Sunday, 23 March 2014

Quebec Separation Debate - Deal or No Deal


We have entered a period in the last two months where the political climate in Quebec has become polarized.  It is unfortunate because you read the National Post and the Globe and Mail and then go read Le Devoir and it becomes clear that the two camps which Pauline and company have been so generous to re-divide Quebec and Canadian society into profoundly misunderstand each other and do not trust or respect one another.  To English Canadian and Quebec federalists, separatism is an irrational, ridiculous, and needless destructive pursuit, driven by anxiety about identity that amounts to tribalism.  To francophone Quebec separatists, English Canada is an entity that doesn't care about them, doesn't know anything about them, doesn't care to know anything about their society, language and culture except to retain jurisdiction over these domains and, eventually, impose its English language on them and assimilate them.  I used to sympathize with these folks a lot more until I came and actually lived here.

The following truths I have noted are not to rub dirt in the face of Quebec nationalists if they lose their bid to form a country (which I hope they do) but to add my bit of resistance as a Quebec resident to what I see as an illegitimate attempt by the Parti Québécois to usurp the province's identity in its entirety and monopolize the meaning and the direction of that identity.  To put it bluntly, I live here, raise my kids here, and pay taxes here and I am not a fucking guest of the PQ.  They are not keepers of the holy see, some inner sanctum heart of hearts of sacred Quebec nationalist ideology, which is what they reveal to perceive themselves as when they say they need a majority for a charter, a third referendum, independence etc.  Of course they don't like to talk about these last two subjects during campaign, and have been trying to change the channel for the past weeks, because this subject reveals them for the extraordinary hypocrites that they are. But that's the risk you take when you add a celebrity billionaire candidate like Pierre Karl Péladeau to your roster to bolster your economic credentials.  CEOs aren't used to the scripts and filters which rob the political discourse of its substance, and he spoke with none on that fateful Sunday when he announced his candidacy.

Because I will be accused of English Canadian bias (because being an English Canadian makes me have zero credibility as far as the Mahatma high priests of Quebec culture are concerned), I will argue reasons I have against separation, (and therefore against a PQ government, as the election of one will create uncertainty and anxiety on that subject, if not advance it) as coldly and rationally as possible, without provoking the emotion and anger that almost always poisons this debate.

#1 - Numbers.  I can understand if you are a francophone Quebecer and speaking English has never really been your thing or, you can speak English perfectly but for some obtuse ideological reasons prefer not to, why you would want to form your own country to not be restrained by the Canadian constitution in linguistic rights, legislation banning hijabs, etc, in other words, things which mean nothing to you that you are forced to respect.  It would feel unfair and limiting to have alien or foreign forces dictating what you can and cannot do, preventing you from emulating France, that declining bankrupt country that doesn't give a shit about you  (This is an over-generalization of the PQ electroate - I estimate we can further break it down to be about 1/3rd urban, educated bien-pensants like I just described, led by the opinionated minister Jean-Francois Lisée, and 2/3rds rural/blue-collar/welfare, led by Péladeau's trash tabloids and trash TV).

The demographic I just described, three thirds combined, God Bless their secular charter, numbers by my estimate approximately 25-30%  of the Quebec population.  That is too big of a number to write off, which is why we are still dealing with this bullshit as a country thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred and fifty years later (Quebec nationalism can be traced back to, well, all the way back to 1763 when French and English soldiers were at war over the territory.  Thing is, it's also been part of Canada for the same amount of time).  There is another 8-10% of the population which feels little or no attachment to Canada as well, while perhaps not being as overtly hostile toward it; as such, sovereignty consistently polls in the 40% range.  Not bad, but sure nothing to make a country with.  And for those who think the 1995 referendum was stolen I ask, how do you propose to unite a society on such a divisive issue?  Is 51% an acceptable majority to create a new country?  Practical reality tells me its not.

And if francophones were an oppressed majority (80% of the population), yet 60% of the population favours staying in Canada, do the math.  That's right. Even half the francophones do not want to leave.  This places the sovereigntist forces in a very tenuous position as far as creating a country is concerned.  They don't have, and have never had, the numbers.  But mythology is more powerful than facts.  Their cries of "fifty plus one" which is the magic number that is all they think they need to get their "country", ignores what happens to the millions of Quebecers rights and freedoms guaranteed by their Canadian citizenship that they choose not to revoke.  It is also very arrogant and parochial of them to claim to speak for all francophones, and shows an enormous sense of entitlement.  Can 8 million people really be forced into something only 3.2 million want on a good day and none of whom out of that can even explain coherently how it would work? (Listen to the leader's stumbling about no borders, Canadian dollar, Canadian passports.  Why the hell do you want a country then?).

