Monday, October 4, 2010

Lip-service, a Canadian monograph?

With the floated suggestion that Quebec hold a referendum every fifteen years, by Michel Fortier, the matter of Quebec separation from the rest of Canada is once again on the front burner of our national conversation.
One can only assume that one of the motives of such an idea would be to remove some of the distraction from other issues betwen referenda.
A fairly laudable motive. However...
Think of any relationship between so-called partners, in a law firm, in a corporate board room, in a university governing council, in a hospital board room..or even in a marriage where daily events tend to become magnified for sometimes exhaustive reflection...and ask a simple question: how long would the participants in any of those discussions continue to offer their best counsel, knowing that a senior "member of the firm" is actively contemplating, and even campaigning for the dissolution of the group. To be sure, there are terms of appointment for board members, so there is a constant rotation of members built into the bylaws; however, the question of the survival of the "entity" as originally established is not the background music for all of the discussions of all of the issues before the group. That is not a healthy backdrop.
This is the longest running divorce-non-divorce in history, although it might take a decade or even a century to prove or disprove that contention.
As a Canadian who fully values the unique character and contribution of Quebec to the national character and destiny, I am more than a little troubled by the continuing determination of some Quebecers to seek what they would clearly term "self-determination." It is as if continuing to be a fully participating province in a very loose confederation (sometimes so loose as to be threatening to fly apart from the centrifuge) is never going to be enough and then holding the rest of the country hostage to the threat of leaving.
A local political candidate came calling a few days ago, and when asked what he would like to accomplish, if elected, responded, "Well this city pays lipservice to the word "sustainability" and I would like to put some meat on those bones to make that word mean something." Fair enough.
But as in the case of the local political aspirant, "lip service" is one thing that is a constant in Canadian politics.
We pay lip service to being a welcoming nation for new immigrants, without actually taking seriously our commitment to integrate those newcomers into the fabric of the culture. We prefer "a mosaic" in which they live their separate lives without interferring with the rest of us.
We pay lip service to caring for those in need, like those recently cut loose by the corporate executives, with impunity, for no other reason than there is no protection for workers, unions and worker associations and co-operatives having become unfashionable.
We pay lip service to being a large community of communities, and love to fly the flag on our backpacks when travelling because we want the world to know we are not Americans. But really, does that mean we are a fully functioning, self-respecting, adult member of the community of nations? Sometimes...
We pay lip service to being a unique country with two founding races, languages and cultures that live in harmony, when we know that the reality of that "tension" is never far from opening into a festering and draining open "sore." And yet we still do not know how, or do not have the political will, to cauterize the openness.
If this were a matter of personal health, we would be attending to the issue before it creates a more difficult tension, perhaps even a trauma...in health terms like a cancer or a heart attack. We would be doing more than sitting around tables in both political meetings, and local bars and pubs, discussing what Quebec might do next. When 50,000 people cram into the square in Quebec city, for example, seeking a new arena and a national hockey league team, can that be seen as anything less than another political action demanding attention by our federal and provincial governments?
In no other province could we get 50,000 to march about anything with the same intensity, let alone a national hockey team, and certainly not something "to be wished for" rather than something "to be objected to."
To continue to pay lipservice to a country's national symbols, to an authentic national pride in those symbols, and to continue to watch as hundreds die wearing her uniform in a far-off foreign landscape that has consumed all others who tried to subdue her, while at the same time knowing that every step we take together, or attempting to take together, is counter-punched by a loud, thoughtful and yet petulant province....makes us all very tired.
It also makes us all wonder about the energy we, and our kids and grandkids may have to continue to expend on behalf of those who really do not want to be part of the country.
Placating Quebec, in order to mollify her intentions to leave is unacceptable, and will not work. That is patronizing.
Ignoring Quebec, in order not to magnify her differences and her separation intentions, is only burying the issue until it resurfaces, as it most definitely will.
Taking the "middle road" by permitting her sovereignist members of the "Bloc" to sit in the House of Commons while all the time seeking to dismember the country is both laudable and laughable at the same time.
And perhaps living between laudable and laughable is where most of us live. At least in Canada. At least in this manner we will never lose sight of our imperfections, our vulnerabilities and our dark side. And we certainly know that the threat of leaving could be spawned, in other parts of the country, by the continuing forebearance we show to Quebec. So, an outsider would be promtped to ask,"How serious are Candians really about the stability and sustainability and cohesion of their country?"

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