Sen. Segal on the Nation Issue
Here is a fantastic op-ed piece written by Wellington Financial advisory council member Senator Hugh Segal, in case you missed it. Although the Senator and I may not agree on this topic, it is the best op-ed piece he’s ever written…and that is saying a lot:
“We’re still cleaning up Lord Durham’s mess
29 November 2006
The Globe and Mail
Lord Durham issued his report in 1839, on the affairs of British North America. In it, he called for the union of Lower and Upper Canada (Quebec and Ontario) and the assimilation of French Canada. We have been backtracking on that core insensitivity and fundamental miscalculation ever since.
Every decision — from the evolution to responsible government, the design of Confederation, the rotation of the capital from Kingston to Montreal to Ottawa, to the role of the Senate and the content of Sections 92 and 93 of the Constitution — has been part of affirming that the assimilation of French Canada is not what Canada wants or needs. In fact, we are made remarkably stronger as a country by protecting and enhancing the French fact.
In more recent times, part of the motivation for the notwithstanding clause, without which we would have neither a patriated Constitution nor a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was affirming the sovereignty of our elected legislatures, including Quebec’s National Assembly. The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism and the Official Languages Act are also part of this accommodation. The way through on health insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, reflected this spirit of accommodation.
The list of dynamic affirmations of how wrong Lord Durham was is endless and ongoing — and that speaks well of Canada, and Quebec. The National Capital Region, the advent of immersion education, constitutional safeguards for minority language rights throughout Canada, and New Brunswick’s official bilingualism are all part of a fabric of mutual recognition and celebration that speaks to the dynamic of a mature multinational and bilingual Canada.
Federalists such as Maurice Duplessis, who was also a proud defender of the Québécois nationality, language, culture and civilization, campaigned on the slogan of “coopération toujours, l’assimilation jamais” — a message that has inspired elected Quebec governments ever since.
Even the unhelpful Liberal Clarity Act produced in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that accompanied its passage a clear respect for both the right of Quebeckers to determine their own future, and the role of Parliament and the federal government in that process. Both Lucien Bouchard and Jean Chrétien accepted that ruling with equanimity.
Those who eschew this generation’s accommodation, as eloquently expressed by the resolution standing before Parliament in the name of the Prime Minister and with multipartisan support, do so in good faith, to be sure. But the centralist anti-Quebec nationalism bias of the old Trudeau years cannot be applied in a cookie-cutter way to every generation’s strategic accommodation.
Pierre Trudeau, whose War Measures Act had hundreds of Quebeckers arrested in the middle of the night, none of whom were ever charged with anything, and who had little tolerance for the nuanced federalist nationalism of Robert Bourassa, is no model here. His rigidities, his determination to scuttle Meech Lake and Charlottetown, combined with Mr. Chrétien’s disconnect from the 1995 referendum, almost cost us the country. They are no model for a modern multinational country in a globalized world. Scotland’s national history within Great Britain strengthens our British allies, as does the clear Welsh nationality. Spanish Catalans play the same role.
As a native-born Quebecker who learned French at the bilingual University of Ottawa, I consider my roots to be Québécois, and rejoice at the cultural expansion and linguistic vibrancy of the French language, Québécois history and culture in Quebec and elsewhere. It is vital to the survival of francophone minority language and culture across Canada. Affirming that the Québécois constitute a nation within a united Canada affirms the historical and sociological fact.
That sovereigntists of the “pur et dur” variety will try to build this into something with potential meaning should surprise no one. Had the idea of Québécois-acquired status within our country been rejected, sovereigntists would have deployed the “humiliation card” that we’ve seen before. There was no choice available to the Prime Minister that would dilute the ardour of some. But, for many Québécois, the open and affirming nature of this gesture will be a constructive symbol of what an open and supple federalism can mean.
The Trudeau-Chrétien-Gerard Kennedy orthodoxy is simplistically appealing, and carries the siren call of simple answers to complex problems. Well, while it may trouble distinguished historians such as Michael Bliss and Trudeau-era parliamentarians, we lost the simple-answer choice in 1839. Americans and others addressed secessionist pressures in hard ways, and paid a huge price in violence and war.
Canada has taken a very different approach. Our spirit of accommodation reflects the dynamism, humanity and civility that successive leaders from different persuasions have had the good sense to offer. That leadership and sensitivity remains essential to the complexity of each generation’s answer in keeping the Canadian idea alive and, with it, the greatest country in the world.
Senator Hugh Segal chairs the Senate foreign affairs and international trade committee, and is a former president of the Institute for Research on Public Policy in Montreal.”