Québec Separatism, Encore?


May 19, 2012 by LeVoyageur

note to readers: this represents my first foray into writing and thinking seriously about this issue. my research on Québec separatist politics is preliminary, and I appreciate that as an American I may be missing many of the nuances, grievances, and arguments in favor and against the idea of Québec independence.

Quebec Flag/Drapeau de Quebec

In 1995 the movement for Québec sovereignty, led by the federal party Bloc Québécois, called for a referendum on Québec independence. The vote, the second on Québec independence in Canada’s history, ended with a rejection of the sovereignist question. By a vote of 50.6% to 49.4%, the federalists won the day and Canada remained united. Hardly a sound defeat, the issue was nonetheless decided for the day.

The party’s fortunes waned over the coming elections, and with the national Bloc in tatters after a 2011 federal election it might be assumed by American observers, our knowledge of Canada being what it is, that the issue is a moot point. Yet as the fortunes of the national Bloc Québécois have waned, those of the provincial Parti Québécois have been on the rise. Under the leadership of Pauline Marois, the center-left party has brought the question back to the table and again there is talk in Canada of Québec becoming a nation of its own.

Marois, who has drawn controversy for offering bills requiring that a basic level of French be required of immigrants, is the first woman elected as Leader of the Official Opposition in Québec. Recently she has denounced the measures taken by Premier Jean Charest of Québec to quell student rioting, calling on him to sit down with students and find a solution to their grievances, and asking why the Premier is attacking the youth of Québec. However, a Forum Research poll has indicated that the 14 week standoff over tuition fees has increased support for the Québec Liberals.

Yet current events have a tendency to not determine long-term outcomes. Polling in recent years has indicated that about 41% of Québecers support independence according to polls done in 2011 and 2012 (Leger Marketing/Le Devoir and Forum Research respectively), which is up significantly from just a few years ago. In 2009 a poll by Angus Reid suggested only 28% of Québecers thought the province should completely separate from Canada. Elections for the Québec National Assembly must be held by the end of 2013.

Comments in a recent interview by the former national Liberal party leader, Michael Ignatieff, have also kindled debate about the issue, as have comments by Liberal politician Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Ignatieff, in a BBC Scotland interview, characterized the relationship between Canada and Québec as “mutual indifference” and suggested that it is only a matter of time before there is complete separation. Full independence, he said, is a logical outcome of the current trajectory of political affairs.

In February 2012 Trudeau for his part indicated that in a Canada that aligns with the vision of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he might possibly vote for an independent Québec in order to safeguard Québec’s tradition of social equality, as embodied in its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Both politicians were roundly criticized for their comments, while many observers acknowledged the truths in their statements.

Many questions are inevitably raised by the prospect of an independent Québec. How would the rest of Canada remain united while geographically separate? What is the fate of Franco-phones living in the rest of Canada? What does a Québec economy and military look like? And very importantly, what is the fate of the Cree and other First Nations who see themselves as part of Canada? Can they then separate from Québec?

To form an opinion, I’ve tried to weigh what it would be like for a native French speaker (or a speaker of any language) to be faced with the prospect of a diminishing presence nationally and resistance internally through Anglophone immigration. I look at the situation in Scotland, which edges ever closer to complete independence after the process of devolution in the United Kingdom. I think of countries around the world where historically recognized groups of people with unique histories have gone the way of independence, such as Kosovo and the former Czechoslovakia.

At heart I am in favor of self-determination. To suggest that borders must remain forever inviolable flies in the face of history and progress. Where distinct cultures meet, there have historically been grand unions, grand bargains, along with conquest, and necessary alliances. I think of Yugoslavia which successfully coalesced many ethnic groups over a span of decades until a need for dominance reared its ugly head among the Serbs. I think of Palestine where the populace awaits international leadership to allow them to be masters of their own futures.

At this point, you might be asking yourself, why does this guy even care? For those who know me well, it will come as no surprise that I am interested in this issue. I am a keen researcher of my family history, the story of which is part and parcel of the history of Québec. I am very proud that my ancestors, mostly simple habitants, are part of the history of the French in North America.

