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The Canadian Distinctiveness into the XXIst Century - La distinction canadienne au tournant du XXIe siecle

Chad Gaffield
Karen L. Gould

The Place of Canada in the World of the Twenty-first Century / Le rôle du Canada sur la scène internationale au vingt et unième siècle

Canada One Hundred Years from Now: A Federation of Nations?

Jean Laponce

Texte intégral

1 In the field of human affairs, predicting may well be the occupation of fools. Yet, the social sciences are obligated to take that risk, a risk I shall stretch to extremes by addressing my remarks not only to those engaged in the discourse today, but also to those who will be engaged a hundred years from now. Conscious of the danger of appearing foolish in the year 2100, if not before, I am comforted by the thought that a prediction that turns out to be wrong may nevertheless be of help, eventually, in identifying and weighing the role of factors that were either absent, hidden, or simply forgotten when the prediction was made.

2If the year 2000 had been the finish line of history, we would have declared the winners to be democracy over authoritarianism, free enterprise over economic statism, the welfare state over l'État gendarme, nationalism over imperialism, and temperate nationalism over its aggressive kin.

3In the first three of these competitions, Canada would be counted on the winning side; in the last, on the national question, it is still searching, perhaps with insufficient dispassionate vigor, for solutions to the cohabitation of its national communities. Will Canada of the year 2100 have resolved its national questions, and how?

4Let us consider the most likely course of events and, when in doubt, let us point to the future with the help of a double rather than a single pointer. But first, let us take stock of the present.

National vs. Ethnic Cleavages

  • 1 For this lack of fit, see among others: Cairns (1993), Resnick (1991), Taylor (1992), Laponce (199 (...)

5Canada is variously described as multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, and multinational. Today, all countries of immigration are bound to be multi-ethnic and multicultural; they are not bound to be multinational. Canada's distinctiveness rests not in its multi-ethnic and multicultural composition but in its enduring national cleavages and confrontations. That distinctiveness is the cause of a problem yet unresolved: how to adjust a federalism of regions to manage a federalism of nations?1

  • 2 The term ‘ethnic’ has become so loaded with myth and politics that it should probably be abandoned (...)

6Three nations are facing one another (three to simplify the plural into which the First Nations are incarnated): the Canadian, the Québécois and the Aboriginal.2 Note that for reasons to be spelled out in the next section, I did not say ‘English Canadian,’ nor ‘Anglophone’ but simply ‘Canadian.’

7What long-term political future awaits these three communities, all engaged in nation building in the same state?

Two Stepping Stones to the Future

8At the additional risk of being outrageously economical of the factors involved, I shall set foot on only two stepping stones for a peek at the future: Canadian nation building and demographic evolution.

Nation Building

9Considering the obstacles in its way – some inherited from its colonial past (the French fact), others erected by a dysfunctional mix of integration-segregation policies (the Aboriginal fact) – the Canadian nation building enterprise can, at the end of the twentieth century, claim some notable successes. Its major success is in integrating and assimilating its immigrants. To measure this properly, we must set aside the picture of our ancestors given us by a census and turn to the picture of today's collective identities obtained by survey research.

10The Canadian Census, like any census, is not simply a statistical tool; it is also a political instrument that may mislead at the same time as it informs. In the case of ethnicity and nationality, its questions – notwithstanding recent improvements (Ornstein 2000) – have become misleading because they have not evolved enough since 1871. The modern census magnifies the multi-ethnic character of the country, while hiding its multinational composition.

11The 1871 Census told us that, measured by origin, the population of Canada was roughly 61 per cent British, 31 per cent French, 7 per cent other Europeans, and 1 per cent other non-Europeans. If that same 1871 Census had asked a question about a sense of national belonging, it would very likely have obtained figures similar to those describing the confrontation between the two nations of Lord Durham (1839) and Siegfried (1906): roughly 60 per cent English and 30 per cent French. If we turn to the 1991 Census, we find that the British segment has dropped from 60 per cent to less than 30 per cent, the French from 30 per cent to little more than 20 per cent, while the ‘others’ have risen to nearly 50 per cent (Tepper 1994). Contemporary censuses show Canada to be a country of ‘ethnics.’ But what does ethnic origin signify? How often do we think of our origins and in what context? Is the ‘ethnic’ sense of self embedded within a Canadian identity or is it separate? And, if it is separate, what is its relative importance? To answer these questions we must turn to survey research.

