The Reform Party's Re-Imagining of the Canadian Nation

Article excerpt

Accepting that national political communities are continually (re)invented through political and ideological struggle, this paper examines the way in which the Reform Party of Canada has brought its New Right populist discourse to three nation-defining areas of public policy: (i) bilingualism and the status of Quebec within Canadian federalism; (ii) multiculturalism and immigration; and (iii) Aboriginal self-governance. With reference to theoretically driven interpretations of how "the politics of cultural recognition" challenges the ideal of "universal citizenship," it is argued that Reform's vision of Canada is based on an exclusionary discourse which would limit the political and cultural capacities of Quebecois nationalists, ethnocultural minorities and Aboriginal peoples who are struggling to define the Canadian political community in a manner that allows them to assert their collective identities and pursue particular destinies.

Acceptant l'idee que les communautes nationales politiques sont continuellement (re)inventees a travels des combats politiques et ideologiques, cette etude examine la facon dont le parti canadien de la reforme a apporte, dans le cadre de la nouvelle droite, son propre discours populiste dans trois domaines nationaux critiques de la politique publique: (1) le bilinguisme et le statut du Quebec au sein du federalisme canadien, (2) le rnulticulturalisme et l'immigration, et (3) l'autonomie gouvernementale autochtone. Selon des references d'interpretations theoriques affirmant que 'la politique de reconnaissance culturelle conteste l'ideal de la 'citoyennete universelle,' l'etude affirme que la vision du Canada du parti de la reforme est base sur un discours d'exclusion. Celui-ci limite les capacites politiques et culturelles des nationalistes quebecois/es, des minorites ethnoculturelles et des peuples autochtones qui luttent pour definir la communaute politique canadienne afin de pouvoir affirmer leurs identites collectives et poursuivre leurs destines uniques.

In the final days of the 1995 Quebec referendum, Jean Chretien promised Quebeckers that if they rejected sovereignty his government would ensure the formal recognition of Quebec as a "distinct society" within Canada.1 Then, feeling the pressure of an extraordinarily close vote - 49.4 per cent voted in favour of secession - Chretien moved quickly to introduce into the House of Commons a non-constitutional resolution that recognizes Quebec as a distinct society and commits the government of Canada to be guided by this fundamental political reality. Not wanting to be seen to snub Quebecois nationalists who are soft on separation, Preston Manning committed himself to supporting Chretien's distinct society resolution, but only if it was amended to safeguard explicitly the integrity of Canada, ensure the equality of the provinces and protect minority rights within the province of Quebec. In particular, Manning said he would be willing to recognize Quebec as a distinct society so long as nothing in the resolution would "deny or be interpreted as denying that Canada constitutes one nation."2

What does it mean to say that Canada constitutes "one nation"? Clearly Preston Manning's rhetoric was meant as a rejection of the dualist conception of Canada as a compact between two "founding nations." The Reform Party leader has never supported this vision of the Canadian community. Indeed, since the party was founded in 1987, Manning and his fellow Reformers have been vocal critics of the understanding of Quebec's place within Canada that is usually implied by the dualist notion of "distinct society."3 But what conception of Canada's national political community does Reform champion in place of dualism? How would Preston Manning characterize this "one nation" which is Canada? These are not simple or straightforward questions to answer. They are, nevertheless, important questions because throughout the 1990s the Reform Party has been a participant in political debates about the definition and character of Canada's national political community. …

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