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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!

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