Quebec Studies

Cultural Sovereignty, Identity, and North American Integration: on the Relevance of the U.S.-Canada-Quebec Border

Quebec Studies (2003), 36, (1), 29–49.

Abstract

29 Cultural Sovereignty, Identity, and North American Integration: on the Relevance of the U.S.-Canada-Quebec Border1 Gilbert Gagné Bishop's University Present means of communication, new and emerging technologies and, more generally, the specifics of cultural goods and services confer on the Canada-U.S. border a virtual character to a great extent. Such technological developments, in addition to growing economic continentalism and the application of existing international trade rules, all combine to render more problematic the maintenance of a distinctive Canadian culture and identity on the North American continent. If, overall, the benefits for Canada of an international rules-based system cannot be questioned, it is clear that spe­ cific rules are required to ensure the conditions for the viability of national cultural policies. For Canada, the reality of living next to the United States, its powerful neighbor, has proven a source of concern about the viability of the Canadian polity. In response, there have been initiatives to help sustain a genuinely national culture and identity in the face of pervasive U.S. influence. Yet, poli­ cies to protect and promote national culture and identity entail restrictions that contravene principles of liberalization, which a trade-dependent coun­ try such as Canada has otherwise benefited from and strongly promoted. At the international level, national cultural policies provoke differing responses depending on whether culture is seen primarily as an integral part of a nation's life and character, as is the case in Canada, or as an economic sector, as in the United States where it has a central role in the national econ­ omy. As the views on the northern side of the border are diametrically opposed to those from the south, the Canadian government insisted on ex­ empting its long cherished cultural policies from the purview of the CanadaU.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) of 1988, that exemption having been incorporated in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1993 (Canada 1987,1992).2 Yet the United States has continued to use its leverage to oppose almost any public initiative in the cultural field. In fact, cultural policies have proven one of the main "irritants" in Canada-U.S. relations and one of the main issues over Canadian sovereignty. A constant in Canada's history and in its foreign policy has been the quest for unimpeded access to the huge U.S. market with a guarantee that, save for an increase in prosperity, nothing will change on the Canadian side, or at least not owing to U.S. influence. Today's variant of this problem could be referred to as the globalization dilemma, i.e., how to pursue fur­ ther liberalization while not losing what makes for a Canadian polity. For Jacques Attali, a prominent French intellectual and advisor to former Pres­ ident François Mitterrand, states should keep sanctuaries, i.e., areas outside the leveling market logic, in order to preserve some meaning as reflection Québec Studies, Volume 36, Fall 2003/Winter 2004

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Gagné, Gilbert