12Among surveys treating the subject of group identity, let us consider that of Berry and Kalin, which was conducted the very year of the 1991 Census. One of the questions read (Berry and Kalin 1993):

People may describe themselves in a variety of ways. If you had to make a choice, do you think of yourself as:

a) Canadian,
b) English-Canadian, Scottish-Canadian, etc. summarized by the code British-Canadian,
c) French-Canadian,
d) Other hyphenated-Canadian (the respondent was given examples such as German-Canadian, Jewish-Canadian, but could initiate any term of his or her choice),
e) province (such as Québec, Québécois, British Columbian, Ontario, etc.),
f) any foreign country or nationality, such as German or Germany.

  • 3 Note that shifting our attention from census to survey makes the categories of British and French (...)

13If we ignore the entries scoring less than 5 per cent nationwide, we are left with only three identifications: Canadian which scored 65 per cent, Québec or Québécois which scored 14 per cent, and other-hyphenated (other than French or British) which scored 7 per cent. Note the contrast: the hyphenated-Canadians drop from the nearly 50 per cent recorded by the census to little more than 5 per cent.3 They appear to be a group on their way to absorption, at least in the public sphere. Like Durham almost two centuries ago and Siegfried almost a century later, we note the juxtaposition of two major communities. But between these two communities, the line of cleavage has changed: no longer is it based on religious differences or the state of origin; it is based on identification with a political institution, state or province-an identification that is typically national in character.

  • 4 The Statistics Canada survey (cat. 89/357) gives the following breakdown: Indians on reserves 1.06 (...)

14As for Aboriginals who were not represented in sufficient number in the Berry-Kalin survey to warrant a separate analysis, from a survey done by Statistics Canada in 1989 we can infer the transfer of identity to the present status and away from ethnic origins. That survey reported a 3.2 per cent Aboriginal identification compared to the 5 per cent Aboriginal origin reported by the census.4

15In the case of Francophones, as for Aboriginals, the majority did not give Canadian as a priority identification, though a significant minority did not identify first with a Québec or French-Canadian nation either. Whereas the 1991 Census recorded 24.3 per cent mother tongue French, the Berry-Kalin survey showed a 14 per cent Québec and a 4 per cent French-Canadian identification. Even if we were to add these last two statistics (that would exaggerate the non-Canadian identification of Francophones) we would still have a significant gap, indicating that, for about 25 per cent of mother tongue French, the dominant identification is neither French-Canadian nor Québécois. In Québec itself, the same statistics indicated that 20 to 25 per cent of mother tongue French did not give their first collective identity as either Québec or French-Canadian.

16In short, Canada appears to have been extremely successful in integrating or assimilating its newcomers within the Canadian nation. While less successful with Aboriginals and Francophones, it has drawn a sizeable percentage of each group away from an ethnic or national identity that would have priority over that of Canadian. In terms of ‘Canadian content’ as defined here by a respondent's dominant collective identity, one cup is nearly full (that of immigrants) and the other two cups (those of Aboriginals and Francophones) are about 30 per cent and 20 per cent full, respectively.


  • 5 An immediate reaction to this number of 180 million may well be: where would they fit? They can't (...)

17One hundred years ago, Canada had approximately five million inhabitants. Now, it numbers about six times more. Projecting that trend would give us 180 million inhabitants by the year 2100. If that seems very many, 180 million people would still leave plenty of empty space, even if we do not subscribe to Baade's way of measuring living space (quoted in Neurath 1994). Baade, having noted that the fourteen million people living in the greater New York area spend most of their lives there and seem to like it, took New York's density as his world standard. He then calculated the amount of land needed to feed a world of as many New Yorks as possible and concluded that the earth could accommodate sixty-five billion people. A mere 180 million for Canada would not even come close to satisfying Baade's projections.5

