Bouchard-Taylor

The Bouchard-Taylor Report ignores Quebec’s intellectual history. I’ve been
reading the abridged version, a mere 99 pages. I may have missed something.
But I don’t think so. Foundational insights once familiar to French
Canadians, are not acknowledged.

Recall George Etienne Cartier: “It was lamented by some that we had this
diversity of races and hopes were expressed that this distinctive feature
would cease” (Canadian Legislative Assembly, February 7, 1865). “The idea of
unity of races was utopian – it was impossible. Distinctions of this kind
would always exist. Dissimilarity in fact appeared to be the order of the
physical world and of the moral world, as well as of the political world.”

Much of the Bouchard-Taylor Report is given to the hope that diversity of
races can be overcome, made to “cease.” There’s a heart-clogging emphasis on
unification, integration, a common public culture, “combining cultural
differences” (page 86), “overcoming splits and tensions.”

On page 23, Bouchard and Taylor say bluntly that “the question of management
of diversity,” was, until recently “usually resolved in an authoritarian
manner: one more powerful culture attempted either to dominate the others or
eliminate them through assimilation.”  So much for Cartier! But Cartier does
not recommend domination, or elimination. Quite the contrary. He is utterly
opposed to oligarchy. And his dearest hope is to preserve the French
Canadian heritage. He and his colleagues argue that the political
institutions of the Westminster system of government, and the prescription
for federal union that emerged from the Quebec Conference of 1864, will
together allow continuation of diversity while ensuring equality and civil
peace.

Bouchard and Taylor want just such a remedy. How I wish they had seen that
Canada’s history, especially the sometimes difficult history of relations
between French and English, has given it to us, or at least pointed us in
the right direction. We do not have to re-invent the wheel!

Cartier, and Langevin, and Taché knew a few things. (Cartier, Langevin,
Taché, and Brown. I’m not forgetting the other George.) If, as the Report
itself shows, Quebecers are today finding ways to promote “reasonable
accomodation,” it is, I do think, because of the foundations laid 141 years
ago.

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