A better Canada without Québec

Scowen, Reed, Time to Say Goodbye: Building a Better Canada Without Québec, McClelland & Stewart, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7710-7981-8.

As its title so clearly suggests, this book explains why Canada would be better off parting with Québec. In a few words, Québec's and the country's political values are incompatible. Canadians should firmly reaffirm who they are and make a proposal for Québec to accept or to go its own way. And time is running short; the province is impoverishing itself and it may soon be economically too late.

The author, Reed Scowen [Google translation], knows Québec very well; he was a member of the National Assembly from 1978 to 1987. To support the book's intent, Mr. Scowen submits a definition of Canada without Québec and puts forward that the province's nationalism is ethnically motivated.

One would expect a (former?) staunch federalist to come up with an inspiring vision of the country; he doesn't. His vision, or definition, is disappointing. Mr. Scowen roughly defines Canada as an administrative arrangement, almost as if the Canadian nation were exclusively a geo-political invention... I trust Canadians have more to say.

One would also expect a seasoned politician to come up with a strong argumentation on the province's so-called ethnically motivated nationalism; he doesn't. Most of his rationale rehashes anecdotal situations that are commonly expressed by English federalist circles (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism - Part 2). Of course, there is an ethnic motivation to it for some people, but so does any patriotic movement. I believe that Québec's nationalism has more to do with language and culture than ethnicity (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism).

However, one thing that particularly stands out in this book is the tale it refers to, the gains of the French language from an Anglo-Québécois perspective. Québec's culture is obviously worthwhile and calls for suitable legislation, much like CanCon does for Canadian culture, but reading about it in this book is an eye-opening experience. It helped me better understand the emotional response I sometimes observed at the simple mention of Jacques Parizeau's name when exchanging with an Anglo friends. This book should be mandatory reading for all sovereigntists.

Still, the most puzzling aspect of the book is how the author specifies that he would remain in a sovereign Québec. By simply pointing out that this is the place where he was born and grew up, by stating that it's as much his province as any other Québécois, he doesn't give much explanation. I wish he had elaborated, even if it isn't the book's topic.


Anonymous said...

Ethnicity includes language and culture, and refers to a nation or tribe (hello Québecois nation?), and does not necessarily include race. Calling Québec's nationalism ethnic is therefore correct, as it celebrates the French language and cultural heritage originating in a particular founding tribe. Québec's nationalism being based in ethnicity (culture, language) is only a problem so far as it's seen to be exclusionary, which, regardless of whatever sovereigntists would like to beleive, it is seen as by ethnic minorities who overwhelmingly support federalism because they feel excluded, many of whom leave Québec for other parts of Canada where they feel more welcome (except for those already fluent in French). Or if you don't like the word excluded, or feel it's misrepresentative, okay, then use any you wish that describes the alienation they feel from the sovereigntist camp, which is a real phenomenon that cannot be rationalized away.

Anyway, this idea that Québec's cultural and political values are so very different from the rest of the country is way overblown. There are more (practising) Catholics outside of Québec than there are in it (from a historical perspective, this is shocking); there are many people who support left-of-centre political parties outside of Québec as well, Alberta notwithstanding (and even Alberta is not a monolith!), there are many left-wing secularists in Toronto and Vancouver and Ottawa, etc. (in fact- just as in Québec, the elite is mostly made up of such), and the list of commonalities goes on. If I want to feel differences, or like I'm somewhere foreign, I go to India or China or Africa where there is very little in common with English-Canadian culture, and certainly not Québec, which has been intermarrying with English-Canadians for centuries, sharing a common history for centuries, sharing a common European heritage, religious heritage, even linguistic heritage (English and French are both indo-european languages, the number of French words in English is enormous), etc., etc. None of this is said to disparage Québec, which does have many unique aspects to its culture and history vis-a-vis the rest of the country, but merely to put those differences in a more accurate (IMO) perspective.

2 a : of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background (ethnic minorities) (ethnic enclaves)

Anonymous said...

"Mr. Scowen roughly defines Canada as an administrative arrangement, almost as if the Canadian nation were exclusively a geo-political invention... I trust Canadians have more to say."

Mr. Scowen is right on the mark with this thought. Although I think you misunderstand the origin. You suggest Canadians have some shared culture or values. This is perhaps the main point. What the Rest of Canada has come to understand recently is that we do not have a common culture, rather we have 3 cultures. The Rest of Canada didn't understand this at first either. Only recently have we come to understand the nature of it.

The country is in conflict with itself, with directly contradictory values and goals. This is largely split along regional lines as well, which offers a solution.