18But, even as ‘low’ a figure as 180 million is most unlikely to be reached unless Canada loses relinquishes complete control of its borders. If, over the past hundred years, population grew by an average factor of 1.5 per year, that growth was not due so much to the positive balance of in-migrations over out-migrations as it was to Canada's high birth rate. Now that the birth rate is negative (there are exceptions, notably among Aboriginals) and expected to remain negative (a low birth rate being associated with low infant mortality, high life expectancy, prosperity, education, and urban living), immigration will soon be the sole measure keeping the population stable, let alone growing. It is estimated that by mid-century, barring major changes in life expectancy, retirement age, or productivity, immigration levels of more than 200,000 people per year will be needed to maintain the size of the labour force. When the cradle fails, the immigration officer and the smuggler are bound to take over. A National Health projection done in 1989 estimates that, without immigration, the Canadian population would drop to roughly half its present size in a hundred years; the last Canadian would die in the year 2786 (Canada 1989).

19So, unless present trends reverse – barring any major reversal – the future population of Canada, even if not of a size markedly different from that of the present, will be markedly different in its composition. It will reflect, better than now, the changing balance of populations in the world. Canada will have become more globalized, including many more from Asian, Caribbean, Latin-American, and African communities than it does at present. This population renewal will have more profound effects on Québec than on the rest of Canada. Anglophone Canada is already ‘mixed wool’ – Newfoundland being an exception – while Québec still has, by and large, a ‘pure laine’ texture. Québec should continue to approach the Canadian norm of a population increasingly made up of recent immigrants of neither French nor English origin. Furthermore, since the French language has, in North America, a power of attraction much weaker than that of English, the increased proportion of recent immigrants in the population should work to the advantage of Anglophone provinces; they will benefit from the immigrants' willingness, nay eagerness, to learn and to speak English.

20Will the changing racial and ethnic composition of the Canadian population be a source of increased social and political tensions? Toronto, Vancouver, and other major cities give us the answer. In 1971, Toronto was about 10 per cent non-white; now the proportion has risen to more than 30 per cent. In 1971, Vancouver was 5 per cent Asian; now it stands at about 30 per cent. These changes occurred remarkably smoothly. The more likely effect of increased racial diversity will be to blur the importance of race, much as national origin has become blurred over the years. While not increasing social and political tensions markedly, however, the new immigration is likely to have a significant effect on the three-nation confrontation, notably on that between Canada and Québec. We shall consider this effect when dealing with the second nation.

The First Nation

  • 6 Alan Cairns favours giving to Aboriginals special rights in addition to those flowing from their C (...)

21The study of First Nations is outside my area of competence. Wisdom would dictate that I refer readers to contributions by my colleagues, notably Alan Cairns (2000).6 I will proceed, nevertheless, carried by the momentum of my propensity for risk-taking futurology, since there is apparently some virtue to seeing problems from a distance.

  • 7 Few Aboriginal languages have a chance of survival. The ones that are better placed in the surviva (...)

22Judging by several significant and relatively recent events – the Charlottetown Accords and the types of powers that the federal and provincial governments were prepared to transfer to Aboriginal communities or to Aboriginal representatives in the federal Parliament, the creation of Nunavut, and the outcome of recent negotiations such as those concerning the Nisga'a – one can predict that major land claims will be settled before the end of the century. There will be also likely be wide variety in the forms taken by Aboriginal self-government (depending upon size, location, and resources). The lowest common denominator of local self-government will consist of control over language7 culture, community membership, some local social services, and property rights associated with the land; the upper limit will likely be the administration of some aspects of criminal justice, though one cannot exclude the possibility that, with the help of a high birth rate, some Native people may obtain territorial and eventually provincial status – in the Northern Cree settlements, for example.

23One can thus envisage a future Canada with Aboriginal, selfgoverning communities, ranging in size from a village to a province and ranging in type from that of a Hutterite settlement turned almost exclusively inward, to a kind of Channel Islands, if not Monaco or San Marino, which look both inward and outward, albeit increasingly outward. Some of those self-governing units will be valued for economic reasons; others, mostly if not solely, for their offering of what Elide calls a “world axis,” a “sacred” location which, under community guardianship, links the self to the past and origins, thus providing psychological anchoring and historical comfort.

