Tuesday, August 15, 2006

P&S's Parizeau moment

Matthew Shugart wisely corrects me for saying that Israel has zero sympathy in "Quebec". It is an exaggeration however you slice it, but I clearly was not thinking of English-speaking Montreal, which, as MSS points out, is still one of the great Jewish cities of the world. Despite its decline. Which was not, it must be said, an accidental decline.

There is a very tricky ambiguity in the idea of Quebec, and even more, of the Québécois. Its manifest meaning is resident of the province of Quebec, and yet we all know that its latent meaning is what was once called a French Canadian (although it clearly excludes an Acadian or Franco-Ontarian). One idea behind the change in terminology is that it would be more appealingly liberal to define nationalism on the basis of a territory than of a people, but, as Parizeau blurted out, and everyone knows anyway, there are Québécois and then there are Québécois. The result is paradoxically less liberal. Before, anyone could be Québécois, although not canadien. Now, everyone is Québécois at the manifest level, but not everyone is at the latent level.

The Pithlord appears not to have negotiated this ambiguity any better than Parizeau. By the definition civilized civic nationalists are comfortable with, there are, of course, many Québécois passionately supportive of Israel. By the definition that lurks beneath, not so much.

For a while, Harper did have a plan of making a breakthrough in English Québec only (which would itself be a change, since there have been no loyaller Grits). The last election showed that the old blue coalition was -- at least potentially -- within his grasp. It may still be, or it may not, but it would be quite a retreat to return to the earlier vision.

Part of me wants to apologize for the gaffe. That's the better part, so I do. But Michael Kinsley's not just right about politicians. The gaffe reveals something about how we think in this country, something a bit uncomfortable.

Update: The literatus writes to point out that I can't really pontificate on this subject without reading Mordecai Richler, and asks if I have. As a father of an eight year old, I've read 3 of the Jacob Two Two books, and a fair bit of op-edish ephemera, but that's it. Discount accordingly.

1 comment:

MSS said...

OK, now I see. Maybe.