27 November 2006

Caped Kennedy, or The Last Of This Nation Consternation

    I know I've been writing a fair bit about this nation fiasco-in-the-making, and normally I'd be one to say enough's enough once I'd reached three posts in a week on any subject, regardless of how much it got under my skin.  That in mind, I'll try to keep myself from ranting, and merely direct your collective attention to the sharper arguments of Michael Bliss and Andrew Coyne.  (See also Coyne's remarks on what I called the Empsonian wet-dream of this lunacy.)  Both are right, though both will surely be decried in most political quarters for being hysterics.  Except.  Except, except, except--- it seems there's finally one major, or potentially major, political figure coming out against this, and in doing so he's making himself, well, a lot more major--- er, generally speaking.  My guess?  In doing so, Kennedy will gain enough support to vault him past Dion and Rae at the Liberal Leadership Convention.  This is a wedge issue of huge proportions, and Kennedy's position as the lone opponent of this silliness seems already to be garnering him support from people previously indifferent and even hostile to him.  This is an issue significant enough to make Liberals vote on it rather than a leader per se, and Kennedy's (rightly) about to reap the rewards of it.  No sooner do I write him off than he seems to come back with a vengeance.  Expect him to start making appearances in red and white tights with a Canadian flag hanging from his shoulders.  *shudder*
    One more thing.  As much as I love the idea of Gilles Duceppe having his ass handed him by the PM, I'm not so set on my plate of schadenfreude that we should support this farce.  Many are claiming this motion demonstrates canniness on the PM's part, and maybe it does; but if so it demonstrates a canniness only in terms of the short-term political results.  The real problems will come in the long-term, as we try to figure out what the hell this language commits us to, and what it might, and likely will, eventually invite. 
    There.  Now, I promise:  Not a word more about this aggravating silliness.  After all, I'll need to pick up some aspirin before the real headaches begin.


RK said...

Right. OK. I too will cease even to think about this (which I don't, much), but I will chuck in my tuppence worth, which (coming from a wimpy piece of Eurotrash) will offend Real Canajians as much as if my name were a Russian version of the founder of the Jesuits.
I have now lived in Quebec for 4 years, as a Francophone. (I have the most un-English-Canadian good fortune of being able to be several kinds of phone, all of them cordless, gormless, clueless and wireless.)
Before I moved there, I had a wife from Quebec for seven years and spent a lot of time there. And I was a red-hot Kennedian Canadian. After all, my home and native land had been liberated by Canadians. And yes, I'm still a federalist.
BUT. But. Darlings, I have news for you. French Quebec is a nation. I know: shhhhhhh, we all know this, but (this is Canada) it mustn't ever be said out loud.
Bollocks. All those arguments about "What about the other provinces?" "No province can be a nation!" Bollocks. French Quebec is a nation. The Palestinians are a nation. Yes, Andrew Coyne, the Flemings are a nation, and so are the Walloons. This is not an aspiration, my dears: it's a reality. Living there, you know.
Now, North Murrcans have little sense of what a plurality of nations can mean. After all, we only have, like, Canada and the Elephant.
But if you go to Europe and drive from Holland to Belgium to France to Germany without the whisper of a border, yet in the absolute evidence and consciousness that you have changed nations; then you may begin to understand not what might one day exist in Canada, but what already exists in Canada.
And what, if Canadians (bless them) weren't the pig-headed mutts I know and love and live with, they would be chest-poundingly proud of.
Look at what happened to the Soviet Union. It became the Federation of Independent States. These entities have flags, governments, no money but lots of pride. And they go on bitching at Moscow and having common policies on all sorts of things.
What makes the current debate silly is that those who are getting Properly Canajianly Angry and Mad As Hell are stuck with two or three entirely obsolete definitions of nationhood as well as a historic and Gargantuan Grouch.
What a nation is, is changing daily. But when you (whoever you are) go and spend two weeks in Montreal, or even more in Gaspé: do you really, really not at all feel that (while still in some delicious part of Canada) you are at the same time somewhere gloriously foreign? And isn't that a good and wonderful thing?
So can we all maybe, some day (like today) stop fucking grouching?
Or should Yurrpeans (even if for nearly 40 years they've loved and known Canada and Quebec) just, well, like, shut up?

Dr J said...

