Too Comfortable in Canada?

In the 1981 movie Le confort et l’Indiférence, Denis Arcand tried to explain Québec’s 1980 independence referendum defeat by arguing that, once the smoke had cleared, what had really mattered in the end was that Quebecers were both too comfortable with the relationship with Canada to make significant changes as well as indifferent to the benefits that would come from this change.

In 1993, after the Meech Lake Accord went sour, Quebecers felt threatened and elected its first Bloc Quebecois MPs. Last May they lost all but 4 of its 70+ seats.

For eighteen years after its first victory (I’m pretty sure the internet didn’t exist then), and 15 years after the 1995 referendum’s near victory,the Bloc defended Quebec’s interests at the Parliament (to simplify, the equivalent of Westminster.) It made deals with minority governments, influenced the agenda by speaking out on issues and at the very least expressed a perspective that was wholly absent in Ottawa. This, it seems, made Quebecers feel safe again.

And for all those 18 years, little change occurred. For all the talk, no constitutional change was in sight.

May second’s election results changed all that. That’s when something like a perfect storm happened. Fatigued Québec voters meet Jack Layton leader of the NDP, the “guy next door”, who speaks French with a wonderful English accent (promising!) who vows to change the way things are done from now on and not to talk of anything related to Quebec, independence, constitutional status, the whole bit.

Diagnosed with cancer before the campaign started, everyone understands it will be his last. With little to offer and a lot of chutzpa, Quebecers, who need a break and frantically looking anything new, massively vote for Jack. And so, just as Bloc leader Duceppe had warned during the campaign , unsmilingly it must be said, the Conservatives finally obtained the majority they had been denied by the Bloc for years. And the highest score for the NDP in its history.

When Layton succumbed to his cancer August 22, it came as a shock. Especially to the newly stranded 102 Mps, 58 of whom where from Québec, whose political experience range from the seasoned (few) to the completely inexperienced (many). In fact some Mps hadn’t even been in their riding during their campaign, others in more rural regions had never even visited their constituency, or could not speak their language(French.)
May second also marked the quasi annihilation of another party… the Liberal Party of Canada. The Party of Trudeau and Chretien and Lester B. Pearson. The corruption scandals that had been a hallmark of recent years eventually left their mark on the branding so-to-speak. Not to be deterred, many Liberals hope, as a way of joining experience with dynamism, to merge with the NDP in order to create something like… a Canadian “Liberal Democrat” party.
The problem with that scenario of course is that the 58 Quebec MP’s who may come from different political horizons, they largely vote strongly against anything Liberals. Add to this strange brew the fact that 90% of registered NDP members are not from Québec and that the majority of elected members are from Québec, it would be interesting to see how they can decide on the most basic of issues. Hence the Tories may be in power, and as a majority for a long time still.

The Scottish Spring SNP landslide, sadly, in spite of its dramatic outcome, has gone largely unnoticed in the Canadian press, at least on this side of the Ottawa River.

This week the Tories hinted at not keeping their promise of paying compensation to Quebec for harmonizing their provincial sales tax with the federal government. Then they hinted they would indeed but a negotiated settlement. The NDP MP’s, most of whom had never heard of this debate singlehandedly carried by the Bloc for years, and worth billions to Québec, were largely stunned, surprised and ineffective. Nycole Turmel, recently a former Bloc member herself and now newly designated interim chief of the NDP (how long can this last!) commented she hoped Quebec wasn’t being punished by the Conservatives for electing few Tories. Alone on the playing field, with no one minding the goals, the Conservatives are in a very comfortable position.

Sooner rather than later, elections in Quebec will be called. The situation on independence is… in flux. The PQ, the party of René Lévesque is abandoned by voters who are likely going to do a repeat of May Second. Polls show most voters feel sovereignty is desirable but unachievable. Might it just be a case of the jitters? The PQ, since May second has not made any significant changes in its strategy and is duely being punished in the polls. Things are moving though! The as-of-yet-not-an-offical-party “Coalition pour le Québec “ promises not to talk of independence, promises not to be re-elected (if elected!), and are surfing on between 33% of the vote in June 2011, to 40% in August.
In the meantime, sovereignists who believe the PQ under its current leadership is all talk and no action have begun to leave. Besides, they argue, since the PQ is not taking its fill of its traditional base, it makes sense to offer something else besides Legaults CAQ.

Did I mention that the most popular politician in Quebec is Amir Khadir of Québec Solidaire. I guess I hadn’t time to get to that yet…

So… to recap: At the Federal level Quebecers, right now, vote hard left for an unexperienced pan-Canada party (most of the Mps are from Québec, over 90% of the party members are not!) whose leader has just died and has no clear successor, on the provincial level support a smooth right party that doesn’t exist and the most popular leader is the harder left one single elected AM of Quebec Solidaire (joint leadership party with two people co-presiding!) fhew! I feel for the poor souls who should try to understand all this from a distance…

One thing is clear in all this… before May second… independence, the PQ and the Bloc were all losing ground and people were fatigued, discouraged and disheartened. Now people are talking again, new alliances are being made, old ones cast aside, hundreds of people are showing up at rallies and even if the vote is split between numerous factions one thing is for sure : the situation now is becoming less and less comfortable and whether people continue to remain indifferent to it seems unlikely.

