It's amazing to me how the dance with Québécois Canadians continues, and is never finished.

The recent motion recognizing Québécois as a nation within Canada, brought by the Tories and passed overwhelmingly by all parties, is a very shrewd political move indeed. It knocks the separatist wind out of Giles Duceppe's sails, pre-empting the Bloc's own motion that would also declare Quebecers a nation, but without reference to a united Canada. And since both the Conservatives and the Liberals are scrapping for Bloc votes, it seems the most clever form of pandering. Perhaps Bloc voters are too smart to fall for it, but it certainly can't hurt.

My own thoughts about Quebec have changed tremendously since coming to Canada. As an American reading about the issue in the US, I didn't understand it, or perhaps understood it in the wrong terms. In early 2005, I asked, If Quebecers want to leave Canada, why shouldn't Canada just let them go? I didn't understand that most Quebecers don't want to separate. And I certainly didn't understand what secession would mean to Canada.

Not long after coming here, I started to understand the issue of national unity. It didn't hurt that there was an election so soon after we arrived. That ratcheted up my understanding of almost everything around here.

I began to see the Québécois separatist movement as yet another form of the divisive ethnic nationalism that we see all over the world. Ethnic identity and ethnic pride are positive things. Multicultural, tolerant Canada has room enough for all your ethnic identity (in spite of some British-oriented, conservative Canadians who whine about all the hyphens). But ethnic identity has to exist within a united country, or the whole thing will fall apart.

It also wasn't long after arriving that I saw how the threat of separatism is used politically, and how powerful it is. No wonder some Albertans murmur about secession. It buys a lot of political power.

Much of the reaction to the current Québécois motion seems misplaced to me. The province of Quebec isn't getting any special treatment. The motion is a recognition of the Québécois people as having a distinct identity - no matter where they live. Just as I am Jewish, and a First Nations person is a member of their nation, no matter where we live, the French Canadian people have a distinct identity, whether they live in Quebec or BC or Saskatchewan. That the Québécois wanted or needed special recognition of that in the House of Commons is a function of history, and of political reality. That recognition doesn't confer special rights or privileges, and it doesn't hurt national unity. In fact, it does quite the opposite.

What scares me is how very shrewd Harper was to do this - and how foolish the Liberals would have been to debate the Québécois question at their convention, as they had announced. I was very pleased to see dropped the idea. Smart Tories plus dumb Liberals is not an equation I want to see solved.

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