5 Canadian Debates

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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. all in all, if those are the biggest issues in canada (hockey!), you have it pretty good. be thankful.
    canada has more common sense than the united states has.
    i wish california was part of canada.
    even if it means reading french on food labels.
    .-= Seraphine´s last blog ..Comic #700 =-.

  2. I guess Anglophones in Canada aren’t overly concerned about the independence movement of Quebec. This is in stark contrast to the Chinese over Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan.

    Dubai has the highest percentage of immigrants (if the emirate can be considered a nation). But unlike Canada and the US, foreigners in Dubai can’t naturalize easily.
    .-= Khengsiong´s last blog ..Graffiti =-.

  3. I guess I do think of Canadians as being sort of like Americans but more polite. This post is an interesting sketch of the culture.

    I have been to Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, all for business with just a little time to look around. More recently to Halifax, Cape Breton and Charlottetown during a cruise to the Maritime Provences. Certainly these are very different places but there was not time for much but a quick look at the stereotypical tourist stuff. It would be very different to live there. Still all were very enjoyable.
    .-= Tulsa Getleman´s last blog ..Happy Birthday to Me =-.

  4. In India, you get debates for everything. I come from Kerala (first place in the world to have an “elected” communist government (occasionally) where we have strikes for every reason. The heights of it was when Saddam Hussain was executed, we had a strike. In fact, India has a whole you’ll find so many debates that its difficult to keep track.

  5. Great post! For starter, Trudeau’s multiculturalism concept has failed the nation…it has given too many privileges to minorities, where some of them abuse it a lot. We can’t accommodate all religious holidays and traditions…People can do them private at the comfort of their own homes. I never asked for any religious or Taiwanese holidays to be recognized or celebrated in public. So why some immigrants feel the urge to stir things up?

    Yes, I’m an immigrant as well and probably should support other immigrants, but I don’t think it’s fair for the dominant group to view us as troubles when I, as an individual, never caused any problem to society.

    Bilingualism is a misleading concept…if I go to Vancouver I’m more likely to find Cantonese speakers than French speakers…how is that bilingualism?!

    Quebec…la belle province…the only way I’ll support the sovereignty, is when they actually get their crap together and give more valid reasons to separate. Don’t move out of your parents’ house and still ask for allowance. It doesn’t work that way.

    For abortion, it was illegal at certain point then when the Montreal doctor started to operate on women safely, it started a whole new debate. I learned that in my Sociology class…quite interesting.

    Sorry for the long rant, but I always get fire up for topics that I care a lot.

  6. Hey, how can you leave out our favourite topic – immigration! =)

    Like many immigration hubs, Canada’s got its fair share of xenophobia too. Unfortunately we cannot say this goes wholly unprovoked; every basket has a few bad apples, and ours can be especially bitter sometimes.

    One issue that shook up the fairly quiet country earlier this year were the Tamil protests in Toronto. Protesters blocked one of the city’s main arteries (gardiner expy) for hours. Why? To force the canadian government into intervening in their native Sri Lanka’s civil war, where both parties are accused of human rights violations. Not a great way to promote the image of immigrants before the canadian society.

  7. if the canadian government wants to subsidize timber, then bless you. that means, building materials and wood will be cheaper for us than if we grow our own. i say, more power to canada. thank you for the subsidy!
    .-= Seraphine´s last blog ..If Walls Had Ears =-.

  8. @Seraphine – Yes, Canada is fairly calm compared to other countries. This is probably why most Canadian love watching U.S debates and politics 😆

    @Khengsiong – Oh, trust me, whenever Quebec threatens to separate, the whole country is worrying. Expect for a minority saying that Québec should separate because they are p*&&g off a lot of people 😆

    @Agnes – I’m surprised you have never visited!

    @Sidney – Nope, not yet. 😉

    @Tulsa Getleman – Canadians are more polite and I do think life is less stressful here than it is in most parts of the U.S. It shows on the people as well.

    @Return to Norway – Thank you!

    @Nigel – Interesting! So India is a bit like France, where people love to complain, to strike and think of overthrow the government every couple of months. Makes life interesting I guess!

    @Beth – Ouch. Let’s never talk about hockey, shall we? 😆

    @Bluefish – I do believe in multiculturalism. I know Quebec had a few debates about it the last couple of years but I don’t think there are too many problems, really. Sure, a minority of idiot like to stir things up… the rest of the people just want to enjoy life in Canada and make a living.

    @Maurice – Thank you for pointing out this debate! To be honest, I thought the main debate was more about Canada’s identity, rather than immigration. Compared to many countries actually and considering the number of newcomers per year in Canada, there is surprisingly little debate about that.

    I miss the Tamil demonstrations because I was in France I think, but I heard of it. Same thing with Lebanon a couple of years ago which sparked a debate on Canadian citizenship.

    @Seraphine – I’m not an economist so I’m not even getting into the debate!

    @DianeCA – Are unions strong in Norway? Just curious.

  9. The article says:

    “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.”

    The independence movement in Quebec is currently dormant. Polls show support at about 30%. But support for independence always comes and goes in waves. When Pierre Trudeau left office, support was at an all-time low, about 22%. Yet a few short years later and a constitutional crisis risked splitting the country apart. The 1995 referendum lost only by a whisker.

    When you consider that the currently low 30% support is virtually 100% amongst Quebec’s 80% of the population that is francophone, you see that this support mathematically works out to be about 37% if just francophones are considered…which is NOT a low figure, especially for a time when separation is not considered popular. If this is the low point for support for sovereignty, boy we’re really in for it once sovereignty’s popularity is on the upswing because its low point has never been so high.

    The real issue is that Quebec’s notorious Bill 101 is now supported by all three major federal parties. The idea that it is better to sacrifice human rights to keep Canada together is considered de rigeur and Harper, Ignatieff, and the NDP clown all support and encourage the race law known as Bill 101.

    However, you can’t keep a country together by violating basic human rights, which most of Bill 101 does. I say: better to sacrifice Canada for the higher concept of human rights than sacrifice human rights for the less important concept called Canada.

  10. @Tony Kondaks – I’m really not sure I’m following you. I wouldn’t say support for independance is 100%, even among francophone Québecers. It’s not that simple.

    Plus, I don’t see how Bill 101 goes against human rights… it is somehow controversial but human rights?!

  11. 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…

  12. 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 =-.

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