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New Left Review 11, September-October 2001

The developed world has its own national movements, encased within Spain, the UK and Canada, which have set out to gain the classical objective of independence. How far is their timing likely to affect their trajectory? Kevin Pask considers the example of a postmodern Quebec.



The Case of Quebec

The experience of nationalism in Quebec remains an oddly belated affair—especially considering its proximity to the United States, with its precocious example of nation-statehood. Despite its apparent blandness, at least in the lexicon of American comedy, Canada remains a perpetually irritated anomaly in the Americas: a state comprised of two nations (if not more, considering the significance of the aboriginal ‘First Nations’). Lord Durham’s Report, the imperial response to the Rebellion of 1837, infamously observed that Lower Canada (now Quebec) consisted in fact of ‘two nations warring in the bosom of a single state’, and the observation has been easily extended to the constitutional problems of modern Canada. [1] Lord Durham’s Report, ed. Gerald Craig, Toronto 1963, p. 23. More than 150 years later, Lord Durham remains both a threat to Québécois nationalism—recommending the assimilation of the francophone population—and an oracle: the decisive appearance of the language of ‘nationhood’ in British North America. Thus, in the nationalist imaginary, the only means of avoiding assimilation into the rest of anglophone North America is to realize Durham’s two nations with the creation of a sovereign state, definitively marking the appearance of a mature French-speaking people in North America.

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Kevin Pask, ‘Late Nationalism: The Case of Quebec’, NLR 11: £3

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