonie", "une culture du Quebec" and even "une nationalite Quebecois". But not "la nation du Quebec comme la nation du Canada." Nor "le pays du Quebec" becuase neither of those exist. At least, not yet.
This nonsense has even reached Canada’s anglo and francophone politicians. And for reasons of political opportunism as much as anything else, they’ve pretty much universally sold out to this idea of a "philosophical/cultural" nation as opposed to a "political" one in the name of getting a few extra votes in Quebec, because those who sit on the line between being pro-soverignty and not will more likely lean in favour of federalism if federalists accept the idea. But the reality remains the same regardless. Quebec, as a political entity, remains a province.
The problem really dates back to Canada’s founding as federation of individual states, to be called provinces. In Quebec, the popular view is that all of Canada’s provinces are, in fact, individual mini-states which opt into the confederation of Canada willingly. Yet what virtually nobody in Quebec realizes (or seems to care) is that this idea outside of Quebec is both unpopular as it is meaningless because no province would ever assert it has the right to call itself a nation in any context – cultural or otherwise. Indeed, to other provinces, Quebec appears to be trying to single itself out as some kind of superior entity within confederation with typical eastern arrogance, because it remains collectively insensitive to the other provinces’ status with respect to Ontario (Canada’s uber-province). This isn’t to say there aren’t substantial cultural differences between, say, Manitoba and Ontario – because there certainly are, I’d argue. The point is, even so, Manitobans wouldn’t presume to try to assert Manitoban cultural or civic nationhood at the expense of the whole and don’t see it right for Quebeccers to try.
So, back to this lady. I watched, bemused, as this conversation evolved from the confrontational tone to the snide, standoffish, stick-to-business tone such conversations are properly regulated to once they start. However, I see a growing problem here…at least insofar as living in a place like Ottawa is concerned. With a virtual 50/50 split between english and french-speaking residents, I worry this nonsense will continue to somehow capture the attention and minds of the vast majority in Quebec (and in the rest of Canada) who seem all to quick to never look at the big picture…at what it all means for the nation.
And the nation I’m speaking of, naturally, is the only one that really exists here.