The past, present, and future of Québec – updated to 2022 (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
It might be argued in hindsight that perhaps the formal construction of Canadian Confederation was faulty from the start – as a “dualist” concept of two separate Parliaments – one for Quebec, one for the rest of Canada – might have worked better. Nevertheless, the consequences of the Quebec Liberal bastion in federal elections, could be seen as one where three-quarters of the country had largely been submerged into a system which they, for the most part, did not vote for, and fundamentally disagreed with. This makes a mockery of the ideal of Canada as originally founded on a partnership of the French and the British.
It could be argued that Canadian Confederation was originally established on the premise of two nations joining together in a state-structure, but retaining their prior cultural traditions, heritage, and identity. Quebec was the centre of the French nation, and the rest of Canada, of the English. (Or what can be functionally considered to be "English" or "British", in the North American context.) The unifying factors were to be the federal structure of the country, the state symbols and institutions (including the Monarchy, an institution considered at that time as standing above particular nationalism), and the necessity of uniting against the American behemoth to the south. While minorities in the two parts of the country would have certain well-delineated rights, there would be no question as to what the dominant culture in each area would be. (The legal grounds for some kind of special status for the Aboriginal peoples had long ago been implicit, by their close relationship and long-standing association with the Crown.) Thus, it could be argued, Canada could properly exist and thrive as a country only as a partnership between two equally strong and vital nationalisms, the British and the French, both warily co-operating with each other for the sake of avoiding absorption into America, while extending a reasonable tolerance to their respective minorities.
The evolution of the Liberal Party and its co-optation of Quebec had allowed, by the 1980s, for a fundamental dislocation of the premises and underpinnings of Confederation, along with the shift of most federal political power to the Liberal Party and Quebec. In the 1990s, further lines of fracture opened, with the intensifying of multiculturalism in English Canada, and the rise of radicalism among the Aboriginal peoples. All these forces are attenuating to almost nothing the traditional sense of national identity in English-speaking Canada.
In the 1990s, just as their influence in Quebec waned, shifting mostly to the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberals were able to establish a new bastion – Ontario. The Liberal triumph in Ontario was based mainly on three factors – the annihilation since the mid-1960s of “Tory Toronto” through mass, dissimilar immigration and cultural fragmentation; the deep suspicion of most Ontarians of the new Reform Party, which was considered as far too Western-Canadian-based, right-wing, and anti-Quebec; and many Ontarians’ desire to vote for the party that they believed would have the best chances of accommodating Quebec, and of “keeping the country together.”As the political seismic shifts of the 1990s and early 2000s have continued, it is clear that the federal so-called “Centre-Right Opposition” have become far, far more astute in their policies towards Quebec.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.