17 October 2010

Quebec is Still Stuck on Separatism

Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe insisted that Quebec separatism is not dead while speaking before the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.  It has been 15 years since the last Quebec last voted on breaking away from Canada and currently no such referendum is anticipated in the future.  But Duceppe wanted to lay the intellectual foundation for an independent Quebec.

During the last provincial referendum on Quebec’s status in September 1995, President Bill Clinton spoke out against Quebec sovereignty. Mindful of that history, Duceppe pleaded, “What we hope to see from the United States government is, first and foremost, no interference in our domestic affairs when Quebecers make their decision.”  The Bloc Québécois did not formally try to press their point with officials in the Obama Administration due to a focus on the mid-term elections.

 In the event that the Quebec does approve a sovereignty referendum, the Bloc Québécois and other independence advocates would want quick international recognition by the United States and France so as to give an aura of legitimacy and aid in the breakup negotiations between Quebec and the Canadian governments.  This Quebec foreign predicate follows in the wake of the recent International Court’s approbation of the Kosovo Compromise.

Duceppe tried to sell the virtues of a sovereign Quebec as being a win-win with the United States as it would have “very solid allies” for the price of one North of the border.  Duceppe analogized the breakup of the Canadian confederation as being like the fall of the Berlin Wall, despite a curvy road for a decades, it would all work out.  Besides, Duceppe bragged that Quebec does $51 billion in trade with the United States, which is more than the rest of Canada.  Duceppe put it succinctly, “Money talks...”.

Despite Duceppe’s predicate that an independent Quebec is inevitable, it may be more of a chimera in the near future.  The Bloc Québécois is not in power and elections may not be held for a few years. Then there is dissention in the ranks.  François Legault and Joseph Facal, a couple of former Parti Québécois MPs, are said to be establishing a right of center provincial party that concentrates on economics not Quebec sovereignty.  Then there is the inconvenient truth that support for sovereignty dropped from 49.4% during the 1995 referendum to somewhere around 35% today.

The continuing struggle for Quebec sovereignty illustrates the challenges that a democracy has in governing a bi-cultural or multi-cultural state.  Canada’s two nations, one state situation was born from the spoils of victory in the Seven Year War (a.k.a. The French and Indian War) where New France was ceded to the British in 1763.  Modern Quebec secessionism stems from urban intellectuals agitating since the 1960s.  Despite the rest of Canada bending over backwards to accommodate the distinct society of Quebec, nothing seems to quell the yearning for independence.

Canada is officially bi-lingual (except for practical and juridical purposes in Quebec).  The Meech Lake accords of the early 1990s were means of giving Quebec a veto power over the constitution, more provincial power over immigration among other things. Still this was a hard sell for separatists, and the Parti Québécois opposed it to push for more concessions.  This grand compromise had opposition from the public due to perception that it was a back room deal which cut out the public’s voice.  Eventually, the deal could not receive unanimous support in Manitoba because an aboriginal Canadian leaders felt cut out of the process and the perception that too much was ceded to Quebec.

Part of the American experience was the Melting Pot where immigrants integrated their cultural traits into the greater society to prosper in the land of opportunity.  The tribulations of a bi-cultural state such a Canada illustrate the dangers of vaulting multi-cultural rights over the general welfare of the a nation.

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