Canada discovers something uglier than Quebec sovereignty

This year's celebration of St. John the Baptist Day (June 24) in the French-speaking province of Quebec was completely uneventful. In years past, the revelers would proclaim their dream of a sovereign Quebec. But the sovereignty cause is now quite dormant and there was nothing to preach on Quebec's nationalist holiday.
Years ago, in an exchange in First Things magazine, Canadian scholar Preston Jones accused me of not grasping the distinction between Quebec separatism and Quebec nationalism. Alas, my grasp of this distinction was quite firm. For years, up until the sovereignty referendum was barely defeated in 1995, many a Quebec nationalist protested the French-speaking Canadian province's jurisdiction over language laws (promoting the French language at the expense of English).
While many (if not most) of these nationalists were separatists, a by no means marginal number of them believed in staying part of Canada. A good example was the 1980's Liberal Quebec premier, Robert Bourassa, who supported Canadian federation while going to the wall to support Bill 101 (a language law passed in 1977 mandating the prominence of French on advertisements and businesses).
But the main error of Jones was not to underestimate my grasp of the distinction between Quebec separatism from Quebec nationalism. His mistake was to assume the hardcore nationalists were of necessity the separatists. The irony is that the separatist Parti Quebecois (which has been out of power for a number of years and is struggling to remain relevant) had, after the defeat of the sovereignty referendum in 1995, sought to purge its ranks of those members who supported another sovereignty referendum.
One of those Parti Quebecois members was Francois Legault. He went so far as to bolt from the Parti Quebecois in 2009 and two years later, established his own party: Coalition Avenir Quebec (the rough translation meaning the future of Quebec). And Legault led the CAQ to power in 2018, leaving in the dust both the provincial Liberal Party and the Parti Quebecois.
Legault proposed a new type of Quebec nationalism. He vowed no more sovereignty referenda and promised a Quebec pure of outside influence (meaning to minimize the Islamic and Jewish communities of the French speaking province). Legault's method is a punitive sort of secularism, which he enacted this month, banning public employees from donning religious garb and/or symbols. Paying lip service to equity, the legislation also bans the crucifix, as well as the Star of David and the headscarf. And the rest of Canada use to think that Quebec separatism was mean-spirited.
Incidentally, the ban on the crucifix is still a little tricky. This legislation will eventually be the subject of litigation and inevitable in this coming litigation will be the uncomfortable fact that hanging over the legislative assembly room in Quebec City is a crucifix. And despite the secularization endured by Quebec nationalism since the 1960's, that crucifix remains a symbol of pride, as does the huge cross overlooking downtown Montreal.
What those in Quebec who still harbor the separatist dream must do is re-embrace the Catholic influence which used to dominate Quebec nationalism. It's the only angle they can hope to work. The secular public does not want the crucifix in the legislative building to disappear (much less the cross in Montreal). And both symbols have an obvious appeal to Catholic forces in Quebec.
But what the rest of Canada must do is re-evaluate its judgments about Quebec. In its demonization of Quebec separatism, Canada lost sight of the truth that there are worse strains than separatism. And these strains are being realized in a nation that prides itself on tolerance.
Canada's courts are bound to slap down the new secular laws in Quebec. But what will remain is the perpetual engine of Quebec nationalism.
Canada has to decide if it wants to court the current chauvinistic nationalist regime in power in Quebec or try to understand the wants of those who dream of a sovereign Quebec.
As has been the case since the founding of Canada in 1867, still at stake is the unity of the country.
John O'Neill is an Allen Park freelance writer. He has a degree in history from Wayne State University.



Popular posts from this blog

‘The chances of nuclear use are minimal. Both Russia & Ukraine are well aware of results’: DB Venkatesh Varma

Pak off FATF Grey List; ‘Black Spot’ on Fight Against Terror Irks India; J&K Guv Says 'World is Watching'

‘Not Hospital, Al-Shifa is Hamas Hideout & HQ in Gaza’: Israel Releases ‘Terrorists’ Confessions’ | Exclusive