24At the national level, institutions representing the First Nations are likely to be established, though as yet it is too early to tell which form, if any, that representation will take. Will it be along the lines of Courchene's non-territorial Indian province (Courchene 1994), along the lines of the Charlottetown proposal of guaranteed representation in Parliament – a scheme rejected by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (Royal Commission 1996) – or along the lines of a separate house of Parliament, as proposed by that same Royal Commission? A Charlottetown-type of representation, embedded in existing structures, seems more likely, but I cannot see a way through that complex problem. It may be too early even to try since it is still unknown how much power the newly-empowered Aboriginal communities will be prepared to delegate and to whom.

25The linkage between Aboriginal and Canadian institutions will pose problems outside the areas of Aboriginal self-government, notably in the large urban centers of mixed populations. The obstacles could be overcome by some form of ‘personal federalism’ either on the model of the French school boards elected by self-defined populations of interest or on the more formal model of Estonia's minority governments of the 1920s.

26Pre-war Estonia had made it possible for its minority groups (Jews, Germans, Russians, and Swedes) to set up non-territorial institutions of self-government with powers limited to language and culture. Jews and Germans took advantage of that possibility and registered on minority rolls (a minimum number of people was required and there was a right to deregister). From registration flowed specific rights and duties: the right to elect a minority government with access to minority schools and the duty to pay the taxes levied by the minority community (Laponce 1960, 1993; Coakley 1994). If such personal federalism appears, it is unlikely to extend beyond cultural and some social services; it is unlikely to succeed if the number of registrants is too low to maintain a quality of service comparable to that offered by the competing institutions of cities and provinces.

27Will the multiplication of self-governing Aboriginal communities fracture Canadian citizenship? In the legal sense of citizenship – no, but in the sociological sense of citizenship – yes; probably, at least in the short term. It is normal that building a multination state can lead to reinforcing attachment to the national segments. It is thus to be expected that the overarching citizenship will be affectively ‘thinner’ than the national solidarities – thinner at least for the minority nations – since the dominant nation often merges, as it does in Canada, the two attributes of citizenship, the legal and the sociological and typically uses only one name for the two. Over time, however, if the national segments do not feel threatened by one another, one could expect that the minority segments would add affective and sociological flesh to their core legal citizenship.

28Before the end of the century, the transfer of self-governing power to Aboriginal communities and institutions should have appeased resentments and, judging by present trends (high exogamy and migration to cities), may well have facilitated both integration and assimilation to the Canadian or Québécois nations at the same time as it secures Aboriginal cultures in their enclave communities. Feeling secure should facilitate an Aboriginal evolution into whatever modernity means in 2100.

The Second and Third Nations

29Will Québec secede? If so, under what conditions? If not, what will be the alternative? Canadians and Québécois are peaceful and tolerant – having said that, there is no question in my mind that if enough Québécois wanted to secede strongly enough they could do so, that the secession would be of the non-violent, Norwegian type, and that Québec would be a very good member of the family of democratic nations. But, the will for independence is not there. The election returns, the polls, the qualitative evidence gathered from conversations and mood sampling over the years, all of these indicate that the large majority of Québécois want a restructuring of the Canadian federation, not a separation from it.

30Over the years, two processes of nation building have competed on Québec's territory. Throughout, language flags have been raised. Other flags, too, appear on the flagpole – the religious in particular – but only the linguistic one has continued to be flown high; it will continue to dominate the confrontation because language cannot, as easily as religion, retreat from the public into the private domain. The denser public communication systems become, the more language will be an issue. We can pray once a day, or go to church once a month, or once a year, or never; we cannot be so economical of our reading, listening, and speaking time.

31The sense of nationhood is not, of course, restricted to a single social function. It is not rooted exclusively in culture. It involves a sense of belonging to a global community. It produces an expansion of self in all kinds of directions: cultural, social, economic, and political. It enlarges our sense of achievement in time and space. It takes us on a significant journey from real or imaginary beginnings to a future that we would like to contribute to making secure. Notwithstanding its wholeness, however, there is usually a core, a significant marker, an anchor to the sense of belonging to a nation. It may be a set of shared memories or simply a passport. In the case of Québec, as time passed and as religion and history ceased to be in the daily or even weekly thoughts of its citizens, language gained prominence as ‘the’ national unifier. It is not frustration with federal economic policies nor is it the memories of the Plains of Abraham that sustain the separatist movement. A random reading of Québec's French newspapers for the past generation will show that rare are the days when concern about language is not in the news or commentaries. The sovereignty movement is sustained by a sense of collective self that vanishes, unlike in Ireland or even in the Basque country, once language is removed as the trigger of identity. Any real or perceived threat to French is perceived by Québécois as a threat to a vital environment. We may thus center our predictions of the future of Québécois-Canadian relations on the language question.