#2 - Distribution

The four biggest cities in Quebec are Montreal (1.8 million), Quebec City (760,000), Laval (400,000) and Gatineau (315,000), making up approximately 41% of the province's entire population and generating (by my estimate) at least 65-70% of its GDP.  Probably more.  The Parti Québécois would have zero chance of convincing majorities to vote for independence in any of these cities.

Why not?  All except Quebec city include sizeable anglophone communities, but at an official 8% of the province's population, this should hardly matter.  Quebec City remains a primarily French and deeply conservative city, but as the seat of the provincial government, counts tens if not hundreds of thousands of active and retiree provincial civil servants amongst its population.  Yet even this city struggles to embrace the PQ.  Although PQ supporters are spread across the province, including within these centres, it is worth considering why they are unable to obtain a plurality of votes within a first past the post electoral system.

I believe it is partly due to the nature of the voters and partly to the nature of these communities.  Montreal and Laval, are home to hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, and are receiving the vast majority of the 55,000 immigrants who arrive in Quebec each year.  They are also home to hundreds of multinational companies, corporate head offices, and nationally (as in Canada) important public institutions and infrastructures which put together obviously employ a great deal of the population.  As much as this must exasperate the PQ, economic and livelihood considerations (job security, real estate values, state of local infrastructures) are likely to trump language and culture in these centres, as well as the desire to remain the choice international destinations for capital, tourism, and cosmopolitan lifestyles in North America's most underrated country, Canada.  Of course the PQ believes that this situation is all their doing and they therefore are entitled to monopolize it for their own ends but go ahead, try again with your charter and referendum and get embarrassed even worse than you were last time.   Cities populated by "citizens of the world" do not vote for paranoiacs who think they are going to save their culture by legislating discrimination against linguistic and religious minorities.

Why can't the PQ get a toehold in Quebec's industrial/technological/franco heartland that stretches from Quebec City's southern suburbs to the Beauce region and Thetford Mines? Beats me.  These are the only areas of the province where the federal conservatives have deputies.  Small business, low taxes, and individual freedoms are popular political themes among residents, if you listen to the local talk radio or read Maxime Bernier's blog.  To its credit, this province is diverse and is not in its entirety the eco-socialist nightmare its detractors in Western Canada think it is.  And that's a good thing for those of who live here and shudder at the thought of Bernard Drainville trying to impose his "values" on us for a second term.

#3 - Hypocrisy

Speaking of Mr Drainville, maybe he can tell us where he'd be getting a paycheque in his new republic of Quebec if (we can only pray to Allah, his nemesis) he ever loses his seat in the National Assembly.  Oh, I guess it would be a pension from CBC where he used to work which is a federal crown corporation and...deposited into his bank account at a Canadian financial institution (Sorry Bernard, even the Caisse Populaire's holdings in the rest of Canada are vast and growing).  I think most Quebeckers and Canadians can only dream of railing against a country's existence while collecting a fat-ass paycheque from it.  And there are several people at ICI Radio-Canada in a similar situation.  Which leads us to ask, how many honest to god Quebec entrepreneurs, captains of industry, job creators, and owners of companies that actually pay people (not government subsidized cultural industries) have made passionate sorties in favour of separatism other than the Peladeau family.  Right.  Zero.  I know it's cool to attack the rich here and nobody wants to thank business for this economy whose fruits we all enjoy but seriously.  I want all the social democrats to remember that their cultural heroes all live on the public dime to the tunes of multiple six figures and yes, that public dime comes from all of Canada's environmentally unsustainable, resource-based, capitalist economy.   Not saying that like it's a good thing but it's a true thing that should lead to some soul-searching for quite a few people. 

#4 - Division

The PQ strategy is to be so elitist, so disconnected, so morally repugnant as individuals and as a party that non-Quebecois de souche will leave in anger and disgust as these idiots refuse to confront economic and demographic realities and bankrupt this place by creating new social programs when existing ones are not even solvent and pass laws as draconian as requiring businesses to request exceptions, special permits to advertise the need for bilingual employees.  You morons its 2014.  Why don't you go to a country of similar size like Hungary or Sweden and tell me if legislators waste their time on such pointless bullshit?  You will not divide us and make us flee - reasonable people - normal, honest, interesting Quebec people see your stupidity for what it is and will stand up to your bullying until it stops.  Because losing to you idiots would be the most pathetic thing in the world.  It would make us even bigger losers than you.

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