I must say, my lowering interest in Canadian politics (now that the Liberal leadership race appears to have about as much to do with the future of modern liberalism as Nancy Pelosi's choice of breakfast muffin) has somewhat rekindled over the marvelously deft move that the current Canadian PM, Stephen Harper, made over the issue of whether the province of Quebec is a "nation".
To forestall further embarrassment, and quite possibly save Michael Ignatieff's hide, he put forward a motion stating that Canada recognizes "the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada."
VERY deft. Why? First, look at the word in question: it says "Quebecois", not either "Quebeckers" or "Quebec" itself. That's important- in English, a distinction is drawn between the sociological group "Quebecois" and those who simply live in the province of Quebec. Certainly the French speaking (and predominantly Roman Catholic) group known as the Quebecois count as a nation- they've got rather a lot of history and cultural distinctiveness to support that. Thing is, that doesn't make them different or special, as there are other nations within the province of Quebec that fit that bill too, including many native nations whose claim to the land predates even the oldest "Quebecois" settlers. Of course, in French Quebecois is more akin to the english "Quebeckers", implying simply those who live in Quebec, but the resolution is in english, and the term "nation" tends to mean "sociological nation" in French anyway, and even the most ardent seperatist isn't going to claim that, say, the Cree Indians are part of the sociological group "Quebecois".
It also doesn't provide much room for grounding seperation, thanks to that "united Canada" line. It reiterates that the Quebecois are a part of Canada, not something seperate from it. I imagine most federalist Quebecois would accept that definition, even if the seperatists loathe it.
It still would have been better had this sideshow not reared its ugly head, and Ignatieff is still likely to be punished for doing so. Still, I will admit that Harper managed to thread that needle rather well.
If only he were anywhere near as competent at, say, foreign policy.
Edit to forestall an objection: Paul Wells complained that Harper's preference for "in Caanda" is meaningless- a nation is a nation no matter where it is. Well, yes, and were the Quebecois willing to seperate without the lands held by the Cree and without Montreal, there might be something to that. As it is, though, any attempt to use this to justify seperation can be easily responded to with a simple "what about the nations that don't want to leave?"
Recognizing one nation does not preclude the existence of others. Indeed, considering the natives are referred to as "first nations" in Canada, there's already an implicit recognition there.