What follows is an email from Daniel A. Laprès, a former housemate of mine at Dalhousie Law School in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the early 1970s.
The other day, I attended a conference at the club France-Amérique in Paris on the subject “Canada, Géographie de l’utopie”. There were only some 50 people, a lot of Embassy types from all the Governments (French, Canada, Québec).
One of the two speakers was the Honorable Serge Joyal, Senator (retired) from Montreal, the other a leading French journalist with a long-term interest in Canada (Jean-Michel Demetz).
The Moderator, a former French Ambassador to Canada, got a howl from some and a grunt from others in attendance when he mistakenly referred to the Head of the “Délégation du Québec” as “Monsieur l’Ambassadeur” (as though Québec were a separate country from Canada). I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – I think the Ambassador did it deliberately – a reminiscence of the words of de Gaulle (“Vive le Québec libre!”) in Montreal in 1967 – a cheap shot, what.
Both speakers considered it a given that Canada is a “utopia” in that “its people are oriented toward the future”, with immigration playing a major role in enticing people with that mind-set.
A lot of the discussion turned on statements of JT (Justin Trudeau) in 2015 that “Canada could be the first ‘post-national’ state” and “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.”
A contrast was drawn between PET (Pierre Elliott Trudeau) and JT, the former believing in a bilingual Canada, the latter a “post-national” Canada.
I am remain unclear as to exactly what is meant by “post-national”.
Here is an article on the issue:
The Canada experiment: is this the world’s first ‘post-national’ country?, Charles Foran
In one version, “post-nationalism” consists in “not falling back on the established mechanisms of state governance and control”.
A little vague.
I do like Marshal MacLuhan’s aphorism: “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.”
Both the Senator and the journalist seemed uncomfortable in addressing the issue of the preponderance of current immigrants being from Asia, so tending to speak English not French, especially in the context of rising overall immigration expected to account for 100% of population growth in the coming years. Is the “bilingual” foundation of Canada about to be overwhelmed, i.e. at what % of the total population does the French component lose its claim to “co-authorship” and “co-dominion” of Canada? When do Hindi and Mandarin get official language status?
That immigration trend (population 100 million by the end of the century) would tend to validate the JT view over the long-term.
But, the French journalist questioned whether such a “post-nation” state would not over time tend to disaggregate.
A mutual friend introduced me to Senator Joyal at the cocktail party and we had a brief conversation. Senator Joyal spent most of the time talking exuberantlyabout his work with (Senator) Dennis (Patterson). He asked me to remind you, Dennis, that he will be back in the Senate to attend the installation of a “chair” and is hoping to see you then. It sounds like a very quaint tradition – perhaps you can tell us more about it one day.
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Daniel Arthur Laprès
Avocat au Barreau de Paris
Barrister & Solicitor (Nova Scotia)
222 boulevard Saint-Germain
75007 Paris France
Letter from Senator Dennis Patterson
March 15, 2023
I’m so delighted you met my friend Serge Joyal in Paris, Daniel.
We go back a long time.
The year is 1981. The federal government of the day – headed by PETrudeau senior, decided to exercise its jurisdiction over the NWT by unilaterally imposing compulsory bilingualism – Official Language status on the NWT.
I was then Minister of Education in the NWT, based in its capital Yellowknife.
As Education Minister in a jurisdiction with a very high proportion of Indigenous peoples (2/3) I was at the time struggling to preserve, enhance and educate our indigenous students in their respective (one of about 10) indigenous languages – not English and French.
I told the federal messenger – former Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs John Munro that to impose official bilingualism on the NWT unilaterally without corresponding respect for the indigenous languages in the NWT would be a ‘declaration of war!’
‘But we have more tanks than you do Dennis!’ Munro retorted.
My next encounter with the feds was to journey to Ottawa with our then premier Richard Nerysoo and our Deputy Minister Stien Lal, who went on to become Ontario Attorney General, to meet with then Secretary of State Serge Joyal.
Without going into too much detail, we came back with $16 million – a sizeable sum in those days – for an Indigenous Languages fund, which allowed us to legislate what we described in the Bill as ‘Official Aboriginal Languages”(not Official Languages) – 8 of them – establish simultaneous translation of legislative assembly proceedings, which has continued to this day in both NWT and Nunavut.
We were welcomed as heroes on our return to the NWT to secure such a good deal.
Serge Joyal was the gracious and committed senior Cabinet Minister who supported indigenous languages then and now. Years late, we both championed the federal Indigenous Languages Act in the Senate.
Serge is an art aficionado. He has donated his amazing collection of indigenous art to the Aboriginal Peoples’ Committee Room in the Senate. He is soon donating one of the early Senate Speaker’s chairs to the Senate – he told me the Chair is a beautiful antique.
Thanks for sharing news of your meeting with my friend Daniel.