Beverly Shepard is a musician and writer who lives in Hamilton, Ontario.
There are those in Quebec who say there is no recognition of or appreciation for Quebec's uniqueness; it is sad that their own grievances have prevented them from seeing the way Quebec is regarded in the rest of the country. Of course, there are negative views, but there are many - and strong - positive views. Raising four children and watching them in school, at University, and on their travels has helped to expand my own awareness of and appreciation for Quebec.
However, I feel that one of the most endearing things about Canadian society as a whole is the fact that we have an awareness of all parts of our nation that must be unusual in such a large country. We follow each other's provincial and territorial elections; we care about the farmers on the Prairies and the death of children in a house fire in Nova Scotia; we seem to regard each other as neighbors across the vast expanse of our land in a way that couldn't be imagined in our almost-as-large neighbor to the south. In this context, caring about Quebec is part of our general attitude about each other, but made more intense because of the very distinctions that some Quebecois claim we don't recognize.
Children all over Canada learn Quebecois folk songs and stories, and they learn that they come from the French culture and that it is different from the English, and yet that it is theirs, too, in a way. They study French from a young age and are proud of themselves for embracing this other part of Canada's heritage, proud to be in French immersion or to take years of French through school and University, and proud and excited to become bilingual. People across Canada celebrate Quebec's performers, artists, writers, comedians: they talk about them in a way they don't talk about such people from other provinces, because they are of Quebec; they are French; they are distinct.
Young people across Canada are learning French and participating in exchanges and conferences with Quebecois youth. When they participate in programmes such as "Encounters with Canada" at the Terry Fox Centre in Ottawa, they meet kids from Quebec as well as other parts of Canada and feel a special joy in affirming the dual heritage of this nation - would they be so excited by these exchanges if Quebec were not a distinct society; would they care so much if Quebec were not part of Canada? For my children and for many others, the highlight of such programmes is meeting and making friends with francophone students. These are the adults of the near future; they are learning the skills to be a united country, and they must not be denied the chance to use them.
I am a musician, and in that area I've always felt that Quebec's heritage is both distinct and a part of Canada's. The Quebecois folk songs mentioned above are one area where this is true, but my own area of specialty is the Renaissance, and I am well aware that virtually all the songs that have been preserved from the time in Canada which corresponded to the Renaissance in Europe are in French! This fact attests to the vitality and persistence of the French culture in Canada from a very early time in our history.
I recall a CBC programme of a year ago in which several family therapists compared Canada to a dysfunctional family, or at least a family in which one member is rebelling. I found this very interesting and thought-provoking, but I would rather de-emphasize the dysfunctions and consider how a healthy family operates. In such a family, all the members are loved equally but valued separately. Fair treatment of the members is not equal treatment, but equitable treatment. Each is expected to perform according to his or her individual gifts, and each is nurtured according to her or his needs.
This is the ideal toward which our leaders should be striving. Yes, Quebec is a distinct society. So is Newfoundland. And what about the Celtic heritage of Cape Breton? The Acadians? Can we imagine an event such as the Calgary Stampede in Montreal? Could anyone who has attended a pow-wow assert that the Native peoples do not have distinct societies? I don't pretend this is a complete list: the truth is there are so many exciting, enriching, valuable distinctions in Canadian society that Quebec may be rightfully seen as just one of them, and possibly not the most distinct, except for being the only one in which a minority periodically throws the entire nation into chaos over its desire to separate. We are all special in different ways, and a clear recognition and celebration of that fact is a prerequisite for an enduring unity.
We live in a time when the our civilization may very well depend on the world's ability to move toward greater, not lesser, unity. It has often been reiterated that Canada is regarded as an exemplary nation. By achieving an agreement whereby not only Quebec, but all the provinces and territories and the First Nations within Canada's boundaries, are satisfied to remain a single nation, Canada could provide an even more desirable example to a world inclined to factions and fractiousness. But if Quebec were to separate, each resulting nation would be less than a part of the sum. What a terrible legacy this would be - for our country and for the world! I hope fervently that, as a nation, we will strive for the ideal.