Searching for a reason to celebrate

This piece is another in our series of reflections on Canada 150. This one is written by Zacharie Leclair, administrative assistant for MCC Québec. Zacharie holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history and also serves on the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches Executive Board.

Celebrating the birth of the 150 year-old Canadian Confederation always feels awkward for inhabitants of a society that celebrated its 4th centennial not even a decade ago.

Even more incongruous, the very same year as Canada 150, Montreal is celebrating its 375th anniversary as a permanent and continued French settlement. Minimally, Québec’s attention is distracted, caught between two parties!

Aside from this chronological peculiarity, Québec also fosters a troubled relationship with its adhesion—never constitutionally formalized—to the Canadian Confederation.  And only adding to this complex past, the name of Canada itself has caused much confusion over the years as to the Québécois identity.

From Lucia Ferretti, “Le Canada: Toxique pour le Québec,” in Le Mouton Noir (14 mai 2017)

In fact, “Canadian” has primarily and specifically referred to the first French settlers of the Saint-Lawrence valley in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the takeover of New France by the British in 1763 and subsequent English migration to Québec, “Canadian” gradually came to designate both French and English inhabitants of Canada—hence the need to add the qualifier of “French” to Canadian. Then, mainly through the initiative of the Anglophone merchant class of Montréal, the province of Québec was incorporated into the confederation project.

Reacting against the hegemony of the English-speaking minority in Québec, a distinctive nationalist sentiment grew throughout the first half of the 20th century and led to the extensive—and sometimes lyrical!—use of the word “Québécois” to describe those previously known as “French Canadians.” The implication was clear: only the Francophone should be considered as legitimate and moral “owners” of the province (after all, British rights over Québec were won—illegitimately by modern international law standards—through conquest).

Yet this new designation also led to the abandonment of the sense of Canadian belonging and, not without irony, the repudiation of a pan-Canadian Francophone unity and solidarity. However, the term “Québécois” came to symbolize both the modernization and the coming of age of the Québec society as of the 1960s, when an exceptionally sudden social and nationalist upheaval called “Révolution Tranquille” (Quiet Revolution) took place. Increasingly, being a Québécois thus also meant a clear disconnection with the idea of identifying as Canadian.

Photo by Alain Chagnon, Fête de la Saint-Jean, Mont-Royal, 1976

Many Anglophone observers and columnists resent the fact that most French-speaking Québécois, although they appreciate the July 1 holiday, disregard Canada Day to concentrate instead on Québec’s national “fête” on June 24. Called La Saint-Jean-Baptiste, this festival is an ancient Catholic carnival now practically devoid of any religious content and meaning.

This tendency to dismiss Canadian nationalism is also a symptom of the Québécois’ own brand of nationalism. Instead of focusing on celebrating diversity and the mixing of peoples into the Canadian “compact”, the Québécois focus on the fact that their society remains a haven of French language in North America, possessing a culture of its own that has survived intense Anglophone presence, influence, and even assimilation efforts. In short, Québécois do not celebrate the same “mystic chords of memory,” to borrow Abraham Lincoln’s words, as English Canadians.

However, millennial Québécois no longer feel as bitter and reactionary toward the Anglophone and federalism as their parents and grandparents did during the so-called “Quiet Revolution.” Obviously the conditions that had once created the rising against the Anglo-Protestant domination has but completely vanished.

Yet Québécois are still in search of a reason to celebrate the Confederation. Beyond the flags, the day off work, and the free music shows, what does it mean to highlight an event that, for people in this part of the country (not to mention the First Nations), may be remembered as painful?

Without an understanding of the historical roots of the Québécois’ mitigated reception of Canadian patriotism (including the old disregard of Canada Day), I fear no national anniversary will ever have any signification to anyone because there will be no truly united and sharing community to celebrate it.

From a Christian and a Québécois perspective, to “love your neighbor as yourself” should encompass knowing and loving the three founding nations of this country (the French, the English and the First Nations), and acknowledging the plight of those who at times were left behind.

 

We’ve got to be bold: Lessons from globally-renowned peacebuilders

What is Canada’s legacy?