Québec is the mother country of French Canadian culture and many people connect with that heritage, more and less, and in disparate ways. So while I may not agree with every political move the province makes, I also see Québec as a vital piece of the ethnic, religious, and cultural heritage of North America. That alone should be preserved as a great treasure even, in my view, if it requires secession from Canada.

10 thoughts on “Québec Separatism, Encore?

  1. After the 2011 election I did think separation all moot! Thanks for your research and bringing me up to date

  2. James LaForest says:

    Glad to hear it was of use! Thanks for letting me know. It’s an interesting situation right now along with the student unrest.

  3. Benoit Archambault says:

    Very nice and objective overview of Quebec politics nowadays! However, the election of PQ doesn’t necessarily means that «separation» is underway… I’d say the Yes and No are almost 50-50 but it tends to change in favor of the Yes option with the younger generation. Many young Quebecers identify themselves to Quebec first and then world. Next couple of years will be fun to watch since Quebec sovereignty is an everlasting topic in Qc.

    • James LaForest says:

      Thank you Benoit. It’s an interesting time to observe the machinations in Quebec. It’s a welcome distraction from the US presidential politics! I appreciate your comments!

  4. Hey there, Thanks for the overview of the “Quebec a contry” subject… Just to let you know, there’s also a new political party that’s on the map for now on…. It’s called Option Nationale, http://www.optionnationale.org, created by Jean Martin Aussant. This new party is the answer for all those who want an economical freedom for Quebec, as a country, but not only for a frensh culture, or fresh legacy. you know, many people in quebec, who are frensh people, but not from native Quebecers origin, who’s fathers came in Canada for a better world. Many of these people have got the feeling to be pushed a part from the project of a new country by the politics of the Parti Québecois. They even concider the St-Jean Baptiste (National celebration of Quebec) as a exclusive event for frensh Quebecers only… Well, in option Nationale Of course, fresh remaine a basis, in fact, the english platform translation of the politic view is not completed yet (but it will come soon). But clearly, It will address EVERYBODY who lives in Quebec, All equaly co-funders of the new country with even more respect for the Natives americans then the Canada does, and with a great amount of new collective projets for the new contry to help increase the economics of the news country, already pretty strong as a simple “Province” (witch mean in Latin language “Land of the vanquished”) And so, at Option Nationale, we would rather use Quebec State, or in a soon future, Quebec Republic…

  5. George Rahbani says:

    Part of the confusion for Anglophone Canadians right now is that most of us aren’t prepared to have Pauline Marois and a Parti Quebecois government be elected on Sept. 4th, 2012.

  6. Hey there,
    It’s me again; glad to see that this article is still floating around!

    Since my last reply, I’ve bin pretty active into Option nationale as a volunteer, and as it went up, i’ve decieded to do the big jump into politics. I now speak to you as the Option nationale’s candidate in Chomedey, Laval.

    Day 19th of these elections, tonight, frensh “débat des chefs” without of course Jean-Martin Aussant, Option nationale’s chef. Well, I invite you to come join us on http://www.ondebat.com. Most of the debate will be in French, because we are going to give comments simultaneously on the official French debate. But by following us on twitter #ondebat you can join us and ask us questions on what would be a Free Country…

    For all of you that don’t speak French at all, I’m sorry, our website is not yet translated… but here are some points Option nationale propose. I’d personally be interested to have your comments on those points, here could be good, or on my twitter : @p_simard or on my ON page http://www.facebook.com/optionnationalechomedey

    I will use ON as Option nationale for now on… 😉

    So here are some points that are important for Quebec development. As a province, as well as a country.

    First we wish to uncentralize all laws regarding Quebec… All legislations would be now voted in Quebec. That means, we are masters of our own, even if we are still Canadians at this point. You see, at first, René Lévesque wanted to do it like this. Having full control on what we do in Québec. No Laws, decided in Ottawa would rules in Quebec, so we can all redefine what we want as a people.

