Why Quebec drives liberals bonkers

Most English Canadians find aspects of Quebec’s political culture to be tribalist. Here I would like to insinuate a subversive thought. Maybe Quebec is on its way to solving problems of identity and belonging in a way that is direct and effective. Moreover I think its policies are designed to establish a state based on values rather than ethnic identification. In a curious way, Quebec may be handling its problems of declining birthrate by telling people who wish to immigrate that democratic behaviour and attitudes is part of the deal.

Quebec’s decision to impose a values test on immigrants is a sign that intends to ensure that every immigrant is on notice that democratic and peaceful behaviour is expected. Sure, people can cheat on the test. They can fake attitudes they do not have. Any such test is open to guessing the right answer and giving what the immigrant thinks the government wants to hear. But what is so bad about that?

Denmark has tests for immigrants. The United States has tests for immigrants. Moreover, as states move way from unity through ethnic uniformity to unity through shared values, there is no way to escape the question of values. The United States is a country founded on shared values, not shared ethnicity. As other societies move from kinship to common values as the basis of adhesion, they too have to start talking about a language of values, rather than assume belonging through kinship.

And then the old Quebec rears its ugly head. “Bonjour- hi”, which is the practical response to serving the customer in his language, is condemned by politicians. Quebec is open and tolerant, as long as the issue is not about the use of English. The shared values are expected to include a measure of adhesion to the French language. This is the source of English Canada’s eternal disagreement with Quebec, because it does not respect Quebec’s pretensions to control the language of public discourse. Quebec has won every legal battle in its drive to suppress the use of English and, by inevitable consequence, the number of people living in Quebec who identify as English-speaking Quebecers. While Quebec is right to insist on a values test, the language conflict colours English Canada’s interpretation of what Quebec does.

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