On October 30, 2003, the Charest government and the members of the National Assembly unanimously state that the people of Québec form a nation: "Que l'Assemblée nationale réaffirme que le peuple québécois forme une nation." The motion doesn't stir much debate, it's a simple statement of what most residents in the province already acknowledge. For quite some time, Québec city has been known as the capital nationale and June 24th as the Fête nationale du Québec.
On June 23, 2006, while in Québec City for Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebrations, Harper gets grilled by journalists over his stance on Québec nationalism, particularly on the motion by the Québec National Assembly that calls the province a nation. The prime minister says the debate on whether Québec should be described as a nation is semantic and has no purpose: "I don't know, quite frankly, what its legal significance is."
In November 2006, the Bloc Québécois pushes its own motion at the House of Commons. It echoes the National Assembly's motion: "That this House recognize that Quebeckers form a nation." In an effort to save face, the Conservative government submits yet another motion: "That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada." The Conservative motion is adopted 266 to 16 on November 27. The Bloc's motion is rejected, mostly by the Conservatives and the Liberals.
The use of the word "Québécois" in the English version of the Conservative motion inspired many discussions. During the press briefing that followed its adoption, Lawrence Cannon, then Québec Lieutenant for the Conservatives, explained that being Québécois is a personal manner; the motion applies to those who feel Québécois. He also accused Gilles Duceppe of fostering a "pure laine" definition of Québécois. In contrast, Mr. Duceppe had clearly stated that the Bloc's motion encompassed all residents of the province. In the following days, Mr. Harper remained vague on the meaning of the word "Québécois" in the English version of the motion. He evaded the topic by stating that defining who is Québécois or not is up to the province. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals explained why they rejected the Bloc's motion. Prior to the vote, Conservative MP Michael Chong resigned from his post as the intergovernmental affairs minister so he could abstain. He argued it "is nothing else but the recognition of ethnic nationalism, and that is something I cannot support."
On November 30, 2006, an additional motion taking note of the Conservative motion is carried unanimously by the National Assembly of Québec. "That the National Assembly [...] recognize the positive nature of the motion carried by the House of Commons and that it proclaim that this motion in no way diminishes the inalienable rights, constitutional powers and privileges of the National Assembly and of the Québec nation." Provincial party leaders, Jean Charest, André Boisclair and Mario Dumont, all echo Duceppe's stance; the nation encompasses all residents of the province. Those who don't feel Québécois may question this, but most will admit they live in a distinct society they willingly chose.
With the ambivalence around the use of the word "Québécois", Harper stayed as far as possible from any interpretation that could be associated with the territory and could remotely help the sovereignty movement. Overall, Harper tactfully beat Duceppe. The Conservatives boast it as a great achievement, but at the end of the day, they simply acknowledged what most residents of Québec already knew and what a minority of Canadians still resent. Ironically, they wouldn't have done it if they hadn't been forced to by the Bloc.