Current Affairs Politics

Progressive Nationalism, Secularism And Québec

Some interesting views in an article from the Canadian Globe and Mail on the relationship between progressive nationalism and secularism as it is being played out in the politics of La Belle Province:

‘Québec stands on the verge of an explosive debate about multiculturalism. And its sparks could be enough to reignite a seemingly moribund sovereigntist movement.

The denunciation of multiculturalism by some within the sovereignty movement represents a political expression of Quebec’s secular identity. Quebec sees secularism as tied to its distinct identity – a marked difference from the Canadian understanding of religious accommodation.

How did secularism and multiculturalism emerge as important issues in Quebec?

First, although the Quebec political landscape is volatile, and it is unclear who will form the next government, the debate about multiculturalism will not dissipate. This means opportunities will continue to exist for the sovereignty movement to capitalize on the characteristically fractious nature of the discussion.

Sovereigntists may welcome these disputes because they aggravate the Canada-Quebec relationship by focusing on Quebec’s right to enact policy against the dictates of a constitution it hasn’t signed.

Another dynamic may emerge, which touches on the multicultural context of the debate. At issue will be religious freedoms and how these freedoms are understood and exercised within a culturally plural setting. Minorities will appeal to the “multicultural” character of Canada in order to justify accommodations. These appeals will have little to do with cultural issues, but may create an entry point for Quebec nationalists to repudiate the “policy” of multiculturalism as a Canadian value. Debates about religious freedoms will morph into a secondary – but as divisive – debate about multiculturalism as an appropriate model of integration.

Sovereigntists could rally around the claim that “multiculturalism is not a Quebec value,” and appeal to their own distinct model of integration. No Quebec government has adopted multiculturalism as official policy, and instead promotes “interculturalism.” The Quebec model asserts French as the official public language and stresses the centrality of francophone culture. These two different models of integration are often played off against each other, and further entrench the apparent distinctness of Quebec society.

What is striking is the extent to which the denunciation, or indifference, to Canadian multiculturalism extends beyond ardent supporters of Quebec sovereignty.’

It is well worth reading the article in full to see that in some contexts nationalism and religion are not natural bedfellows, despite the claims of the opponents of the former. We should also remember that Irish Nationalism, or rather the Republican current of the Nationalist tradition, was from inception an intensely secular and modernist ideology: hence the hostility and opposition of the Roman Catholic Church and British Protestant state. On the other hand British nationalism, in the form of the politics of Unionism and Loyalism found in the British ethnic minority in Ireland, has always been coloured by religious and sectarian bigotry.

For more on Caoibec / Québec see here.

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