The Canadian Language System

  • 8 In only two other states is that the case: Cameroon and Vanuatu.
  • 9 I realize that I reify languages and that I seem to give them a will of their own; I do so for the (...)

32In Canada, two major world languages, by some measures the two major world languages, confront each other within the same state.8 Of the two, English is by far the more powerful. It is the most powerful language the world has ever known, whether we measure power by geographical spread, military capabilities, scientific production, rate of diffusion as a second language, or rate of destruction of other languages (Mackey 1973; Laponce 1987; Van Parijs 2000). The other major language, French, ranks far behind but, having a recent history as the world language and having retained very good assets, it does not easily cede that position to English; hence its wanting to have its own playground. French is not prepared to give up and is unlikely to do so within the next hundred years.9 English can rely on its own power as a language to subdue the other languages in its path. French, by contrast, relies for its protection on territorial concentration and restrictive government legislation. English means English, French means politics.

33There are major factors working in favour of French in Québec as well as those working against it. The following lists some:

34 Factors in Favor:

  • Sizable population mass: Québec has more Francophones than either Switzerland or Belgium; French is spoken at home by over 80 per cent of its population.
  • Very high level of endogamy (95 per cent of mother tongue French marry mother tongue French).
  • All major functions of the polity – cultural, religious, economic, social, and political, can operate in French.
  • New migrants must attend French schools with the result that while before 1971 only 27 per cent of Allophones had shifted to French, the post 1971 percentage is 66 per cent (Béland 1999).
  • Québec's Anglophones are increasingly bilingual although, in the Montréal metropolitan area, over 60 per cent use English “almost exclusively” in the public domain.

35 Factors Against:

  • Globalization of the economy, popular culture, and science in favour of English.
  • Replacement of a significant proportion of the Francophone de souche population with one of varied origins, less rooted to the language and the ‘old’ culture: more geographically and linguistically mobile.
  • Advantage of English in attracting new speakers. The index of language maintenance, relating mother tongue to language spoken at home still favours English: 1.24 compared to 1.02 for French (Côté 1999:22).
  • Changing ethnic, linguistic, and political composition of the Island of Montréal in favour of Allophones weakens French in a strategic location in economic, cultural, and geopolitical terms. Outside the Montréal region, French is used in public “mostly or nearly exclusively” 96 per cent of the time. On the Island of Montréal, the figure drops to 71 per cent. On the Island, 80 per cent of immigrants with a Latin origin speak predominantly French in public, 78 per cent of immigrants of other origins speak mostly English (Monnier 1993; Béland 1999). Having lost the battle of the cradle, Québécois may well lose the battle of Montréal.
  • Decline of Québec's electoral weight within Canada due to the uneven distribution of new migrants continuously more attracted to the West and Ontario. In 2100, Québec should have dropped to less than 20 per cent of the Canadian population compared to 24 per cent now, and 29 per cent in 1960.
  • Further decline of Québec's electoral weight even if the electoral system, and the party system, were to be changed by introducing proportional representation. Québec would no longer have the same possibility of affecting the outcome of an election by concentrating its vote on a single party, as it often did in the past.10

36I am unable to quantify the relative weight of these factors, hence I am unable to summarize them into a positive or negative total score. On balance, I think they work to the advantage of French in the short run but against French in the long run. While the Québécois population is reassured by the remarkable progress French has made in the last generation, its political and intellectual elites are aware of the fragility of these gains. If I am right, then it follows that the Québécois will not achieve independence: too many feel too secure to want it now and they will be too weak to have it – or even want it – later. It also follows that any major revision of the Constitution would have to be obtained in the short term.

37At this point, let us consider a few scenarios that involve changing the relations between Québec and Canada so as to lead to some form of federation of nations. We will examine three scenarios, starting with the simplest to implement.

