Monday's vote on Quebec's independence seems the worst of all
possible outcomes for Canada. The issue still is not settled. Those
for independence now can say that the small percentage of English
speakers in the provincial electorate are all that stands between
them and victory. They will try again.
It is anglophone Canada that is in jeopardy, if Quebec secedes.
Quebec is an autonomous cultural nation and will survive as a
nation, whether outside or inside Canada. English-speaking Canada
is unsure that it is a nation, or even that it deserves to be one
English-speaking Canada's lack of belief in itself is apparent
in the commitment it has made in recent years to multiculturalism,
whose unspoken, and perhaps even unconscious, premise is that it is
not really worthwhile for an immigrant to become a Canadian, as the
Canadian nation now exists.
An anglophone Canadian intellectual said at a gathering I
attended a couple of years ago, "I don't know what the Canadian
identity is, and if I knew, I would not want it." There seemed to
be general approval of this statement among the Canadians present,
as if any other sentiment would amount to a display of unseemly
nationalism or even of bigotry.
It seemed to me an astonishing thing to say. I - the outsider -
clearly see a Canadian identity. It is to be the non-United States.
There are many positive qualities which have become attached to
Canadian nationhood, but the bedrock identity is that of those
North Americans who chose, and choose, not to be the United States.
The English-speakers descend from those who refused the
rebellion against the British crown that founded the United States.
The francophones are the historical people who have refused to be
assimilated into anglophone North America. This strikes me as sound
ground for the existence of a bicultural and binational Canada, now
as in the past.
The real issue posed by Monday's referendum, it seems to me, is
the following: Does an anglophone Canada still exist which, were
it stripped of its link to Quebec, could resist becoming
overwhelmed by the culture and political and economic civilization
of the United States? The answer to that has only been postponed by
There is an important lesson in this for the United States. A
big and crucial debate is going on here between those who say the
United States is (and should be) merely a federation of autonomous
and self-sufficient racial and ethnic cultures, but not a united