Québec as a nation: what does that mean?

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Pontiac Perspective
by PETER GAUTHIER

Recent and proposed legislation in Québec has brought certain words into the political discourse. Among these are: country, nation, and state. Understanding these terms gives some insight into the intentions of the CAQ
government and demands some clarification on their part.

Pontiac Perspective
by PETER GAUTHIER

Recent and proposed legislation in Québec has brought certain words into the political discourse. Among these are: country, nation, and state. Understanding these terms gives some insight into the intentions of the CAQ
government and demands some clarification on their part.
The first is country. The denotation of this term relates to geography: the boundaries of a given area. These boundaries are often geographical features such as mountains, rivers, seas, or other distinguishable geological markers.
Next is nation: a group of people, larger than a tribe or community that share a common culture. That is, a common language, common institutions, and a common
historical experience. In our modern world-wide communications network, the idea of a “strict and pure” nation is becoming more difficult to identify and less meaningful.   
The last term is “state”.  Here there are two differentiating concepts. A state (lower case s) is a division of a federated State. A State (note the capital S) is a political entity that has independence and sovereignty. Its sovereignty is recognized by other States. No other State should have power over its territory.  It participates in international treaties and institutions such as the United Nations. A State can issue passports that are recognized by other States. It also has the responsibility of defending its inhabitants from invasion or aggression from another State.
The problem arises when the three terms (country, nation, state) are used as connotations for State (upper case S) and full sovereignty. Canada, as a State, is noted as a mosaic – almost the exact opposite of nation. Canadians proclaim the value of multi-culturalism and multi-nationalism, but the CAQ insists Québec is a nation – one culture, one language, one historical experience. Even further, the CAQ insists it can modify the Canadian constitution without agreement from other provinces or the federal government.  The CAQ also insists it does not want to separate from Canada and form its own State, although Québec wants all the powers and trappings of a sovereign State.
This creates a great imbalance in the Canadian federation when one province insists on powers and rights no other province has. This inequality will only lead to an “us versus them” polarity that will wreck Québec and Canadian society. All Canadians and Quebecois can benefit from having two languages within a multi-cultural society. What it cannot have is the situation where one province is more equal than the others.
All Canadians must be careful when the terms country, nation, and state are used with their different connotations and implications when politicians use them. What may seem like a reasonable policy can turn out to have very undesirable consequences.  We must start by demanding clear definitions of the terms, and from this, a clear understanding of the consequences.