Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Mystique of the Quebecois Nation Motion, Part 2

The Mystique of the Quebecois Nation Motion, Part 2

By Natsumi Koshigaya
The Daily Magi
September 30, 2060

The Québécois nation motion was a parliamentary motion tabled by Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper on Wednesday, November 22, 2006 and approved by the House of Commons of Canada on Monday, November 27, 2006. The English motion read:
    "That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada."

and, in French, read:
    "Que cette Chambre reconnaisse que les Québécoises et les Québécois forment une nation au sein d'un Canada uni."

Debate over federal government recognition of a Quebec nation was triggered during the leadership race for the Liberal Party of Canada during a September 10, 2006 leadership debate in Quebec City. Leading candidate and political scientist Michael Ignatieff mused that Quebec should be recognized as a nation in the Canadian constitution. When the Quebec wing of the federal Liberals adopted a similar resolution on October 21, 2006, many Liberals began questioning Ignatieff's judgement. In his 1992 book "Blood and Belonging", Ignatieff had championed the cause of civic nationalism based on "a community of equal, rights-bearing citizens, united in patriotic attachment to a shared set of political practices and values." Now he was endorsing "a nation, with a language, history, culture and territory that marks them out as a separate people", which sounded to many like ethnic nationalism. Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, criticized Ignatieff for lacking political judgement.

Sensing political division in his political opposition, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe scheduled a motion in the House of Commons for November 23, 2006—similar to the 2003 Parti Québécois resolution passed unanimously by the National Assembly in Quebec—that it also recognize "Quebeckers as a nation". He knew that the motion would probably be rejected, but argued he could use this to show that Canadians once again did not recognize the identity of Quebecers. If the motion did pass, he could use it to make claims on Quebec sovereignty.

Liberal leadership candidate (and eventual winner) Stéphane Dion moved to reconcile positions within the Liberal party, circulating a draft of a resolution that would change the wording of the resolution.

On November 22, 2006, the Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper tabled the Québécois nation motion the day before the Bloc Québécois resolution came to a vote. The English version changed the word Quebecer to Québécois and added "within a united Canada" at the end of the Bloc motion. Harper further elaborated, stating that the motion's definition of Québécois relies on personal decisions to self-identify as Québécois, and therefore is a personal choice. Dion said that this resolution was similar to the one he had circulated several days earlier. The Bloc Québécois members originally rejected this motion as overly partisan and federalist, but supported the motion the following day.

The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to pass the motion. The motion passed by a margin of 265 (yeas) to 16 (nays). There are 308 seats in the House of Commons, but two were not filled at the time. Of the rest, 283 MPs voted on the motion, 20 were absent for various reasons, three chose to abstain and two had pre-arranged to be paired with absent voters (not counting their votes). MPs then voted down the Bloc Québécois motion.

Conservative members were ordered by the Prime Minister not to oppose the motion or be expelled from the caucus. Many of his MPs had deep reservations about the motion, but only six members of his caucus were absent, all from Western Canada. Harper's Intergovernmental Affairs minister Michael Chong resigned from his position and abstained from voting, arguing that this motion was too ambiguous and had the potential of recognizing ethnic nationalism in Canada.

Members of the New Democratic Party and Bloc Québécois all voted for the motion. Liberals were the most divided on the issue and comprised 15 of the 16 votes against the motion. Liberal MP Ken Dryden summarized the view of many of these dissenters, maintaining that it was a game of semantics that cheapened issues of national identity.

A survey of 1,500 Canadians by Leger Marketing for the Association of Canadian studies in November 2006 showed that Canadians were deeply divided on this issue, though polls used wording that did not directly reflect the motion. When asked if "Quebecers" are a nation, only 48 per cent of Canadians agreed, 47 per cent disagreed, with 33 per cent strongly disagreeing; 78 per cent of French-speaking Quebecers agreed that "Quebecers" are a nation, next to 38 per cent of English-speakers. As well, 78 per cent of 1,000 Quebecers polled thought that "Quebecers" should be recognized as a nation.

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