Scenario 1: From Adversarial to Consensual Government

38The Canadian mode of democratic government was inherited from Britain. It is rational in the sense that it satisfies Riker's rule of government by means of minimum winning coalitions (Riker 1962). Since the party winning a Canadian federal election obtains, on average, about 40 per cent of the votes, the minimum size principle is well served. But the system is irrational in that it is not adapted to the governance of a multinational state. If Switzerland had had colonies and if Canada had been one, Canada would have inherited a different mode of government: one based on decision by consensus or at least by very large ruling coalitions. The Swiss government (a coalition of all major parties) does so at a level of about 70 to 80 per cent of the electorate and ensures that its three major national segments – the German, the French, and the Italian – are not subject to a minority position on issues that are essential to any one of them.

39Canada has adopted some of the minor features of consensualism (McRae 1997): the federal system puts the French segment in limited control in one province; the Inuit are in control of a territory that could, at some point, become a province; the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, and the chairs of royal commissions have given to Francophones greater weight than that which they could claim on the basis of a strict representation by population. But the dominant mode of decision-making remains majoritarian and the dominant mode of parliamentary government remains adversarial. The constitutional revision of 1982, which was obtained by what looked like a large majority (more than the number of provinces required by the Supreme Court ruling), was in fact the imposition of the will of one national segment (the Canadian) over another (the Québécois). Such a majoritarian and adversarial mode of government is ill-adapted to a multinational polity.

40Will the present system evolve into government by co-operation among its national segments? That would be a claim to distinction for a polity that says it does not want to be a melting pot. There has been, in the last decade, a noticeable movement in that direction in the negotiations between First Nations and provincial and federal governments on the other; but there are no signs of a significant evolution in the relations between the second and the third nations. The result of the Québec referendum of 1995 was viewed, in the words of Prime Minister Chrétien, like that of a hockey game: “Never mind the score, what matters is the win.” The appropriate ‘consensual’ reaction would have been to say: “Never mind the win, let's consider the score. When such a large number of citizens of such an important province – never mind whether it is 50 per cent, 40 per cent, or 30 per cent – is prepared to vote for some form of separation, there must be something fundamentally wrong with the status quo; let's negotiate.” I realize the strength of the forces, both federal and provincial, opposing such negotiation, which is why I doubt that the Québécois-Canadian debate will shift from a majoritarian to a consensual mode of operation.

Scenario 2: Provincial Sovereignty over Language and Culture

  • 11 For a recent proposal, one among a long series which deal with the transfer of powers to Québec, s (...)

41A revised Constitution could give Québec (and other provinces wanting them) increased powers11 and, notably, full sovereign rights in matters of language, education, culture, and related fields. In other words, Québec could be given rights similar to those of a Swiss canton. Unrestricted language sovereignty would enable Québec, at its discretion, to adopt either the unilingualism of Geneva, the bilingualism of Fribourg (which juxtaposes two unilingual areas separated by a language border running through its capital city), or the multilingualism of The Grisons that mixes languages territorially at the level of the municipalities. Under such a constitutional arrangement, the decision either to protect or to assimilate linguistic minorities would be left to the discretion of the provinces. Such a solution might be supported by some Anglophone provinces, provinces where the use of French is so minimal that its privileges offend many electors.

  • 12 Few are the Allophones educated in English who would support a single, universal, French school ed (...)

42Belgium, which had tried the Canadian policy of protection of language rights on an individual basis, has shifted to the Swiss solution of the juxtaposition of unilingual territories (except in Brussels) in order to moderate its language conflicts (McRae 1986; Laponce 1992, 1997). The likelihood of Canada doing the same is not very high. The Québec Anglophone community is large enough and has enough leverage, outside as well as inside Québec, to block such a change.12

Scenario 3: A Multination Federal Structure

43A federal structure joining two or three (or more) nations could be combined with the present federation of regions. A structure of that type had been envisaged some hundred years ago by Bauer (1907, trans. 2000) who proposed reforming Austria by separating economic from national issues. To that effect, he proposed a set of parallel federal structures giving the nationalities their own parliament. His proposal was not implemented but, interestingly, contemporary Belgium adopted a system resembling that proposed by Bauer when it evolved from a unitary into a federal system in the 1990s and created, in addition to the federal parliament, separate parliaments for regions and language communities (Karmis and Gagnon 1996; Delpérée 1996; Laponce 1997).

