Ô Canada!

Ever since I’ve moved to Toronto about four years ago, I’ve never been able to sing along to the first half of the Canadian national anthem.

Everyone sings, ’O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command. With glowing hearts we see thee rise, The True North strong and free! From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.’

But because I grew up in French Montréal, I want to sing, ’O Canada! Terre de nos aïeux, Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux! Car ton bras sait porter l’épée, Il sait porter la croix! Ton histoire est une épopée des plus brillants exploits.’

For some reason, it’s what I’m thinking about right now. A day after reading Diane Weber Bederman’s rather inflammatory Is Quebec good enough for Canada?take on Huffington Post, and after much reflexion and frustration, I’m left with the Canadian national anthem. (Us Canadians are indeed quite a weird bunch.)

But that’s not totally true. I’m also left with this–Is Canada good enough for Quebec? 

I think it is, yes, but let’s still entertain the idea for the sake of argument and because Bederman had the nerve to ask its counterpart. Without Quebec, is there a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? The charter has long been Prime Minister Pierre-Elliott Trudeau’s lasting legacy, and Trudeau was a Québécois. He graduated from the same high school that I attended, Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. Further, what’s Canadian culture without Quebec if not for a slew of spinoff American TV shows and under-financed (and underwhelming) feature films? Without Quebec, there’s only one Canadian film nominated for Best Foreign Film in the history of the Academy Awards, not seven. (And the last film to have won the award, Denys Arcand’s Les Invasions barbares in 2003, is a Québec film.) Without Québec, there’s no Céline Dion, only Justin Bieber. (Or Nickelback.) And what about poutine?

On the bright side, the Toronto Maple Leafs probably have one or two more Stanley Cups without Quebec. (Oh wait, no that’s not how it works.)

Just like Bederman, I too can pick and choose my facts to fit a narrative. The turban fiasco is a recent stain on the reputation of my home province, but much of the same debate occurred in British Columbia in 2005. Then, it’s in Canada where the dollar rules supreme, prompting residents of Alberta to destroy their environment in the 21st-century version of the gold rush. And the biggest strike of all, it’s Canada who has elected Stephen Harper. It sure isn’t Quebec. It’s Stephen Harper who doesn’t believe in the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and it’s Canada who elected him. It’s Stephen Harper who has abolished the Canadian gun registry, and it’s Canada who elected him. It’s Stephen Harper who wants to impose longer and tougher jail sentences, and it’s Canada who elected him. It’s Stephen Harper who turned the Canadian government in a non-commenting machine, and it’s Canada who elected him. But because it’s Canada who elected him, it’s also Quebec–even though, you know, it really did not elect him.

(Oh, j’aurais tout aussi bien pu écrire ce texte en français, qui reste ma langue maternelle après tout. But I want to maximize my readership in the rest of Canada and I’m not sure that most Canadians, including Diane Weber Bederman, would have been able to read such a text in French–even though they’re Canadians and even though the country is officially bilingual. It’s been that way since the Official Languages Act, another part of Trudeau’s legacy.)

Québécois are proud, but they’re threatened in North America. It’s simple math–if you are outnumbered almost 43:1 (8 million for Quebecagainst 26 million for the rest of Canada and 316 million for the U.S.), then you will eventually disappear. (The numbers, let it be known, apply to Quebec because the province doesn’t have its own enlightened druid, rock-lifting brute, and feathered, winged and suave little man like the Gauls allegedly did.) French in North America will disappear in some “near” future, and that’s what dictates a lot of Quebec’s actions. Bill 101. The unreasonable accommodements raisonnables. I understand the reasoning behind them. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but I do understand them.

Of course, there are idiots from Quebec who insult and antagonize the rest of Canada because they don’t know any better, and they reflect poorly on the rest of the Québécois, I know. But in four years in Toronto, I’ve also encountered a few idiot Canadians who insult and antagonize Quebec for no reason, and who reflect poorly on the rest of Canadians.

(Bederman is also mad at the two times where Quebec voted “No” to conscription in an overwhelming majority. Well, I can say that I think that I would have been proud of my province had I been alive in 1917 and 1942. No one wins in a war, and even when one side wins it is really just losing more slowly.  I’ll be the very first to vote “No” to a war. To any damn war. And yet, the country still went to war both times. Because it’s called a democracy.)

This is silly and pointless, because it further antagonizes you, I know. We’re all Canadians, from the fishermen of Nova Scotia to the Quebec student strikers, and from the Saskatchewan farmers to the frackers of Ontario. We’re all Canadians–all of us wish to go skiing in Banff at some point in our lives, regardless of where we were born in Canada.

Quebec is Canada, and Canada is Quebec. Quebec has Fredy Villanueva and now, unfortunately, Canada has Sammy Yatim. On the brighter side, Quebec has pâté chinois, and Canada has shepherd’s pie. Quebec has the métro, and Canada has the subway. Quebec has the Printemps érable, and Canada has the G20 protests. Most important of all, Quebec has hockey, and Canada has hockey.