    Second, we do the same for taxes… If we could just stop producing two tax reports every year in Quebec, we would save collectively over 800 000$ a year! Basically, all money percepted in Quebec soil, will be managed from Quebec, and then Quebec will pay his due to Canada, for the services they give us… Which would be as simple as Military, and money services…

    Third, we manage ourselves all treaties that involve Quebec Economy and other countries. It would be a first around the world, for a province or a state, to negotiate directly with other country, but not so surprising, because every country knows pretty much that we live on our own already in many point of views. Basically, We (French and English Quebecers) simply don’t have the same priorities compared to the rest of Canada.

    The fourth step will be done at the end of the first mandate. So all the other projects that we propose, will be up and running or in their ways, and the economics of the new country, if we decide to separate, will be known. All laws will be active, All tax will be balanced, and all treaties will be negotiated or on their way… (In comparison with the PQ’s plan that leaves us in an uncertain situation, for us and out of Canada.)

    What are those projects:

    Natural resources Nationalized
    As we did with Hydro-Quebec, we would create a state company that manage all natural resources, Oil, Mines etc… Our opinion is that everything that Nature has given us, and that have not been invented by someone, that resource should be to everyone… While the PLQ, CAQ and PQ are battling between getting 15% or 18% of those resources, At ON we want to claim our 100% of it. Of course, we will use the expertise of the private companies that will be working to exploit these, if we decide to, but we will manage the profits, and will use those profits to develop cleaner energy sources, to cut into oil dependency.

    Woods development plan
    Wood is a major natural resource that we have in Quebec,
    This one in renewable if correctly planned, and is a most wanted around the world.

    Lands and water sources: declared Quebec Heritage.
    We own 30% of all water in the world… We need to protect it before other country sends their state company to exploit it. Same it is for our lands where our food system comes from.

    Electric transportation hanged-Rail (trensquebec)
    An electric train that will bring us from Montréal to Québec in less than an hour…
    For the third of the cost of a FST (Fast speed train)

    Free education with some conditions…
    As we see it, a free education will benefit us all by having higher salaries and then, more taxes come in play.
    More importantly, we are now paying 85% of the tuition fees, and after it, many former student decide to leave Québec, and go work in Ontario or the US without paying any taxes in return….
    With our free education system, a virtual amount of what your tuition would cost will be managed, and once you’re done, you will have to serve, as a Quebec Tax payer, to give back, simply by filling in your tax report. If you decide to leave Quebec, you will be able to simply pay the balance of the “virtual account” before you move out.
    1- This will help us to get a better schooling system.
    2 – A better health care system
    3 – A better everything, simply by keeping our well educated people, here!

    The Quebec’s Bank
    Not a central bank, cause we will still use Canadian money to prevent a drop in the Canadian $ value. It will be a global investment bank, that will regroup all investment programs, actually federal as well as Caisse de dépôts etc…
    Because we manage all our taxes, we manage as well all we will be doing with it as well.

    Develop Electric transportation system.
    Hydro Electricity is a green energies source, that we have a huge amount here in Quebec. Why not make it our main Energy source, especially since we created a state company, to make ensure that the money stay in our pockets collectively…

    A medical state company that will help coordinate healthcare development, and save us on meds costs.

    A more democratic voting system…
    A proportional voting system that would be better representing voter opinions

    Fixed date Voting
    These 2012 elections have cost us 3 millions $ in speculation declared the DGEQ. A fixed date will save us money…

    These and many other projects with us at Option nationale, that would benefits to everybody who lives in Quebec.

    of course, our first goal is to make a country….
    and as you can see, our country, for us all, will be healthy and wealthy…

    • Pierre Lagacé says:

      Salut Patrick,

      Moi dans mon comté je n’avais pas de candidat d’Option nationale. J’ai donc voté pour le moins pire des candidats.
      J’ai perdu mes élections.

      C’est l’ex-bloquiste Mario Laframboise qui a été élu sous la bannière de la CAQ.

      Faut vivre avec… J’ai voulu parler politique ce matin avec mon épouse… Je me suis fais revirer de bord en titi…

      Ce qu’elle pense du peuple canadien-français ne se dit pas ici.

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