Language and Political Science in Canada

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[Note to readers: Not long ago, I was asked to contribute a post to Praxis: The Canadian Political Science Association Career Blog, which aims to “provide practical career advice for emerging and established political scientists in Canada.” I wrote something that essentially contains two pieces of advice: (i) that francophone political scientists need to watch out for the CPSA; and (ii) that anglophone political scientists need to reform it – if, that is, they want to be good colleagues. Admittedly, these two are more polemical than, say, suggestions about how to format one’s CV, but then I am a political philosopher. When the blog’s editors received my post, they asked for changes. I made the changes, but now they’re asking for more and so I’ve decided to give up on them and publish it here instead.]

C’est donc en anglais, la langue réelle de
l’Association canadienne de science
politique, et la langue du voyage, que
j’ai “choisi” de présenter cette allocution
présidentielle.
            Alain Noël, 28 May 2014

I’ve been asked to offer some career advice about working in political science in Canada. The question led me to recall, of all things, the uproar this past summer over that float at the Fête nationale parade here in Quebec, the one pushed by four black men wearing colonial khaki outfits and followed by a parading chorus of white people dressed, alas, all in white. Why did I think of the parade? Bear with me. Someone, a colleague, raised the question on Facebook as to whether it was possible – no more than this – that the four men were happy to participate in the parade. The question seems to me to reveal a failure to grasp the sometimes intricate workings of systemic racism. Which brings me to the case of the political scientists over at the Canadian Political Science Association. … Continue reading

Faut se parler de… constitution. Really?

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Sorry, this entry is only available in French. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.

Gémir, pleurer, prier est également lâche.
                   Vigny, La mort du loup

Le juste opposera le dédain à l’absence,
Et ne répondra plus que par un froid silence.
                   Vigny, Le mont des Oliviers

Le Canada est ce vaste territoire où l’ambition, la mystique, le hasard, le froid, la force et l’ennui ont réuni trois principaux parcours historiques : celui des nations autochtones, celui d’une société héritière de la Nouvelle-France et celui, devenu dominant par la grâce d’une conquête, du Canada anglais.

Les autochtones ont longtemps été marginalisés et le sont encore, comme si leur fonction essentielle restait de fournir aux autres Canadiens leur dose nécessaire de mauvaise conscience et quelques œuvres d’art pour décorer des ambassades.

Les circonstances et des intérêts réciproques ont imposé aux Canada anglais et français de se parler politique : 1791, 1848, 1867, 1971, 1982, 1987-1991… sans jamais que la conversation ne surmonte toutefois les malentendus sur la nature du pacte imposé par l’histoire. Le Québec veut du bi- ou du multinational, le Canada anglais veut du One Nation, le pluriel étant alors réservé à la pluralité des provinces ou à la pluralité quasi infinie des « cultures ». (Voilà pourquoi il semble plus simple, agréable, inoffensif et électoralement rentable, pour Trudeau fils, de danser avec des turbans sikhs sur la tête, plutôt que de faire le moindre signe d’ouverture à l’endroit des demandes québécoises pour dépasser le diktat constitutionnel de Trudeau père.) … Continue reading

Refusing Conversation

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I will not give you a penny more than you deserve
I don’t know why you bother asking anymore
All of your charm couldn’t make me change my mind
I will not give you a penny more than you deserve
…Whoa, for a lover, no one compares to you.
            The Skydiggers, “A Penny More

The hard Canadian
He don’t have much to say
But he hurts your feelings
Almost every single day
            Gordon Downie and the Country of Miracles, “The Hard Canadian

The Quebec government would like to have a conversation about the place of Quebec in Canada. They’ve published a document, Québécois : Notre façon d’être Canadiens / Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadian, about their thinking and they’d like to hear back.

Not everyone’s open to this, however. “Vous connaissez mon opinion sur la Constitution,” replied the prime minister before the document was even released, “on n’ouvre pas la Constitution.” And if that’s too curt for you, here’s the sadly predictable conclusion of Andrew Coyne’s latest opinion piece in the National Post: “The same debates, the same fallacies, the same doubletalk, and all of it just as pointless and unnecessary as ever. There is no problem these proposals would solve, no power Quebec needs it does not already have. There is only the inexhaustible self-importance of its political class. How about we just don’t?”

Are these men clear about what’s being asked? There’s no “couteau sur la gorge” this time, nor even the suggestion, such as the one made by the wise but frustrated Charles Taylor in 1992, that Quebec issue an “ultimatum” should the conversation fail, that it “would signify the end of the country” (Taylor called for coupling this with “an expression of openness” so as to avoid “damaging the interlocutor.” As if). Some fellow Canadians are merely expressing a desire to talk. They’re dissatisfied about something and they want to see if we can work it out. Isn’t it the obligation of every good citizen to at least listen to them with an open mind?

Yes, there appears to be little new in the document (though I haven’t finished reading it yet). But what is new – and this is a major difference from the past – is not only the way it’s being presented but also the context. There’s no referendum on the horizon. The forces of sovereignty are extremely weak. Coyne, and evidently Trudeau, take this to mean not that we have an opportune moment here but that the issues raised can be dismissed, if not ignored outright. They’re wrong. We have a duty to respond – critically, if need be, but constructively.

More to come.