Je me souviens

In a text titled "The Pandora's box known as Je me souviens" published by The Globe and Mail on Jan. 24, 1991, Stephen Godfrey writes that Québec's motto "must be a terrible embarrassment to Quebec nationalists who know history". In his text, Mr. Godfrey argues that the full motto is: "I remember that born in the lilies, I grow in the roses."

It's a well known fact that the author of Québec's motto, Je me souviens, is Eugène-Étienne Taché (1836-1912). It was written around 1880 and was engraved above the main entrance of the parliament building around 1885. This motto became official when Québec's government unveiled the province's new coat of arms in 1939.

What's not so well known is that Taché wrote another motto around 1908, "Born in the lilies, I grow in the roses". It was initially meant to complement a work of art representing the nation canadienne. This particular project didn't see the light, but the phrase was recycled for the commemorative medal of Québec's 300th anniversary in 1908. On it, one can read the words: "Née sous les lis, Dieu aydant, l'œuvre de Champlain a grandi sous les roses" (Born under the lilies, with God's help, Champlain's work has grown under the roses).

Why, how and under what circumstances both these distinct and independent mottos have been united into a single piece to give "Je me souviens" a meaning it never had is unknown. Speculation over the precise meaning of Québec's motto has been simmering ever since the Parti Québécois put it on license plates in 1978.

The author himself has left no documents to explain the precise meaning of his words. Articles, reports and other texts written while he was living never hinted to possible complementary information to the words "Je me souviens". It's safe to assume that the author simply summarized into three words the historical references he incorporated in the parliament building's design, including references to General Wolfe himself, which puts aside any vengeful undertones. That's how I see it, an invitation to remember my origins, British heritage included.

Adding a phrase meant for the nation canadienne (the French-Canadian nation) to Québec's motto gives it a meaning it never had, that the province itself has matured under the rose. Until supporting documentation can be found, and without addressing the opinions of those who welcome the association of both mottos, the citation they credit to Eugène-Étienne Taché remains a myth.

Adapted from a reader's letter by Gaston Deschênes, "Un mythe tenace" published in Le Devoir, August 30th 1994. Additional information is available in French in l'Encyclopédie de l'Agora.


The Québécois aren't truly Canadians

Early French settlers learned fairly rapidly that they mostly had themselves to rely on. In the 17th century, everyday life in the French colony is marked by American raids, tough climate conditions and unreliable trade with the mother country. The situation is ideal to develop local craftsmanship, contributing to a somewhat autonomous economy.

For a good part of the 18th century, the population of New-France is relatively prosperous. The territory then known as Canada encompasses a wide area around the great lakes, the southern part of the current province of Québec and Labrador. French-speaking inhabitants of this territory call themselves les Canadiens.

In contrast to early French settlers, British settlers can rely on the mother country. There's no impetus for them to define themselves as anything but citizens of the British Empire. The forming of the Dominion of Canada on July 1st, 1867, was made possible by the British North America Act, passed by the British Parliament. The Dominion of Canada kept its constitutional dependency upon the United Kingdom until the Constitution Act of 1982, also passed by the British Parliament.

Somewhere along the way, citizens of British origins started recognizing themselves as Canadians. Before they did, les canadiens left their mark on the current identity of our country.

In 1834, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste proposes the maple leaf as an emblem for Canada. In 1836, Le Canadien (a newspaper published in Lower Canada) refers to the maple leaf as a suitable emblem for Canada.

In the late 19th century, Calixa Lavallée (considered a Franco-American by some) composes the music to a poem written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. This song becomes "Ô Canada"; it is first sung in 1880, at the Congrès national des Canadiens-Français on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. Unaltered to this day, the original poem by Adolphe-Basile Routhier is an ode to French Canada. Although rarely sung nowadays, the second verse is most explicit about its patriotic and religious intent.Under the eye of God, near the giant river,
The Canadien grows as he hopes.
He is born of a proud race;
Blessed was his cradle.
Heaven marked his way
In this new world:
Always guided by His light,
He will keep the honor of his flag.
In 1909, John Ambrose O'Brien entertains the idea of creating a hockey team to capture francophone interest as a rival for the Montreal Wanderers. This new team was to essentially recruit French-speaking hockey players only. The name chosen to underline this particular trait was Le Club de Hockey Canadien, a Montréal institution currently celebrating 100 years of existence.

In 1965, the maple leaf flag replaces the Red Ensign and its Union Jack. The country sheds its British identity and officially assumes its Canadianity.

Somewhere along the way, British North Americans became Canadians and the expression "les Canadiens" lost its exclusive association with "Canadians of French descent" to encompass Canadians of all origins.


Québec owes Canadians

On November 8th 2004, Jean Charest addresses a federalist crowd in Charlottetown for the 40th anniversary of the Confederation Centre of the Arts. He tones down the expectations of people who saw his arrival at the helm of the province as a challenge to those who would separate Québec from Canada. Among other things, Jean Charest talks about federalism and what it involves: respect, flexibility, the rule of law, balance and cooperation.
What is a federation, after all? By definition, it is a partnership of two levels of government, which are each sovereign in their jurisdictions as defined by a constitution. In Canada, the provinces are not accountable to the federal government. Each government is accountable to its electorate in its own jurisdiction.The Equalization Program is one of the means the country has given itself to ensure equitable access to public services by all Canadians at reasonably comparable levels of taxation. The purpose of the program was entrenched in the Constitution in 1982. Equalization payments are unconditional; receiving provinces are free to spend the funds according to their own priorities.

Québec is among the provinces that receive equalization. It's not the one that receives the most equalization per capita, but, because of its population, Québec gets the lion's share. In 2007 and 2008, it received $7.2B and $8.0B in equalization payments.

Regardless of the fact that Québec is not the only "have not" province, many feel compelled to underline this Québécois trait. The province's social democratic inspired programs are seen by them as an usurpation of the country's tax dollars. Is it?

In 2006, the Québécois put $95B in the governments' coffers [Google translation]. Of this amount, $38.4B went to Ottawa. Does this mean that Québec gets shafted? Not really... like all provinces, it gets monies from other programs and it benefits from other federal services.

These numbers however illustrate what too many fail to realize; the province isn't poor. These numbers also illustrate another reality; the Québécois are among the most taxed citizens in North America. Anyone from the rest of the country who moved to the province will testify that at equal salary, her/his paycheck shrunk. That's the cost of more generous social programs. In Québec, the richest is poorer than in other provinces, but the poorest is richer.

In essence, the province's social programs are more generous simply because that's what the population has decided them to be. What seem for many to be federal funded richer programs are in fact simply basic programs improved with provincial money. Like all Canadians in this country, the Québécois pay their taxes and have nothing to justify to other provinces and their residents.