Comments (13)

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  1. Dave Coull says:

    There is no particular reason for us in Scotland to compare ourselves with Quebec, and there is no particular reason why Scotland moving towards independence should have any relevance to Quebec. These two territories are very, very different. Scotland was an independent country for nearly a thousand years. Quebec is just what remains of the old French colony of Canada. Quebec has disputes with half a dozen “Native-Canadian” nations which were there long before any white men, whether French-speaking or English-speaking, got there, and these native nations lay claim to much of the land area of Quebec. Scotland has no such problem. Immigrants to Quebec resent having to learn French and are more likely to oppose independence. In Scotland, large numbers of immigrants enthusiastically support independence. In seeking independence, a long settled land boundary is an enormous advantage, which most other stateless nations wish they had. We in Scotland have that enormous advantage.which others envy. Quebec doesn’t. When the people of Scotland finally get the chance to vote in a single-issue, non-party-political, referendum on independence, I’m very confident there will be no Quebec-style dithering here, I predict a decisive majority, from every part of Scotland, for independence.

    1. Ard Righ says:

      On your last sentence, absolutely!

    2. Jf Joubert says:

      To
      Of course Scotland and Québec are completely different.

      However, we do share the will to promote, for ourselves, the right to self determination and clearly understand the economic as well as the human benefits associated.Others do not or seem blind to it.

      And we do share the Queen and similar institutions: you have the BBC, we have the CBC; you have Westminster, we have Parliament Hill… you have the Barnett Formula and we have Equalization. It makes sense to be curious about these things and how they play out in each others’ jurisdiction.

      You are right to say Scotland as an independent country has existed before while Quebec hasn’t. Plus one for Scotland.
      Québec does have long standing and ongoing disputes with half a dozen aboriginal nations nevertheless it does have a long lasting and good history of negotiating and making agreements as well. This is true of all North America. It is true of Canada and the United States. As such would you deny Quebecers the right to their own government while supporting Canada’s and the US? Logic defies it. But of course, nothing in common here with Scotland.

      Immigration. Some immigrants do enthusiastically learn French and quickly become full fledged Quebecers. Blackburn as a family name is one of the most common in Quebec. So is O’Neal. But you are right to say too many don’t. I should add that immigration in Quebec and Canada (number one in the world) receives many more immigrants per capita than the UK or Scotland. Again, nothing in common.

      “In seeking independence, a long settled land boundary is an enormous advantage”: Yes. That is true. Sea boundaries are important as well.
      Quebec’s land borders are in fact very well defined and the hundreds of US, British or Canadian companies that pay taxes here seem to agree to them.

      Another point you did not mention where there is a difference: economic advantages. It stands to reason Scotland would benefit more directly and quickly from gaining an ability to manage its economic affairs, especially in terms of gaining borrowing and investing powers. It would make a huge difference. Quebec has benefited from free trade with the US in the 80’s and 90’s which has diminished the importance of Canada’s economic influence and it has been clearly to our advantage. Still, the economic basics are still true for all nations in the same position of dependence: there is a price to pay for being dependent. There are no free lunches.

      And on your last sentence, of course it doesn’t directly help Québec that Scotland obtains its independence. But it can’t hurt! I don’t think you can keep a monopoly on a good idea.

      And so… best of luck to you!

  2. Martin- Saor Alba. says:

    Well said! All independence movements will face similar issues in dealing with the fallout from a yes vote. Allow I follow more closely movements in Europe, such as Catalonia, as these set a precedent for the European Union membership issues Scotland (won’t!) may face, I still support the right of all peoples to self determination.

  3. Dave Coull says:

    Jf Joubert says: “Quebec’s land borders are in fact very well defined” – yes, as a province of Canada. But an independent Quebec could be a different matter. And the north of Quebec, in the Ungava Peninsula, by the Hudson Strait, where the Inuit or Esquimaux live, where you can get sea ice for several months of the year, is a very long way away from Montreal, or from Quebec City, and many of the inhabitants of that territory say they don’t want THEIR land to be part of an independent Quebec. Yes, we should support self-determination as a general principle. But what about self-determination for what you call the aboriginal peoples, and some folk call the Native-Canadian nations? It’s true that both Canada and the USA have disputes with aboriginal nations. However, in Quebec’s case, there is the added complication that many folk from the aboriginal nations have indicated that, if Quebec should become independent, then they would prefer to remain with Canada. Native-Canadian nations which claim a large percentage of the land area of Quebec say they will stick with Canada. If Quebec becomes independent, or even appears to be heading in that direction, then Quebec province as it exists at present stands to lose a very large part of its present territory. This is not true of Scotland. In Scotland, there is no distinct land area inhabited by a distinct, native, ethnic group which might want to opt-out of an independent Scotland. In every part of Scotland, even the Unionists see themselves as Scottish, and most unionists would accept a clear majority decision for independence, rather than split themselves off from the nation of Scotland.

