Polysemy in the Quebec debate

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Polysemy, (from the Greek πολυσημεία = multiple meaning) is the capacity of signs (e.g. words, phrases, etc...) to have multiple meanings. The Quebec debate is full of ambiguous terms which make it very difficult for observers to follow the logic of arguments from both sides in French or English, even less so across the two!

Two Canadas

Advocates of Quebec independence will refuse to agree with the statement that "Samuel de Champlain is the founder of Canada" unless the word "Canada" is used in its archaic sense of "Canada, the main region of the former province of New France". Because "Canada" is today a word that refers to the federal Dominion of British North America created by a law of the Parliament of Great Britain in 1867, we cannot say that Samuel de Champlain is the founder of this Canada, because he could not have founded any political entity some 235 years after his own death. What we can say is that Champlain is the founder of "French Canada", a country ceded by France to Great Britain in 1763. This country, settled by people of mostly European origins along the St-Laurence river, was renamed the Province of Quebec by a Royal Proclamation shortly after the cession.

Samuel de Champlain is the founder of a new community which today still perpetuates today as a human group whose members call themselves the Québécois (Quebecers) because they consider their homeland to be Quebec, formerly French Canada. This multi-generational community is not comprised of only those who can trace their ancestry to the living population of French Canada in 1763. It is comprised of those who acquired the Canadien, Canadien-français and now Québécois identity which today, like yesterday, a person can acquire by birth or by immigrating to what is today Québec. Quebecers are very much aware of this reality, especially advocates of independence. The independentists are also very much aware that the provincial state which used to be called "Canada" under French rule, the state whose legal system was the Coutume de Paris, whose capital was in Quebec city, whose population resided along the St. Lawrence river valley, is NOT the federal state which is today called "Canada", it is the federated state which is today called Québec.


Quebec (political entity) Canada (political entity)
Time Period
1534 to 1608
(European Explorations)
Canada, New France, Kingdom of France Non-existent
1608 to 1662
(Company Rule)
Canada, New France, Kingdom of France Non-existent
1663 to 1759
(Royal Province)
Canada, New France, Kingdom of France Non-existent
1759 to 1763
(Military Regime)
Canada, Kingdom of Great Britain Non-existent
1763 to 1774
(Royal Proclamation)
Province of Quebec, Kingdom of Great Britain Non-existent
1775 to 1791
(Quebec Act)
Province of Quebec, Kingdom of Great Britain Non-existent
After 1783
(Independence of Thirteen Colonies)
Province of Quebec, Kingdom of Great Britain British North America
1792 to 1838
(Constitutional Act)
Province of Lower Canada, Kingdom of Great Britain British North America
1841 to 1867
(Union Act)
Canada East, Province of Canada, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland British North America
1867 to 1930
(British North America Act)
Province of Quebec, Canada, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Dominion of Canada
1931 to 1982
(Treaty of Westminster)
Province of Quebec, Canada Dominion of Canada
1982 to now
(Constitutional Act)
Province of Quebec, Canada Canada

Two nations

  • Nation, as a human community in and out of its political borders
  • Nation, as a human community and its political institutions on a given territory
  • Nation, as a synonym of sovereign State

See also