A SHOW ABOUT NOTHING:

How not to secede while really trying: Other countries cope with separatist movements. We cope with a never-quite-separating separatist movement (Mark Steyn, June 19, 2006, Western Standard)

Up to the eighties, the Cold War provided useful cover for Quebec’s bluff: the map was, for the most part, frozen. But, in the wake of the Soviet collapse, any folks who thought they were a nation could pretty much be one. And evidently Quebecers don’t, not in any meaningful way. Why not? They’ve got all the characteristics of a nation. Compared to their nominal compatriots, they speak a different language, they come from a different ethnic stock, they have a different (albeit mostly residual) religion. By contrast, Montenegrins are all but identical to Serbs in lingo, race, religion and culture. And yet 600,000 fellows up in the hills now have their own nation, and seven million Quebecers don’t.

You’ll search hard in Quebec for any signs of affection for Canada. The symbols of the state are all but absent. You can drive for hours in the hinterland and not see a single Canadian flag flying from anything other than a post office. The head of state hasn’t ventured any deeper into the province than Hull in 30 years. Her representative, the lieutenant-governor, isn’t allowed into the national assembly to read the throne speech.

Much of this is fairly recent. It’s well known during the blockbuster Royal tour of 1939 that the streets of Anglo Canada were jammed: a million turned out to cheer the king and queen in Vancouver, a million and a half in Toronto. But the Montreal and Quebec City stops attracted comparable crowds. As Their Majesties passed through Trois-Rivierès, 50,000 people swarmed the train station to sing “Dieu Sauve Le Roi.” The queen (i.e., the late queen mum) was asked whether she considered herself English or Scottish and replied that, ever since arriving at Quebec City, she’d been Canadian.

Sixty-seven years on, you’d be hard put to find anyone in Quebec City who considers himself Canadian, outside a few tourists in the bar of the Chateau Frontenac. Quebec “nationalism” did a grand job at lowering the province’s Canadianness to all but undetectable levels. What they failed to do was provide anything to put in its place. It’s an old political axiom that you can’t beat something with nothing. The Péquistes were very effective at transforming the Canadian something into a big nothing, and then they left it at that. But it seems you can’t beat nothing with nothing. Quebec nationalism successfully semi-detached itself from Canada, only to run out of gas in no man’s land.

Quebec is an object lesson in how multi-culturalism can remove any organizing principle whatsoever from a society.

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