  • 13 Three or more nations, but at least two; the reason being that the Québécois-Canadian cleavage is (...)

44The questions concerning structure, however, are many. Does Switzerland offer a model that could be adapted to the Canadian scene (Laponce 1984, 1997)? Should the model be Belgium (Karmis and Gagnon 1996; Laponce 1997)? Should it be a federation between a unitary Québec (why not a federal Québec?) and a federal Canada as proposed by Resnick (1991)? Should it be an adaptation of the European Union model as proposed by Québec intellectuals and politicians? Should it be some other scheme to enable the creation of a public space (Taylor 1992) wherein nations could negotiate matters of common interest and regulate separately their own and specific interests? Whatever the structure envisaged, a major political restructuring would be needed. A reformed Constitution that would structure politically a multination federation within the present federal system, by territorializing the three nations as much as feasible – and giving them the powers over language, culture, and citizenship needed to maintain themselves as nations – would give Canada a distinctive model of government adapted to a time when nations seek protection from the effects of globalization.13 Will such a restructuring take place? It is possible but unlikely. In the absence of strong political leadership (such leadership is in the domain of the unpredictable), a major reform of the Constitution would probably require a crisis following a referendum favourable to Québec. A referendum outcome we thought was unlikely.

The Challenge Ahead

45I have two conclusions, one drawn on the side of caution, the other on the side of hope.

Conclusion One

  • 14 Assuming Canada's national question is solved, what other problem would come to the fore? The logi (...)

46If Jesus Christ had been born sixty to seventy years earlier and the millennium and the new century had arrived sooner, would we still be as optimistic about the strength of the democratic system, as optimistic about the economy, and as concerned about the language problem as we are today? Would the First Nations, if not the second nation, not to mention multiculturalism, have been given the same prominence in our futurology? Predicting is, indeed, the occupation of fools. The present casts auras and large shadows on a future composed wrongly of too much past.14

Conclusion Two

47Here, however, is a summary of our predictions and hopes given the auras and shadows of the present. We predict that Canada's population will change fundamentally in looks and origins: it will be much less white, much less French, and much more English-speaking. We think that the structures of integration and assimilation will be strong enough, especially in English Canada, to make Aboriginals – at least a large segment – Asians, Latin Americans, Caribbeans, and Africans become simply Canadians or Québécois, more easily the former than the latter. We predict that the First Nations will settle their land claims and obtain varied forms of territorial self-government; having thus regained their security and dignity, they will more easily converge, economically and socially, with the rest of society. We believe that the French language and Francophones will lose influence but will remain major political actors, thus continuing to pose major problems.

48We wish that the governing structures could be changed to make room for a collaboration of nations. We are doubtful that this transformation will occur, thereby redefining the relations between Canada and Québec; our doubts arise from the rigidities of the present structures and modes of government as well as from the very success of the Canadian nation building enterprise. However, I hope that I am wrong in seeing too many obstacles for Canada to resolve its old, two-nations problem with models adapted from Switzerland, Belgium, or the European Union.

49The challenge is to bring nations together, as provinces were brought together in the nineteenth century, and avoid this time too symmetrical a federalism. The challenge is to bring harmony out of a great deal of asymmetry.



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1 For this lack of fit, see among others: Cairns (1993), Resnick (1991), Taylor (1992), Laponce (1997), and Houle (1999).

2 The term ‘ethnic’ has become so loaded with myth and politics that it should probably be abandoned. A return to the term ‘community’ would at least distinguish between a ‘system’ and that which is merely a ‘set.’ For the confusion concerning the term ethnic, see Riggs (1985), For a brief history of the use of the term since de la Pouge proposed to distinguish “ethnicity” from “race” in 1896, see Laponce (1992). For a survey of research on ethnicity in Canada see Berry and Laponce (1994). The term ‘nation’ is also stuck in ideological glue. I use ethnic to mean an historical community perceived as such by its members. The concept would be better rendered by the French communauté de la longue durée; I take a nation to be a communauté de la longue durée if it governs itself, or wishes to govern itself, politically, at the level of a state, a region, or a locality. Note that the sources I use led me to identify only three nations – Canadians, Québécois, and Aboriginals – where Alan Cairns (1995) identifies four, by splitting Canadians into “TransCanada Canadians” and “Canadians outside Québec.”

