One Country, A Multitude of Identities
To quote Voltaire, this country we’ve known and loved for weeks, months or perhaps years, is nothing but “a few acres of snow”. Of course, the philosopher spoke of New France when he gave that idea but it could evenly apply to the great white north. Voltaire’s analogy could be considered truthful when one sees the flurries covering the wheat fields in the Prairies. Yet, when one sees the effervescence of several economic sectors (such as the cultural spectrum or the economic acquisitions made by Canadian companies), they might consider the statement to be false. On the other hand, the national identity was seen by a few to play a more silent role, hidden by their own, provincial identity. For instance, a few provinces have sovereignty-oriented parties. A handful of these provinces are even under the helm of such parties and this tends to marginalize, in a way, the Canadian identity. This essay will try to illustrate the differences and similarities between the Belle province (Quebec) and the great white north (Canada).
In this country, federal politics have been a select club, out of which a small indefinite amount of charismatic leaders, such as Lester B. Pearson or Pierre Elliott Trudeau, came out of the masses. The country has adopted the two-parties permutation since it has been governed by the same parties (under different identities, however) since the Confederation, in 1867. On the other hand, the provincial spectrum was recently covered by three distinctive political parties: the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ in its French acronym), the Parti Québecois (PQ) and, until its recent dissolution, the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ). The provincial political spectrum was also led by a conservative party, even though it was for a short period of time. During the 1950s, the Union Nationale, a conservatism-oriented party that had close links with the governing Church, was leading the province and Maurice Duplessis, its leader, was the prime minister. This alliance, between the Church and the party was shown in the latter’s electoral slogan: “the sky is blue while Hell is red”. The use of these colours was to give a imaged perspective of the two parties (Blue for the Union nationale and red for the Liberals) and to show the church’s stranglehold on politics, at the time. While the Church played a key role in the previous periods of time, the current generation’s worship seems to emphasize towards a more cultural perspective.
Culture is another point on which the two elements could easily be compared. In the recent years, more and more Quebec-based movies were shown in festivals around the world. They were even nominated in many award ceremonies and a wide array of these nominations resulted in a number of prizes. Unlike their vis-à-vis, Canadian movies did not have such a stellar international career. The fact that this situation occurred could be explained by the proximity with the major market that is Hollywood and by the sense of “guilt” when it comes to the quality of these movies. It is important to consider that there is a great number of Canadian actors but they have to migrate in order to live with the money won by their craft. If movies coming out of the ROC (rest of Canada) come in close second behind their Quebec likeness, the same thing does not occur in literature and music. Margaret Atwood or Lucy Maud Montgomery have nothing to envy to Mordecai Richler or Michel Tremblay, when it comes to the quality of their literary work. Musically speaking, the Toronto-born rocker that is Neil Young could easily be put on the same level as Montreal’s own Leonard Cohen, also known as the poet laureate of pessimism.
As far as the social perspective’s concerned, the concept of two solitudes was the path to follow, for years. For generations, it seemed that cultural ghettos were created in parts of the country. This is still occurring today but in a smaller scope. For instance, someone watching the news in their Montreal home can easily learn about what is happening in a backyard in Toronto or in a Vancouver park. Although there are left-leaning and socially active neighbourhoods in the country’s major cities, the rest of the country is in what could be called a “social coma”. However, this coma seems to be in its last breath, as we see the increase of movements such as “Idle no more” (linked to the First Nations and their issues throughout the country) or the student groups behind last year’s “Maple Spring”, in Quebec.
Voltaire might have compared New France to a few acres of snow and ice but it might be safer to compare Quebec and Canada to a mother and child. The country will be the mother, whereas the province will inherit the role of the child. It’s true to say that these two share the same language, the same love for hockey and the same enjoyment when they drink a large double-double from the neighbourhood’s Tim Horton’s. One thing that could be added to these elements would be the national cynicism towards the political universe, shown on the national and provincial scales. To recap, the “acres of snow and ice” of yore are slowly heating up.