    1. Ray Bell says:

      “This is not true of Scotland. In Scotland, there is no distinct land area inhabited by a distinct, native, ethnic group which might want to opt-out of an independent Scotland. ”

      Erm, yes there is. It’s called Shetland. Orkney has some similar ideas too. They had a political party at one point too. A lot of Shetlanders do NOT consider themselves Scottish.

  4. Ray Bell says:

    Keep posting here JF, no matter what the naysayers might think.

  5. Dave Coull says:

    In the first elections for the Scottish Parliament in 1999, there were candidates from the “Orkney and Shetland Movement” If I remember correctly, the SNP reccomended that their supporters in Orkney and in Shetland should vote for the O and S M. In subsequent elections, the SNP stood in their own name, and gained more votes than when they reccomended folk to vote for the O & SM. As I understand it, SNP support is growing in both island groups, Still, I was very careful to specifiy “In Scotland, there is no distinct land area inhabited by a distinct, native, ETHNIC group”, and I was right. Studies which have been done on the DNA of folk in Shetland suggest they are much the same as folk on the mainland of Scotland. Of course there is a bit of Norse – just like there is on the mainland. What you mean, Ray, is that they are CULTURALLY distinct. Which is a different matter. The Shetland Islands are about a hundred miles from the mainland of Scotland, Of course there can be discussion about how “Scottish” they are, and I don’t think any government of an independent Scotland would want to stand in their way if they wanted independence. But the first step, as Shetland-home-rulers recognise, should be Scottish independence from the UK. In recognising this (and they do) Shetland-home-rulers are different from some of the “Native-Canadian” nations which see their interests as better served with a united Canada than with an independent Quebec. I was right to say that in seeking independence a long settled LAND boundary is an enormous advantage, an advantage which, uniquely amongst “stateless nations”, we in Scotland,have. But although what I wrote was right, of course JF should keep posting. It’s just that, in keeping posting, JF does have to expect what he writes to be subject to critical scrutiny.

    1. Ray Bell says:

      Aye aye, say what you like, but the Shetland movement is STILL there, and some of them DO want independence (Few) or devolution (many) so your point fails.

      In fact, Quebec has actually travelled further down the road to independence than we have. They’ve not only elected a nationalist government (a very recent development here) decades ago, they’ve actually had the referendum.

      I’d suggest you actually look and see what we can learn from Quebec, rather than just saying “it’s completely different”, or that Quebec has a lot to learn from Scottish nationalism. It doesn’t. Scottish nationalism is the “slow boat in the convoy” to use your isolationist cliche.

      1. Ray Bell says:

        Some Shetlanders are quite openly anti-Scottish in the way many mainland Scots view the English as well.

  6. Dave Coull says:

    Ray Bell “answers” several points that nobody had made: “rather than just saying ‘it’s completely different’, or that Quebec has a lot to learn from Scottish nationalism. It doesn’t.” – I never said it did, Ray. Precisely because it’s so different, I’m not convinced what applies in Scotland CAN be applied in Quebec. “the Shetland movement is STILL there” – I never said it wasn’t, Ray. “some of them DO want independence (Few) or devolution (many)” – I never said they didn’t, Ray. “so your point fails” – oh, no, it doesn’t, Ray. My point was that, in Quebec, there are distinct territories of the mainland (not offshore islands) inhabited by distinct, native, ethnic groups, very different from the main ethnic group in Quebec, which have indicated that they would prefer to remain part of a united kingdom with Canada rather than become part of an independent Quebec. There are no parts of Scotland inhabited by distinct, native, ethnic groups, very different from the main ethnic group in Scotland, which have indicated that they would prefer to remain part of a united kingdom with England rather than become part of an independent Scotland. That is true EVEN THOUGH there are some Shetlanders who would like independence for their island group. They realise the chances of getting that are better from an independent Scotland than from the UK.

  7. Dave Coull says:

    You’re wrong about me being an “isolationist”, Ray. I’m all in favour of people in England, France, Canada, the USA, China, Russia, etc etc etc, supporting an independent Scotland

    Jean-Francois Joubert wondered if the Quebecois had become “too comfortable in Canada”. He pointed out truly disastrous election results for the Bloc Quebecois, and astonishing inroads made by the NDP. The NDP might in some ways appear to have a superficial resemblance to the Labour Party in Scotland, but in actual fact it is very different. For one thing, Scotland was for many years considered a Labour stronghold, whereas the NDP never had any support in Quebec – until now. There has now been a total collapse of the PQ and a meteoric rise of the NDP.

    Despite which, and in apparent disagreement with Jean-Francois Joubert, Ray Bell says “Quebec has actually travelled further down the road to independence than we have”.

    Ray, I suggest you read J-F J’s article again. It didn’t sound like a country further along the road to independence.

    “they’ve actually had the referendum” – yes, and what was the result, Ray?

    When the people of Scotland finally get the chance to vote in a single-issue, non-party-political, referendum on independence, I’m very confident there will be no dithering here. I predict a decisive majority, from every part of Scotland, for independence.

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