1.08.2005

let them go

On the subject of Quebec separatism, brought up by new reader Beausejour, RobfromAlberta says:
The whole Quebec separation thing does not seem to have the same urgency that it had 10 years ago. I lived in Montreal at the time of the last referendum (vote on separation) and there was a very real fear that the separatists would win. Nowadays though, it is just not a dominant issue in the national agenda. Of course, I have no doubt we will have another referendum some time in the next decade.

Also, now that I live in Alberta, I find I just do not seem all that concerned about it. If Quebec votes for separation next time, I say we just let them go.
At the risk of opening up a can of worms, I ask, Why not? If most people in Quebec wanted to secede from the rest of Canada, why would that be A Bad Thing? Is it any different than independence movements anywhere else (which I would generally support)? Shouldn't people have as much autonomy and self-rule as possible?

I'm asking these questions in ignorance of the issues. Canadian readers are welcome to weigh in with arguments on either side.

9 comments:

RobfromAlberta said...

The problem for a lot of Canadians is the inherent dishonesty of the leaders of the separatist movement. The truth is, the number of Quebecois who genuinely want Quebec to separate from Canada is quite modest, probably less than 20% of the total population of the province. There is, however, a much larger number of so-called "soft nationalists" who would like some sort of "sovereignty association" with Canada, a political union with a high level of sovereignty for Quebec. The degree of desired sovereignty varies from person to person. Given such a wide range of opinion on how sovereign Quebec should be, the hard-core separatists realize it is all but impossible to get a majority of Quebecers to agree to separate. So they obfuscate. The questions posed in the last two referenda were very ambiguous. The leaders of the Parti Quebecois (the separatist party in Quebec) never have the intestinal fortitude to come right out and ask Quebecers if they want to separate and become an independent nation. They hope to trick Quebecers into voting for something they really do not want.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

What Rob says is true. Essentially, except for a small hard-core minority in the hinterlands, what many Quebecers want is some sort of EUish soveriegn yet still part of Canada deal. They feel it's the best way to preserve their culture and language.

A lot of it is also historical. As little as 50 years ago, French Canadians were definite second-class citizens. Even in Quebec all high-ranking positions were held by anglophones. In a sense, they were only somewhat better off than black americans were at that time. This was the source of the original soveriegntist movement, and people who remember those days tend to form the hardcore complete soveriengty groups. Those under 50 don't really remember those days, but they were raised by people who did. The newer generations no longer wanted total soverignty, but they want to control their lives without interference from the rest of Canada.

A lot of Canadians complain that Quebec gets special favours, which seems true on the surface. But really what Quebec is doing at the moment is taking over everything that the consititution says is a provincial power. Our federal government in theory should be far weaker than it is, but the provinces gave the federal government some of their powers in return for federal funding for various programs.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

On the logistics side though, one of the fears is has to do with the fact that it would literally split Canada. There are four provinces east of Quebec that would no longer be attached to the rest of Canada (unless that whole blue states of Canada thing came to be).

L-girl said...

Interesting stuff - thank you both.

I did know that French Canadians were an oppressed minority (for lack of a better expression). It seems every minority everywhere is/was such. Not long ago, it was a crime for Irish people to speak Gaelic, now they are taught it in school. Same for Cajun speakers in Louisiana - who of course are descendants of French speakers forced out of Canada.

I would welcome more comments and perspectives if anyone has any to share.

RobfromAlberta said...

The perception of oppression among Quebecers is, I believe, greater than the reality ever was. It was true that the English controlled most of the power in Quebec up until the "Quiet Revolution" of the 60s and 70s. However, a lot of that power derived from the fact that Montreal was the financial capital of Canada at the time. The national railways, the banks and the insurance companies had their head offices in Montreal, but they were companies which did business throughout Canada. It would have been absurd to expect them not to do their business in English. Indeed, when the separatist movement began to gain momentum, the big companies pulled up stakes and moved to Toronto. Montreal has never recovered from the exodus.

I would also mention that the first Quebecois prime minister of Canada, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, was elected in 1896! More than a century later and a black man still hasn't been elected president of the US.

L-girl said...

Perception of oppression is always greater to the person being kept down. Most white Americans think racism has been eliminated, many men think sexism is either imagined or exaggerated, etc.

This doesn't mean your perception is incorrect - I would have no idea. It's just something to always keep in mind.

That said... it's hard to believe French Canadians were treated like Black Americans, when you think about Jim Crow in the American South. But second class is second class, no matter how it expresses itself.

RobfromAlberta said...

I agree. But Quebec always controlled the reins of power within its own house. French-Canadians always had the same voting rights as English-Canadians and the French have always been the majority in Quebec, so political power in Quebec has always been in the hands of the French. The worst oppression of Quebecers actually came at the hands of the Roman Catholic church which saw its power broken by the Quiet Revolution as well.

In any case, those days are passed. Quebec has controlled not only its own political destiny for most of my life, but it has controlled the national political agenda for just as long. Every political decision made by the federal government has to be weighed first and foremost by how it will fly in Quebec. It is a source of tremendous resentment in many parts of Canada, especially in the West. So much so, that a nascent separatist movement has arisen here in Alberta. The threat of separation has worked so well for Quebec, some people figure western Canada should give it a try.

L-girl said...

Ah-ha. Very good (thank you).

Not surprising about the Church. You can imagine I'm not a big fan.

Lulu Island Girl said...

This is a very, very late response to a very old post, but if you haven't read Taras Grescoe's "Sacre Blues: An Unsentimental Journey Through Quebec", I'd highly recommend it!