I think we're just bound to disagree on this, RK. Two weeks in Montreal or Gaspe might give me the feeling I'm in another nation, but same would happen if I spent two weeks in Iqaluit, Whitehorse or Dildo, Newfoundland. "That's not the point," but-but-but the defenders of exceptionality, but I think it is the point, very much the point indeed. The notion of a Quebecois nation, however true in broad and vague terms, becomes ludicrous if it's given codification. Allow one exception, and then you have to allow all of the other exceptions that can be made on exactly the same grounds. Thereafter one gets stuck in the proliferation of exceptions and distinctions, a tangled web of complications, hyphenations and qualifications. On what grounds, for example, do we allow this distinction for the Quebecois, then turn around and deny it, or modulate it, in relation, say, to the Dene or the Haida? That this distinction also seems premised on characterizing TROC as a giant monolith of Non-Quebeckers is reductive, counter-productive and not a little insulting. And just as a matter of law, the belabouring of the word "nation" so that it means every and nothing at the same time is just bound to cause no end of trouble and confusion.

And, let's face facts: Quebec leaders have in the past demonstrated their willingness to use various principles of exceptionality to run rough-shod over key national tenets (C-108 anyone?), and more profoundly as a persistent device for intergovernmental blackmail. But Quebec never signed the constitution, we're endlessly reminded; and yet Quebec leaders have invoked the constitutional notwithstanding clause when they wanted to. Quebec leaders, federalist and separatist, have figured Quebec as The Notwithstanding Clause within Canada; it can accept and reject, often on capricious bases, what it will use and what it will not, the only province in confederation that can chuck rules willy-nilly, the only province that effectively owns a line-item veto, and then uses the claim of national difference to justify its actions or inactions. Quebec invokes the constitution when it wants, then rejects it when it wants; no province, no part of any nation and no "nation" within a nation, should be so licensed. Harper's motion will surely be used to abet further this arbitrariness-- and to incur further disgruntlement among the other provinces.

But the persistent desire among the pols to palliate Quebec is always greater than the desire to palliate the other provinces. We have to respect the national concerns of Quebec we're constantly, endlessly, condescendingly told. But what about the national concerns of those outside of Quebec, the primary one of which in this regard is that most of those people are Sick To Death of the niggling over the semantics and semiotics of nationhood? We've been through this minefield three times in thirty years, and we're exhausted. I'm sure most Quebeckers are, too.

There's another insidious dimension to all this. Pols keep trying to sate these nationale concerns, but they're insatiable. Forgive the cliche, but give an inch, and the mile is next (except in metric, of course). Will Quebec leaders, or their nationaliste constituents, ever give up the leverage of grievance? (Or differance?) Non. Why on earth would they? But give to Quebec, and then Alberta whines; and then BC; and then Ontario and then and then....

And yet those of us that oppose this daisy-chain of appeasement are dismissed as being culturally blind, insensitive and/or obdurate. We're not-- or most of us aren't. (There are always some.) But to codify this nation nonsense is to establish the precedent that there are nations within this nation. Then that there are nations within nations within nations (ask the Cree in Quebec), and so on and so forth, like Russian dolls that just get smaller and smaller. They also get, significantly, daintier and daintier.

One last thing in this Castro-length response. (Forgive me.) I mentioned the Cree in Quebec. Would L'Assemblee Nationale stipulate, even for a second, Cree or other aboriginal claims of nationhood in the same terms it constantly demands of Ottawa? Of course not; Quebec leaders have repeatedly asserted that, hypocritically affirming Quebec's right to separate from Canada, and then denying that the aboriginal peoples would have any right to secede from a sovereign Quebec. The cynicism from the nationalist Quebecois sinecure is indicative: nationhood, whatever the fuck that means, for some, but no nationhood for others. I guess some animals are just more national than others. Oh well.

After all, what's good for the Gaspe isn't good for the Gander, and definitely not for the James Bay. And if objecting to that makes me an Angry Canajian, so be it, though I'd rather be Groucho than grouchy. Get this idiocy off the agenda, and I will be. ;-)

Okay, I'll shut up at long last. Now where the Hell did I leave my cigar?


P.S. Don't ever shut up, you Yurrpean you. If such debates must take place, best they include people as redoubtable as thee.

Dr J said...

Glancing at my response again, I wish Blogger provided a better comment editor. It's so hard to realize the synoptic result of a comment when you can only read a sentence or two at a time. Argh. My apologies.

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