"A happy marriage of convenience".
Reading Philip Resnick's review of the federalist/separatist debates was like seeing a girlfriend whom you used to love desperately but who had changed so much you had trouble recognizing her--and she you. Any history of those years and their aftershocks feels about as relevant as comparing poutine to fettuccine, no matter how well written the books are or how balanced the opinions.
Quebec will separate. That is the reality because the federalist argument no longer applies. Canada as represented by Messieurs Mulroney, Chretien, Martin, Harper and Ignatieff has managed to deal itself out of the federalist model that Pearson and Trudeau created. The "to separate or not to separate" argument no longer hinges on how many French immersion schools there are in the country, whether or not the federal public service is bilingual or how many native French speakers there are outside of Quebec. This old debate has been won. Canada is a better place for having strong French-speaking communities across the country and schools where kids can learn in French, but these are no longer sufficient arguments to keep Canada together.
Here's why. Under a long line of Liberal and Conservative governments, the federalist participation in the fabric of Canadian life has steadily dwindled. The great Crown corporations of the federal state have been sold. Canadian National, for example, now belongs to American interests. The list is a long one. The Quebecois who looks at his paycheque sees his taxes going to the "national" government. But all the services that mean anything come from the province. The federal government hardly exists in Quebec and it doesn't exist much in the Rest of Canada either.
The most recent federal government alone has taken more than $100 million from civil society organizations, but while Quebec has replaced the funding of these organizations with its own money, in the ROC they have been simply abandoned. The result is that the quality of our national engagement and our sense of patriotism has changed in the ROC. It has become more along the flag-waving American model: our guys, right or wrong. This is not a model propitious to fine-tuned federalist discussions like the ones the famous Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission animated 40 years ago.
Not only has the federal government managed to make itself largely irrelevant to ordinary people's lives, but there is only one real federalist party left in Quebec and it's only a matter of time before it is replaced by the Parti Quebecois led by the canny Pauline Marois. The fact that French president Nicolas Sarkozy's innocent remarks supportive of federalism provoked such protest in Quebec among both federalists and separatists indicates that the tide is turning once again. This time it will not be stoppable because too many of the basic connectors between Quebec and the ROC have been eaten away. This includes the francophone communities outside of Quebec who have weathered the many threats of a Canada without Quebec and have settled into tough little enclaves with their own community radio stations and schools, hunkered down against the bad weather, which they also sense is coming.
In short, the good old federalist debates revisited in Andre Pratte's Reconquering Canada: Quebec Federalists Speak Up for Change and Gregory Millard's Secession and Self: Quebec in Canadian Thought are interesting and thoughtful, but the paradigm has so shifted that there should be a product announcement at the front of the books that the stale date has passed, Quebec has left the building. The only question before us now is whether the federal system can be reinvented such that it can work both in the ROC and Quebec in an entirely different way to serve the new reality.
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|Title Annotation:||Letters and Responses|
|Publication:||Literary Review of Canada|
|Article Type:||Letter to the editor|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2009|
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