Manifesto for a national coalition

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Building the Quebec nation
Manifesto for a national coalition
This proposition calls upon a new dialogue between Franco-Quebecers, Anglo-Quebecers, Aboriginals and cultural communities

Gérard Bouchard
Professor at the human sciences department of the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi

Saturday September 4, 1999

In the debate on the national question in Quebec, there are two approaches that must be carefully distinguished. The first aims at reaching an agreement on the main constitutive elements of an integration model, that is to say: a membership framework open to all members of Quebec society, independently of their political opinions or their ethnic or religious allegiances, so that no citizen be a priori excluded from it. The question here is to trace the general beacons suitable to the founding of common life, in an attempt to think in all its complexity the new cultural reality of Quebec. All pluriethnic societies are at present confronted with this challenge. The second approach relates to the strategies to put forward in order to ensure the development of Quebec inside this general framework. Here partisan or political orientations, constitutional choices, intervene, including all the variants of the sovereignist and federalist theses. In this respect, we think that sovereignty, far from being an "interference", is the orientation to be privileged. However, taking into account the objective of this series ("To think the nation"), we will treat mainly of the first approach by presenting our conception of the Quebec nation, understood as a general framework for integration. Since a few years, this subject has given place to rich and varied exchanges in Quebec. We wish to add this note to it, in the form of a proposal.

A proposition for a national coalition

The Quebec nation exists in part as a reality and in part as a project. As a reality, she takes the form of a North American francophonie, defined initially by a language, namely the command of French as mother tongue or adoptive language, second or third. This reference to language as a common denominator is in accord with an established fact: 93 % of Quebecers declare speaking French (it is also the proportion of Americans who declares speaking English). Are added to that, as preliminary constitutive components, values universal in character, fundamental rights, democratic rules.

Some will object, with good reason, that these elements - in particular the practise of a common language - are not sufficient to found an identity, and even less a national culture. To that, we reply that it is necessary to see things from a dynamic perspective, i.e. in the long run. Thus, language must be regarded as a starting point, as the first condition of the new culture to be edified by investing it with all the diversity of traditions, of cultures already present in our society. It is the vector which opens a door to interactions, to common experiences called upon, in the long run, to nourish a true Quebec identity. The young French-speaking people born after Bill 101, for example, represent an original figure (among others) of this identity in formation. In the same spirit, the national aspirations aim for much more than the survival of the French language. The stake extends to a culture and a society to be implemented. All things considered, the language does not hold the place of culture but it provides the bed for it. Quebec culture will be made from the conjugation (in French) of the current mosaic, from which, over time, a new collective configuration will emerge. In the same way, the universal values mentioned above must be rooted in a history, in a particular cultural environment, according to an original equation.

As a project, the model of the Quebec nation calls upon a coalition of partners who currently occupy this territory. They are: Franco-Quebecers (the French Canadians descending from the inhabitants of New France and all those who assimilated to it since long enough to share all their cultural traits), Anglo-Quebecers, Aboriginals and what it is agreed upon to call the cultural communities. This proposal of a national coalition invites to restructuring the framework of the current discussions and it calls upon a new dialogue from which should result little by little the elements of a consensus. As the majority group, it is upon to Franco-Quebecers to take the initiative on this and to assume the leadership. But, once again, it will be necessary to put the required time and efforts on it: there is enough to keep a whole generation and more busy on the task. Moreover, it would be useless to seek to build quickly and artificially a new allegedly national identity which, in final analysis, would do nothing but exacerbate the differences by putting all the ethnic groups on the defencive. It would be better to first agree on social values and collective projects to be promoted jointly, concretely. History - the small one and the great one - will do the rest.

And the old French-Canadian ethnic group?

This proposal for a national coalition is founded on three principles: a concerted integration, plural identities, an adherence by affiliation (individual transfers) as well as by filiation (ethnic continuity). Can one see in this but an artifice likely to compromise the oldest French-Canadian tradition and even the sovereignist project? Like each one of the projected partners, the French Canadians will bring to the new francophonie their own symbolic system, their vision of the world, their manner. Like the other partners, they will affirm their way of being Quebecers (their ethnicity), of which the common dynamics will be nourished, but in the absence of a formal and pre-established hierarchy, of which they would benefit - except the status that Bill 101 grants the French language, in accord with the French-speaking character of the nation. Like the others also, they will be able to preserve their identity, their memory, but following a displacement which opens the French-speaking space to other ethnic presences, to other cultural assertions, in a spirit of pluralism and interaction. By doing this, they will especially have to remember that if they constitute a minority on a Canadian and continental scale, they form on a Quebec scale an imposing majority which, too, can sometimes be considered worrisome by minorities. This collective status comprises responsibilities and roles to which the experience of survival had not accustomed them to.

For the French Canadians, the profit to be withdrawn from this symbolic displacement is substantial. For example: to withdraw their nationalism from the charges of ethnicism, to insert their culture in vaster horizons, to reinforce the francophonie, to put an end to any form exclusion or of discrimination. Other reasons militate in favour of the coalition project. During the last decades, Quebec chose to receive a lot of immigrants. To be consequent, it should now provide them with a possibility of integration equal to that of citizens from old ascent. Moreover, Bill 101 obliges the Neo-Quebecers to be francized. Is it acceptable that at the end of this exercise, the latter be in spite of this still marginalized?