3 Note that shifting our attention from census to survey makes the categories of British and French practically disappear. They have been succeeded by Canadians and Québécois. On the one hand we have 65 per cent Canadians, to whom we should add, as related identifiers and political allies, the 3 per cent British-Canadians, many of the 4 per cent French-Canadians, the 7 per cent other hyphenated-Canadians and the 1 per cent identifiers with provinces other than Québec, for a total of roughly 80 per cent. On the other hand we have a Québécois segment of about 15 per cent and an Aboriginal segment of about 3 per cent (see n. 4).

4 The Statistics Canada survey (cat. 89/357) gives the following breakdown: Indians on reserves 1.06 per cent, Indians outside reserves 1.49 per cent, Métis 0.5, and Inuit 0.10-for a total of 862,485 people or 3.2 per cent of the total population.

5 An immediate reaction to this number of 180 million may well be: where would they fit? They can't be settled in the freezing North. But we should remember the eighteenth century prediction of Buffon, who, having been commissioned to report on prospects for North America, told the king of France: “Sire, in those parts, the climate is so severe that civilization cannot take roots” (author's recollection).

6 Alan Cairns favours giving to Aboriginals special rights in addition to those flowing from their Canadian citizenship but short of the nation-to-nation relationship (Aboriginals vs. non-Aboriginals) advocated by the commissioners in the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996). For an argument against special rights, see Flanagan (2000).

7 Few Aboriginal languages have a chance of survival. The ones that are better placed in the survival competition are those that are isolated and relatively numerous – notably Cree with about 90,000 speakers, Ojibway with about 25,000, and the Inuktitut family of languages with about 30,000. But even those are unlikely to survive unless it be in a diglossic association with English.

8 In only two other states is that the case: Cameroon and Vanuatu.

9 I realize that I reify languages and that I seem to give them a will of their own; I do so for the convenience of shorthand, the kind of shorthand that is used more frequently in describing religions or nations. If languages do not have a government, they have at least a governance.

10 The introduction of proportional representation would satisfy Schattschneider's rule of suffrage expansion (1975) which states that, in a democratic system, suffrage keeps expanding: first, because it is in the logic of democracy to become more inclusive and second, because it is in the logic of party competition that one of the competing parties will seek to gain new voters by offering the vote to categories of people disfranchised until then. When the age of political maturity cannot be pushed much lower, proportional representation offers an alternative. It would not expand the electorate, but would expand representation in Parliament and, very likely, in the government as well.

11 For a recent proposal, one among a long series which deal with the transfer of powers to Québec, see Lisée (1999), who suggests a referendum on the transfer of powers over language, culture, communication, immigration, health, social programmes, and research.

12 Few are the Allophones educated in English who would support a single, universal, French school education. The pro-federalist Greater Québec Movement is an exception (Lachance 1999). Paradoxically, the present Parti Québécois government, having set its aims higher than linguistic and cultural sovereignty, quite unreasonably continues to hope to bring to its side the Anglophone and Allophone vote; hence its downplaying of the language issue.

13 Three or more nations, but at least two; the reason being that the Québécois-Canadian cleavage is the more enduring as it is based on language.

14 Assuming Canada's national question is solved, what other problem would come to the fore? The logic of a democratic system would favour a problem that raises questions of inequality, but the aura or shadow of the present, as the case may be, prevents us from seeing the problem that will replace the one that remains unsolved.


Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia, where he taught political science. He graduated from the Paris Institute of Political Science and obtained his PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was Director of the Institute of Interethnic Relations of the University of Ottawa from 1992 to 2001 and Visiting Professor at the University's Department of Political Science during that period. He is a former president of the Canadian and International Political Science Associations and has been a Fellow of The Royal Society of Canada since 1974. He has published numerous articles and books, among them The Protection of Minorities (1961) and Languages and their Territories (1987). His present research interest is in the comparative study of multi-ethnic and multinational states

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