Le beau risque (the beautiful risk)
While having lunch with some friends from Canada today, the topic of Canada’s recent elections and the political system came up. There was talk of Dion’s run for election and the liberal left’s move to regain Parliament. Then the subject of Quebec came up. I had no idea about this (since I wasn’t alive when Quebec made their big push in the early 80’s) but seems that Quebec’s support for secession is growing.
Quebecers desire to secede so as to preserve cultural distinction. They desire for the official language in Quebec to be French and for the Constitution of Quebec to be written in French. They also desire French to be a mandatory class in schools.
Quebec has always been the “outside” province in Canada. With 90% of their population being Francophone‘s, it is no wonder they feel differently than the rest of Canada. But in the late 1970s, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s involvement in the “Knight of the Long Knives” further strained Quebec’s relations with Canada’s national government. This event involved a “back-room” deal struck between Trudeau, representing the federal government, and all of the other provinces, save Quebec. It was here that Trudeau was able to gain agreement on the content of Canada’s new constitution, while the separatist premier of Quebec René Lévesque was simply left out. Trudeau, a Quebecer himself, had betrayed the Quebec people and had strengthened their argument for sovereignty.
This led to the Quebec Referendum of 1980. This movement started out as a constitutional proposal laid out by the Quebec government entitled Québec-Canada: A New Deal. The Québec Government Proposal for a New Partnership Between Equals: Sovereignty-Association. The province-wide referendum took place on Tuesday, May 20, 1980, and the proposal to pursue secession was defeated by a 59.56% to 40.44% margin.
But that’s not the scary part. What’s most concerning is the growing unrest in Quebec presently over the issue of sovereignty. Some claim that as many as 56% of Quebecers now support secession and are actively seeking for another vote on the matter.
So what happens if Quebec secedes? The rest of Canada’s relations with Quebec would be strained and as former Ontario Premier Mike Harris said, “If Quebec were suddenly no longer part of the country, there would be no reason for the rest of Canada to consider Quebec’s interests.” He suggested that a system of border checks like the ones at the US/Canadian border would be instituted. He also suggested the flow of goods to Quebec would be hindered.
In essence, Quebec would be left to fend for themselves. They would have to create a national budget, figure out a way to generate income, decide what type of government they wanted, decide upon a national constitution, and build a nation. All of which is much similar to what the American colonies did in the late 1700s. And it took America many years to grow into the nation we are today.
Quite frankly, it all sounds like a big mess if you ask me. One that has been growing over the past several decades. And it’s something Canada needs to deal with seriously. Sure it may seem like no big deal if Quebec breaks off to form their own nation, but that would cause more problems than Canada wants to deal with. Such as…border patrol; loss of significant tax income since Quebec is the largest Canadian province; loss of income from Quebec’s main resources like agriculture, manufacturing, energy, mining, forestry, and transportation; and a host of political problems as well.
So while Canada may seem like a peaceful country, there’s trouble brewing up North. As one friend put it, “It’s a shame Ben Franklin wasn’t sucessful in his attempt to aquire Canada in Treaty of Paris negotiations.”