The model which this project of national coalition implies has caused some reticence which bring one to wonder what French Canadians could lose in it. Initially, let us recall that during the last two centuries, and like everywhere else, the symbolic contents of the nation never ceased moving in French Canada and Quebec. Each generation sought to redefine them to adapt them to the new data of the hour, to better reactualize, within the nation, the articulation between the heritage and the project. The same task is essential today. In what would this heritage be threatened by the displacement above mentioned? In what would it be it synonymous with uprootedness, desistance or alienation? The culture, the identity, the memory of the French Canadians will survive, but within a nationality extended, according to an intercultural dynamics. For the remainder, they will always have the protection conferred by Bill 101 and will be present in the nation because of their demographic weight (dominating), of their dynamism, their creativity, their will of assertion, the central place which they already occupy in the management of the public and private institutions. Lastly, from the perspective of a Quebec nation, what prevents them from continuing to militate for the sovereignty of Quebec? And in what way would this project be compromised (let us recall that, up to now, a very important resistance came from the French Canadians themselves)?

The faith of memory

Memory represents an important subject of concern. What is it about precisely? Until the recent years, the national history was told on a militant mode, in the spirit of survival. It was addressed quasi exclusively to Franco-Quebecers, to whom it was important to inculcate a direction of fidelity, a will to continue the old fight. However the model of the Quebec nation makes it possible to essentially preserve the continuity of this memory. Even more, it makes it possible to amplify its significance and its radiation by emphasizing in Franco-Quebecers' past what is both particular and universal, and by which it can be prolonged in a common destiny. Isn't it in this way that it can become fully accessible to others?

One is wrong to affirm that the other partners are hostile to a memory "which is not theirs". Taking the example of Neo-Quebecers, they know very well that they have stepped into a train that has been moving for a long time, and of which they can abolish neither the source, nor the course already taken up until now. In the same way that the immigrants would not think of calling into question these memori cathedrals that are the Revolution of 1789 in France or the Insurrection of 1776 in the United States. But some still perceive the need to present differently the memory of the French Canadians pre-established: without diluting it, but while insisting on what it has that is most significant for the present and the future, and while better showing the situation and the action of the other Quebecers in the evolution of this society.

A replacement model?

Lastly, in any evaluation of the model of the Quebec nation (or of this version of the model), it is advisable to include an appreciation of the other replacement formulae, in particular those recommending a return to the French-Canadian nation. This last proposal results in straightforwardly structuring the cultural integration of Quebec on the basis of ethnicity (since there would be as many nations as there are ethnic groups) and in formally asserting the dominating position of the French Canadians. This orientation causes concerns insofar as it risks: 1 to give up thinking the future of the francophonie on the scale of the whole of Quebec; 2 to marginalize all the non-French Canadians by dooming them to a minority status (an immigrant can francize himself, but how can he become French-Canadian?); 3 to institutionalize the principle of the mosaic and bulk-heading and to create a climate favourable to divisions, stereotypes, ethnic and racial tensions, to ethnicism; 4 to divert the Franco-Quebec[er] culture from the universal challenge of diversity; 5 to play the game of Canadian multiculturalism in its Trudeauist version (and intent); 6 to lock up the sovereignty project in ethnocentrism; 7 to mark a regression toward a form of folding in on oneself associated with the old survivalist nationalism; and finally: 8 to make the nation rather a barricade than a meeting space.

Urgent tasks

We insisted up until now on the symbolic dimension of the nation, leaving aside the equally essential political (the State) and legal (citizenship) aspects. Another dimension, sociological, would be concerned with the collective forms to implement in the social, economic and cultural dimensions. In connection with this dimension, one could speak of the utopian deficit which it is urgent to make up for: the circle of the nation being traced, want do we wish to put inside of it concretely? Or, more simply: how will one wish to make this society happier? It is a first building project for the Quebec nation. A second relates to the rectification of certain imbalances in public space: to continue the measures which have been adopted to open more widely to the other partners the employments in the public service, to complete the transformation of the June 24 celebrations into a truly national festival (an immense work has been done toward this goal recently), to deconfessionnalize schools. Among the other tasks which are being proposed, it will be necessary to continue the rewriting of the national history, to be more active to stimulate interactions, partnerships among ethnic groups, and finally, through all these steps, to precise and promote the proposal for a national coalition. This objective requires, in particular, a clear definition at the same time of the relation to be established between the partners, of the status which is secured to them, and of the advantage that each can get out of it.

Admittedly, the proposal and its corollaries comprise many uncertainties. Thus, nothing ensures us that the partners (beginning with Franco-Quebecers) will adhere to this project of coalition. But it will be necessary to give oneself much time before concluding to a rejection. It is only to this condition, by the force of the things to some extent, that the principal partner could be brought back to the hypothesis of being a lone rider, constrained to reconsider itself again as an ethnic nation, in the integral meaning of the term. We are not there.

While finishing up, it is important to recall: the framework traced by this model of a Quebec nation is given as a general horizon to be concretized through dialogue and, in this way, it remains open to all the political or constitutional options, including the project of sovereignty. On this subject, must it be feared that the sovereignty of Quebec be delayed until the tasks which have just been evoked are completed? We are rather convinced, as for us, that this national model cannot put up with the federal framework and that sovereignty is a necessary condition to its complete establishment. It will be necessary for us to come back to this subject. Our objective today was to delimit a common ground in which each one can root a membership and to put forward its options.

Who is Gérard Bouchard?

Historian and sociologist, responsible for the BALSAC project, Gérard Bouchard teaches at the human sciences department of the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi since 1971. He was until 1998 director of the Institut interuniversitaire de recherches sur les populations (IREP), of which he was the founder. His current research concerns the comparative studies of new or founding collectivities in the various territories of the New World (including Australia, New Zealand and a few African countries). Author of various works ranging from genetics and demographics to social and cultural history, he recently published Quelques arpents d'Amérique 1 (1996) and La nation québécoise au futur et au passé (1999), as well as various collective works.

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