Pride does not come easily to minority nations like Quebec who have lived through the experience of oppression. Long dominated from the outside by English colonialism and from the inside by clericalism, our people had to struggle to push back the image of what we wanted to do with them: a docile, resigned population, convinced of their powerlessness, unfit for business, devoted to matters of the mind and religion, resigned to its social and cultural inferiority. Notable French Canadians did not fail to exploit some of these traits to raise themselves socially by trading with the colonizer. Garneau himself, so upright, so sensitive to the condition of his family and preoccupied with their recovery, nevertheless warned them against “the brilliance of social and political novelties.” We had to leave that to people stronger than us.
Here is a breeding ground where pride does not come easily. Our history offers several reasons for this. The main one is in the struggles which allowed the improbable maintenance of a small French-speaking nation in America. The patriot movement is another. Pride also inspired other fights, most of which were in response to acts of provocation or humiliation – like the episode we just experienced in reaction to the affront of the CEO of Air Canada.
In other circumstances, things turned out differently. There are sources of pride in our past that we may not be aware of enough. On various levels, the minority that we are has more merit than other nations in posing as a society of law, very attached to liberal values, even if the affirmation of these values sometimes risked compromising the survival and the deployment of our culture. On various occasions, these imperatives have indeed come into conflict. Nevertheless, we have almost always been able to create compromise paths which safeguarded the essentials on both sides. Here are four examples.
With the Quiet Revolution, we conceived a very intense form of nationalism that went hand in hand with liberalism – a rather rare marriage, impossible in the eyes of many Europeans. In the same way, in the debates on the language which marked out the last fifty years, we knew how to strengthen the bases of French while sparing the fundamental rights of the minorities. As regards the integration of immigrants, our policies, again, have favored a mode of insertion which allows cultural diversification without jeopardizing the values and essential rights of our society. Finally, even if it was going to lead to an intense and diversified cultural influx, we did not hesitate to open wide the doors of globalization.
We must also insist on the context in which these choices were made. As cultural globalization began in the 1960s and 1980s, our elites, aware of our cultural fragility, could have given in to the temptation of closure. They did the opposite. This is why I say that we have more merit than others for practicing policies of openness, for subscribing to pluralism and for staying the course of liberalism. This is also why I am very upset by the lessons of civic morality coming from English Canada, whereas in this field – if we make the exception of Bill 21 – our file is well worth theirs.
Here are other reasons for pride: the energy we put into countering the incessant centralizing efforts of the federal government, the way in which from the 1960s onwards we conquered our place in the economic sphere, the determination but also the prudence that we have observed in the declericalization of our society, the very enviable reputation we now enjoy in the scientific field, the struggle we have waged for social equality while combining it with robust economic development, the vitality of which we let’s demonstrate in the sphere of creation …
Am I exaggerating? Look at it, each of these statements is perfectly established. And if you have any doubts, just compare yourself. It is while thinking of all this, I imagine, that Mario Polèse, in his latest book (Boréal), speaks of the “Quebec miracle”. We have enough ailments, do not fight back when there is no need.
However, our status as an oppressed people has sometimes put us in embarrassing situations. This was the case during the two conscription crises. We were asked to go fight for freedom, in this case that of France, but also for our colonizer. This subject has divided us a lot and, in the eyes of many, diminished us.
Once again, I am not unaware of our faults and our weaknesses (I will come back to this another time), nor the harm we have inflicted on ourselves by postponing great dates with history. I nevertheless see in all the traits and antecedents that I have just mentioned as many reasons for pride. We have managed to behave very decently in several very difficult situations for a minority. We have no lesson to take from anyone in the matter of collective virtue.
This is why I find it difficult to understand the self-shame that inhabits a certain number of our people, as well as the recurring fashion for self-deprecation (our mediocrity, our laziness, our lack of ideal, our egoism…).
We can see from this, once again, that it is not easy for a minority that has been dominated and slandered for a long time to show itself beautiful. A bit like in the fable of the wolf and the lamb, the little ones are often wrong. Until they straighten up.