The past, present, and future of Québec – updated to 2020 (Part Six)
By Mark Wegierski
Jacques Parizeau's Parti Québécois won the September 1994 provincial election with about two-thirds of the seats (but with only 44% of the popular vote, under the "first-past-the-post" system of geographic ridings). Also, in the October 1993 federal election, the Bloc Québécois, running candidates exclusively in Québec, won 54 seats in the federal Parliament, ironically becoming the Official Opposition. Together with a smaller party in Quebec, the ADQ, the PQ and BQ launched a coordinated effort to win the Quebec referendum of 1995. A “Yes” would have authorized the Parti Quebecois government to begin negotiations towards Quebec sovereignty. The referendum failed by an extremely thin margin.
One of the possible reasons why separatism is a major but not overwhelming force in Quebec, is that Québec receives substantial economic benefits for remaining in Canada, a process which has been ongoing for at least four decades. Considerable numbers of so-called non-separatist nationalists feel that the Québécois are already maîtres chez nous ("masters in our own house"), especially in terms of the now-current, mostly linguistic focus of identity.
Robert Bourassa, a long-serving Liberal Premier of Quebec, had talked about “federalisme rentable” – a term which has sometimes been translated as “booty federalism”.
Some exasperated English-Canadian right-wingers have argued that the interaction between the so-called federalists and so-called separatists in Quebec is nothing but a stratagem to maximize the amount of federal funds flowing to the province. The Quebecois never seem to want to embrace their nationalism overwhelmingly. Perhaps they want to maintain the pretence that, if English-speaking Canada does enough for them, they might just choose to remain in Confederation.
When Justin Trudeau spoke to Quebeckers that they should want to be a part of a country stretching to the Rockies, and so forth, this was the classic Quebec federaliste appeal. While this may sound like “Canadian patriotism” in English-speaking Canada, what this really means is that French-Canadians should be filled with the desire to dominate a continent-wide polity, rather just confining themselves to dominating Quebec. I believe that Jean Chretien, too, had once spoken of “our Rockies” to a French-Canadian audience.
The fact is that English-speaking Canada expends enormous amounts of political energy (as well as economic resources), just “to keep Quebec in Confederation”. Indeed, English-speaking Canada has surrendered vast amounts of its own traditional culture, which is said to be “the price of keeping Quebec in Canada.” But Quebec separatism does not seem to be going away. Perhaps this is because there really are two nations in existence, and all of English-speaking Canada’s sacrifices and efforts are going to be futile in the end, anyway. Some English-Canadian right-wingers have suggested that a way to cut through this Gordian knot, is not to approach Quebec as abject, groveling supplicants, but actually threaten to expel the province from Confederation.
It could also be argued that some of the attitudes of Quebecois nationalists towards Quebec sovereignty have been curious, indeed. For example, they have sometimes proposed to leave the armed forces under federal jurisdiction. This blatantly contradicts the notion of national sovereignty at its most basic.
It is often enough stated that we live in a “post-modern” world of fluidity and amorphousness. One could ask the question whether, in this “post-modern” context, some kind of accommodation could be negotiated between Canada and Quebec that would not need to stand hard on notions of “hard sovereignty”.
The 2007 provincial election gave a lot of play to the then-resonant message of ADQ leader Mario Dumont. The ADQ tended to see the notion of full separation as too chimerical – but wished to negotiate a so-called “autonomous” status for Quebec within Canada. It also attached great importance to notions of what could be called “cultural sovereignty”.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.