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Quebecers and other Canadians display similar concepts of national identity, according to Concordia researcher

Antoine Bilodeau finds no evidence that suggests one group is more inclusive than the other
August 19, 2020
Two men and a women, wearing glasses and smiling, in a discussion with one another.
Antoine Bilodeau: “The way Quebecers define what it means to be a Quebecer was not fundamentally different than the way other Canadians define what it means to be Canadian.”

It is no secret that Quebec distinguishes itself through its unique culture, particularly its historical and linguistic background.

In a recent study, Antoine Bilodeau, professor of political science in the Faculty of Arts and Science, and University of Ottawa professor Luc Turgeon wanted to address the topic of national identity in Quebec and the rest of Canada. They tackled the question of whether Quebecers hold a more exclusive sense of identity than other Canadians.

Their article, published in Nations & Nationalism, the Journal of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism, examines how majority-group members in Quebec and the rest of Canada define members of their respective political communities.

“We wanted to see how Quebecers define what it means to be a true Quebecer and compare it to how other Canadians define what it means to be a true Canadian,” Bilodeau explains.

The co-authors analyzed a set of “boundary markers,” which Bilodeau explains consist of traits people use to characterize members within their national communities.

“These are mental boundaries that we use to define who belongs inside the national group and who does not,” he says. “Boundary markers are images that people have in their head, so it’s not because you’re a Canadian citizen that other people might see you as such.”

Bilodeau and Turgeon examined two types of boundary markers — ascriptive and attainable characteristics. Ascriptive markers of identity are more hereditary or non-acquirable traits such as ancestry, religion and birthplace. Whereas attainable markers are developed traits such as feelings of belonging, respect for the laws and institutions of the political community and knowledge of national languages.

The researchers examined three ways Quebec and the rest of Canada might differ. Their conclusion? Quebecers and Canadians are quite similar in their approach to defining a member of their national community.

More importance attributed to attainable traits

A total of 3,688 individuals were surveyed — 551 respondents from Quebec with a French mother tongue and 3,137 respondents from the rest of Canada with an English mother tongue.

First, they examined how each group would separate ascriptive and attainable characteristics. Bilodeau explains that Quebecers and other Canadians give relatively more importance to acquired characteristics than other traits.

“In both communities, the main emphasis in defining group membership appears to be on attainable characteristics,” he notes.

“Increasingly, people are putting emphasis on criteria such as feeling like a Canadian or speaking the language, rather than being born or having ancestors from the country.”

Similar value of language

The second aspect they examined was the importance attributed to language.

“We found out that language was not a major point of differentiation between Quebec and the rest of Canada,” Bilodeau notes.

Given the historical and cultural significance around language in Quebec, Bilodeau was surprised to see that it was attributed almost the same importance in Quebec as in the rest of Canada, in the context of defining national identity.

Comparable views on immigration

Bilodeau also points out that group members in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada expressed somewhat similar views toward immigration.

“Respondents expressing a stronger attainable conception of national identity did not provide more positive attitudes toward immigration,” reports Bilodeau. “The effect is not significantly different in Quebec than in the rest of Canada.”

However, respondents who focused on ascriptive traits to determine national identity, such as ancestry and birthplace, tended to have less positive attitudes toward immigration.

“It was quite interesting to see the distinction between those two aspects.”

A rather rigid sense of identity

“The way Quebecers define what it means to be a Quebecer was not fundamentally different than the way other Canadians define what it means to be a true Canadian,” Bilodeau concludes.

And despite the fact that attainable characteristics were overwhelmingly more important than ascriptive ones in both groups, the researchers were extremely surprised by the relatively high support for the ascriptive characteristics overall.

“There is a significant residue of a more exclusive definition of national identity that really puts emphasis on being born here, having spent a lot of time in the country, but also even having ancestry in both Quebec and the rest of Canada,” Bilodeau says.

“For a country that is so proud of its inclusive definition of national identity and its policy of multiculturalism, I’m not sure we’re really there yet.”

Read the cited paper: “
Boundaries of the nation(s) in a multinational state: Comparing Quebecers and other Canadians’ perspectives on national identity.”




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