5 Canadian Debates

Demonstration In Front Of The Parliament (June 09)

Demon­stra­tion In Front Of The Par­lia­ment (June 09)

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, Canada is a fairly quiet coun­try: strikes and social unrest are rare, unlike in France where I grew up. I always thought it was mostly due to the size of the coun­try, the dif­fer­ences between the provinces and the three-level polit­i­cal sys­tem (fed­eral, provin­cial and munic­i­pal). Peo­ple in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try have dif­fer­ent con­cerns and some­times see issues dif­fer­ently. For exam­ple, the lan­guage issue is often debated in Que­bec and East­ern Ontario, while the Prairies may be more con­cerned with First Nations rights, the Mar­itimes with fish­ing reg­u­la­tions etc. This is a stereo­types but I believe it explains why fairly few issues mobi­lize the whole country.

That said, each coun­try has its debates and touchy issues that never seem to be solved and are always brought up in the media. Here are the most famous ones in Canada.

Rela­tion­ship between Que­bec and Canada: the his­tory between fran­coph­o­nes and anglo­phones is a long and com­pli­cated one. It’s also the story of a strug­gle between two cul­tures. In the 1960s and 1970s, dur­ing the decol­o­niza­tion, many coun­tries became inde­pen­dent and some advo­cates of Que­bec inde­pen­dence saw Quebec’s sit­u­a­tion in a sim­i­lar light. The main jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for Quebec’s sov­er­eignty is its unique cul­ture and French-speaking major­ity in con­trast to the rest of Canada, but var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal events also weight in the dis­cus­sion. Two ref­er­en­dums were held in 1980 and 1995 and Que­bec remained a province of Canada. That said, the Parti Québé­cois is still a promi­nent party in Québec and while its cur­rent posi­tion on sov­er­eignty isn’t really clear, some Québécers still advo­cate full inde­pen­dence from Canada.

Hockey and the Stan­ley Cup: Cana­di­ans love hockey and take the sport pretty seri­ously. From the begin­ning of the hockey sea­son in the Fall to the Stan­ley Cup, awarded annu­ally to the National Hockey League play­offs cham­pion in the late Spring, hockey sto­ries are often in the media and are part of the national folk­lore. Who was traded, who really suck this year (you can never go wrong with say­ing the Toronto Maple Leafs, the most hated team in Canada!), who scored the best goals… It never ends. The Stan­ley Cup was even sup­posed to boost the morale of the Cana­dian troops and their NATO allies abroad, and the tro­phy made sev­eral trips in com­bat zones.

French and Eng­lish: Canada is offi­cially bilin­gual but this is no sim­ple mat­ter. In fact, the only offi­cial bilin­gual province is New-Brunswick, while Québec is fran­coph­one and the rest of Canada, mostly anglo­phone with sev­eral pock­ets of French com­mu­ni­ties here and there. Bilin­gual­ism man­dates that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­duct its busi­ness and pro­vide gov­ern­ment ser­vices in both lan­guages. Access to goods or ser­vices through­out the coun­try must be in both Eng­lish or French — the joke goes that if you want to learn French, you can start by read­ing all the labels on food prod­ucts. The offi­cial bilin­gual­ism pol­icy often sparks intense debates. For exam­ple, fran­coph­o­nes in British-Colombia can asked to be served in French. How­ever, some would argue that French-speakers there are really a minor­ity and that the unof­fi­cial sec­ond lan­guage in the province would instead be Man­darin or Pun­jabi — so why bother serv­ing two or three fran­coph­o­nes in French, given that they prob­a­bly speak Eng­lish any­way? Some also com­plain that the bilin­gual­ism pol­icy is expen­sive and doom to fail.

The Cana­dian iden­tity: if you want to really piss off a Cana­dian, say you don’t see any dif­fer­ence between Canada and the U.S.A. Indeed, the way of life is def­i­nitely North Amer­i­can and we get our share of Amer­i­can cul­ture, thanks to Hol­ly­wood movies and cable chan­nels. But the debate on Cana­dian iden­tity goes deeper. Indeed, Canada is the coun­try that wel­comes the most immi­grants per capita: over 250,000 new­com­ers a year. Canada does need immi­gra­tion for eco­nomic rea­sons yet some are scared that the coun­try will lose its iden­tity. Trudeau’s offi­cial mul­ti­cul­tural soci­ety is often crit­i­cized and ques­tioned, while some really believe in it.

The debate on abor­tion: Canada is one of a few nations with no legal restric­tions on abor­tion. Reg­u­la­tions and acces­si­bil­ity vary between provinces but a major­ity of Cana­di­ans believe abor­tion should remain legal in some cir­cum­stances. Nonethe­less, var­i­ous polit­i­cal par­ties have pro-life mem­bers and the pro-life move­ment is very much alive. In Ottawa for exam­ple, there are daily small protest marches in front of the Morgentaler’s clinic (named after the doc­tor who launched a judi­cial bat­tle to have abor­tion rec­og­nized as a con­sti­tu­tional right under the Cana­dian Char­ter) down­town Ottawa. Pro-life orga­ni­za­tions such as Birthright adver­tise a lot in buses and var­i­ous pub­lic places.

United States – Canada soft­wood lum­ber dis­pute: this dis­pute is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant and endur­ing trade dis­putes in mod­ern his­tory. It is most famous in British Colum­bia, which is the major Cana­dian exporter of soft­wood lum­ber to the USA. The heart of the dis­pute is the Amer­i­can claim that the Cana­dian lum­ber indus­try is unfairly sub­si­dized by the fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments. The dis­pute had had numer­ous new devel­op­ments and a sur­pris­ingly quite impor­tant num­ber of peo­ple take the dis­pute very seri­ously… it even has its own FAQ page on the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs and Inter­na­tional Trade! To be hon­est, it took me quite a while to under­stand the issue…!

How about where you live? Any recur­ring debates or issues? I’m curious!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Yep it makes life inter­est­ing. When I was in school and we for­got our home­works or an assign­ment sub­mis­sion was due, I would be pray­ing that it would be a strike that day 😀 Any­ways, its tir­ing when u are work­ing, coz u have to get to work anyway…

  2. I do like Canada quite a bit, and I do find the peo­ple to be nicer than here, and I come from a small town!

    Also, on the lan­guage thing — one of my friends lives in Toronto and said he was required to learn French in school. I took French vol­un­tar­ily and knew it bet­ter than he did. But that was 15 years ago — I’ve for­got­ten much since then.
    .-= Kirsten´s last blog ..Fly­ing High =-.

  3. Pingback: Guiso de fin de semana | Los Ziegler en Canada

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