Across the country in 2017, especially in Ottawa, this question seems unavoidable – everyone is talking about legacy. As we near the celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday, people are asking, what is our current legacy? What will future generations of Canadians say in 50, 100, or 150 years? We can’t escape it – on the barriers around construction sites, in city parks and at government events we see the signs: “Canada 150.”

By the time it’s over, 2017 will no doubt be a year of unending festivals, cheesy punch lines, and romanticized political speeches, glossing over complex and often disturbing elements of our history.

But beyond the fluff of “Canada 150” celebrations there is a real opportunity to build a legacy of leadership and peace in Canada and around the world. A legacy built on actions, not just words.

This was the challenge for Canada a few weeks ago from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia. She was joined by fellow global renowned peacebuilder and human rights activist Yanar Mohammed, co-founder and President of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

On April 12 I had the privilege of attending an event where Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Matt DeCourcey and NDP Critic for Foreign Affairs Héne Laverdière joined Leymah and Yanar to discuss innovation in Canada’s development programming. The two global peacebuilders challenged Canada to be a leader when it comes to international assistance – funding and partnering with innovative grassroots organizations and individuals to promote peace and justice from the ground up.

Earlier that same day Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai had addressed Canadian Parliament upon receiving honourary Canadian citizenship. She praised some of Canada’s humanitarian commitments of recent years, all while challenging Canada to be a leader in supporting education for girls and young women as a means to promote development, peace, and a better world for all: “If Canada leads, the world will follow,” Malala said.

Leymah grabbed onto Malala’s message, challenging the Canadian government to put its money and resources where its mouth is. For Leymah and Yanar, this means funding grassroots women’s and human rights organizations. “There are 10,000 Malalas out there…we just need to find them!” Leymah said. The point that both women emphasized is that these grassroots peace, community development, and human rights organizations are showcasing innovation and action, getting things done.

It’s a common misconception that local organizations are sitting around, waiting for funding from Western governments and civil society organizations. But this is definitely not the case. People are always looking for ways to better their local communities and are doing so every day, in difficult circumstances and with few resources. What outside funding of these local initiatives does enable is for local champions and actors to expand their impact. At MCC we seek to partner with local organizations for the same reasons, and together support great work being done within communities around the world.

But where does the Government of Canada stand on funding local partners? That’s a good question!

Last spring and summer, MCC, along with dozens of other organizations and individuals, participated in the International Assistance Review, spearheaded by Global Affairs Canada and the Hon Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development. While the government has published some of the major feedback from the review, after almost a year there has yet to be any official policy tabled.

And what does Budget 2017 say about Canada’s commitment to international assistance? Not much! No new spending money has been allocated for Canada’s international assistance. The programming priorities can still shift, but by not increasing the overall spending Canada is taking zero steps in 2017 to move toward the internationally-recognized goal of 0.7% spending on Official Development Assistance. Yet in pre-budget consultations, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development identified this as a goal to be reached by 2030. Instead, Canada is staying at about 0.26% spending for international assistance, which is not much higher than our all-time low.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Bill Morneau hopes that organizations and groups will “do more with less,” as the government is focusing on increasing Foreign Direct Investment private sector initiatives, rather than investing more in grassroots peace and development organizations.

So, what does that mean? What should the direction of Canadian assistance funding be?

In the spirit of Canada 150, Leymah directed her comments to Parliamentary Secretary DeCourcey, sighting a joint Match International/Nobel Women’s Initiative campaign that challenges Canada to mark this historic year by making 150 new contributions to 150 small grassroots peace, development or human rights women’s organization around the world.

While genuine consultation and working with the grassroots communities takes time and flexibility, and it can be messy, the results speak for themselves: change and action from the ground up!

They urged the government to make Canada 150 count for something tangible.

Leymah and Yanar both see this year as the moment to speak out and act for the future. “A new legacy is waiting…It can be grabbed now, or by a future government!” Yanar challenged.

Now is the time: turn words into something tangible. Let’s make a new legacy of action!

Rebekah Sears is the Policy Analyst for MCC Ottawa.