Academic journal article Quebec Studies

An Assessment of Quebec's Relations with States in the U.S. Federal System

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

An Assessment of Quebec's Relations with States in the U.S. Federal System

Article excerpt


This article will offer an assessment of the Quebec govemment's relations with the fifty U.S. states. The topic is important for a number of reasons. First, if highlights the subnational government that over the past half century has been the most active in the pursuit of its own "international relations." (1) Second, Quebec is a rather distinct subnational unit in that it is the "homeland" of a minority linguistic group within an anglophone-dominated Canada, and the Quebec govemment's international policies have often been aimed at protecting and enhancing the rights of its own majoritarian francophone population. (2) And finally, Quebec's international activities offer perhaps the most comprehensive case study available on how subnational units such as provincial, state, and municipal governments are attempting to cope with the inherent challenges and opportunities round in an era of globalization.

Quebec as a Distinct Society

Many residents in Quebec consider themselves to be a "nation," and in 2006 Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced a motion in the Canadian House of Common recognizing Quebec as a nation "within a united Canada." (3) During the parliamentary discussion that ensued after Harper's motion, the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) insisted that Quebec should be recognized as a nation without reference to the words "in Canada." The Canadian Parliament already recognizes many aboriginal or native groups as part of the "First Nations," and Harper's gesture was to more Quebec in the direction of a similar recognition and to underline its distinctiveness from the nine other provinces and three territories within the Canadian confederation.

Without doubt, Quebec is distinct from other parts of Canada, even as Canada is emerging as one of the most multiethnic nations in the world. (4) Almost 82 percent of all Quebecers speak French as their first language, and as Antonia Maioni emphasizes, these French-speaking residents identify themselves as Quebecers first, and this "individual identification and collective appartenance to a Quebec society, in political, linguistic, and cultural terms, has no parallel with provincial identities elsewhere." (5) Except in neighboring New Brunswick where roughly one-third of residents speak French as their first language, all other provinces are overwhelmingly dominated by English-speaking populations. When one includes the neighboring United States in the picture, Quebec can accurately be depicted as a French-speaking island in a vast ocean of English speakers. (6)

Some in Quebec consider that the only way to protect the French language, the Quebecois culture, and the distinctive legal and administrative system which has its roots in France under the ancien regime, will be to form a sovereign nation politically, while still maintaining close economic ties to the rest of Canada and North America in general. The Parti Quebecois (PQ), which runs candidates in provincial elections (unlike its counterpart the BQ which runs candidates exclusively in national elections), is dedicated to bringing about a sovereign status for Quebec through the ballot box. The PQ argues that English-speakers in the rest of Canada will always dominate the instruments of political power, namely the House of Commons, the Senate, the Canadian Supreme Court, and the First Ministers' Conference bringing together periodically the Prime Minister of Canada and the premiers of the ten provinces. Moreover, Quebec's proportion of Canada's total population has declined noticeably, from 36.5 percent in 1851 to 28.9 percent a century later, and then down to 23.3 percent in 2008. PQ leaders also point out that throughout Canadian history, French speakers who have located in parts of Canada other than Quebec have usually been absorbed into the English-speaking world and gradually lost their francophone language and culture, even though Canada became officially bilingual in 1968 by recognizing French and English as the two official languages of the federal government. …

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