Friday, December 07, 2007

Mythbusting - What if NL did the same?

Then a few scattered blogs here and there would vanish from the ether, I'm sure.  As would some newspapers.

On the other hand, others have been doing yeoman's service in carefully and systematically demolishing longtime received "truths".

When you base choices for the future on myths of the past, don't be surprised when things go awry and others look askance at you.

Simpson's column today covers another province looking hard at myths of their past.  We are overdue in doing the same.


Hard sell: What if Quebeckers turned their backs on false history?

In the dream palace of Quebec's existential politics, articulate and forceful federalists are at a premium.

Provincial politics has evolved into a competition among secessionists (Parti Québécois), autonomists (Action Démocratique) and federalists who seem chronically unhappy with most aspects of the Canadian status quo (provincial Liberals).

Federally, politics plays itself out among secessionists (Bloc Québécois), asymmetrical federalists (NDP), Quebeckers-are-a-nation (Conservatives) and Stéphane Dion Liberals. That the Liberals are now third or even fourth in Quebec says much about the leader, and attitudes toward federalism.

Federalism is a devotion in Quebec that often dares not speak its name. That it might be an excellent form of government, and beneficial, is an argument seldom advanced, except in cold mechanical terms in which Quebec's financial "gains" are recorded, then quickly forgotten in a welter of fresh demands.

It is, therefore, refreshing (although likely not consequential) that a group of federalists recently produced a collection of essays defending federalism. That the authors are swimming against the tide of elite opinion in Quebec makes their enterprise the more laudable, since they represent the few voices ready to state their federalist credentials clearly and largely without equivocation (although the contribution from the ADQ representative is as muddled as the party's attitudes toward Canada).

Reconquérir le Canada was the brainchild of André Pratte, editorial pages editor at La Presse. It brings together academics, political organizers, past candidates for the Conservatives, Liberals and ADQ, Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Benoît Pelletier and former federal Liberal justice minister Martin Cauchon.

Even among these redoubtable federalists, however, an undercurrent of dissatisfaction exists with current constitutional arrangements. Most of them say further constitutional changes (at some point) will be required to "satisfy" Quebec by way of allowing the province to sign on to the Constitution that the PQ government did not accept in 1981.

The time is obviously not right to reopen constitutional discussions (will the time ever be right?), but many of these authors suggest it must come.

Mr. Pelletier observes, correctly, that politics in Quebec is driven by identity over language, institutions and other manifestations of the "nation."

History, too, indelibly shapes the collective sense of the "nation," and that sense is exceptionally strong in Quebec. It is also a received sense, in that it is handed down in a certain way, largely as a trail of tears for Quebec within Canada, offset by ephemeral triumphs by provincial politics to "defend" the interests of Quebec.

Mr. Pratte's essay, therefore, is the bravest and most interesting because it is the most iconoclastic, for he takes issue with some of the received assertions of Quebec history.

The Conquest, for example, was a trade of one colonial master for another, and it allowed francophone Quebec to join the winning team in world affairs for the subsequent century and a half -- which meant the Industrial Revolution, parliamentary government, rule of law, and huge export opportunities, all while retaining its language and religion.

The Second World War is presented in Quebec as a doughty struggle against conscription wanted by les anglais, whereas, as Mr. Pratte points out, francophone Quebec's Pétainist preferences and its cultural/religious elites' disengagement from the fight against Nazism left too much of the province on the wrong side of history. To this day, Quebec has not faced up to that sad chapter in its "national" history, preferring the self-comforting saga of valiantly opposing conscription.

Mr. Pratte also takes issue with the premise that the Quiet Revolution turned a backward society toward modernity. Quebec, he argues, had an entrepreneurial class and spirit long before the 1960s.

Quebeckers, he urges, should be more outward looking, more embracing of the idea they can succeed in Canada, and less reliant on the clutches of false history that lead them toward the comforting but inward-looking options of secession and disengagement.

This is the book's most important idea. It will not be an easy one to sell, given the intellectual forces, conventional wisdoms and political choices ranged against it.

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