What happens now is all 3 sides are largely deadlocked and thus unable to achieve advancements. Because they want directly opposing things, they can never agree and no compromise is possible. The only thing the country has left is flip flopping between different goals which are incompatible. It is a pointless way to exist.

However, there is a good solution. That is to dissolve the country and reform it into 2 or 3 parts. These parts can proceed along their separate paths, and diverge into the different cultures and value systems that they want to be.

When Mr. Scowen describes Canada as nothing more than an administrative arrangement, he is echoing what the Rest of Canada has realized. When you strip away the propaganda and look at the country as it really is, it has nothing in common across all of it. It really is nothing more than an administrative arrangement as it is now.

Separating the country, is a way to make the government meaningful again, by reducing its size and allowing it to serve a constituency that thinks alike and shares values and a culture. The current Canada is unsustainable. Really, there is no reason for anyone to want to keep the country together. It would be a depressing shell of a country. Completely useless and deadlocked for centuries. None of us have to suffer this fate. We can choose to acknowledge what is, and separate for the benefit of all. Remaining together only leads toi frustration and deep hatred between the peoples within it.

Finally, you seem to imply that only Mr. Scowen feels this way or that it is an unusual viewpoint. But actually, this is becoming a dominant viewpoint west of Ontario.

Anonymous said...

Oh what nonsense. Canadians share many cultural and political values, much more than they digress from each other. You make it sound like we have fascists, communists, and capitalists (or choose your divides) duking it out! Nothing could be further form the truth! There is no part of the country where a majority of the people do not support socialized health care, for example (even polling in Alberta supports this!). Arguments over how it's delivered, perhaps, the amount of private vs. public, but who cares anyway? It's a provincial service and there's no need to divide the country to go different ways! You can do similar analyses for other policy issues as well.

You want to see a country that's at war with itself? Look at Iran. Secularists vs. hard core believers of theology. Look at the ethnic, religious, and cultural divides that are tearing Iraq apart. Or how about the ideological divide in the U.S.? The idea that regions of Canada are just too different from other parts to exist in one country is something espoused by people who either haven't travelled much or haven't really thought it through. In this country, it's in vogue to put ourselves down, and that's the truth. And as I mentioned before, most social issues are in provincial domain anyway, so you hardly need to carve the country up for different regions to go different ways!

For a group of people at each other's throats we've done pretty well avoiding civil war and civil violence! I can think of many countries that would love to have the 'divides' we have!

Seriously, what a joke of an argument...

Anonymous said...

And you know what else? Many of the old divides that used to lead to a lot of street level violence now no longer exist. The violence that used to exist in Canada between religious communities of various stripes is literally a thing of the past. The discrimination on the basis of language has faded so much that to younger generations is not understood. English-Canadians don't hate French-Canadians, and vice versa. If anything, as Canada has aged, the old divides have simply faded away, as our common democratic values help us to find non-violent ways to resolve our differences.

Michel Bolduc said...

To Anonymous of August 9, 2009 at 2:46 PM,

I must humbly admit I had an erroneous understanding of the word "ethnic" and, therefore, misinterpreted the argumentation the book puts forward on this particular topic. Still, Mr. Scowen's perspective on the place of Anglophones, and other non Francophones, in the Québécois nation is, like the majority of opinions on the subject, more anecdotal than factual.

I grant you that many Immigrants feel alienated from the sovereigntist camp, but, as you point out, those already fluent in French are more prone to remain in Québec. Perhaps non Francophone sources of information aren't doing justice to the sovereigntist intent.

French speaking journalists are roughly split half and half over separatism and federalism. They all work on a daily basis with colleagues who pledge to the other option. Their incentive to make more balanced and documented reports on any of the two options is significantly higher than their non Francophone peers. Being subjected to a deeper debate, I believe that the average Québécois has a better understanding of both options than the average Canadian from another province.

Anonymous said...

Regarding French-speakers being more likely to stay in Québec, yes, that is agreed, but as far as I'm aware the Haitian community and others are still more likely to be pro-Canada and not pro-sovereignty, which suggests that sovereignty just doesn't matter to immigrants and is frankly unimportant to them.

The issue ought to be Québec's broken immigration system. Many people come to English Canada and don't speak English, but they are still retained, and that's despite often having a harder time getting credentials recognised in Ontario (or elsewhere) than Québec. There is definitely something broken in Québec's immigration policy, then, and sovereignty is really moot.

It's sort of ridiculous to expect people new to a country and busy trying to establish themselves, who have come for economic opportunity and stability, to then vote for something that will plunge the country into instability and economic turmoil. It's sort of condescending to think that the poor immigrants just haven't 'understood' sovereignty. It's reminiscent of a lot of Christian missionaries who think the poor heathens just haven't understood the Gospel. Maybe the truth is the reason immigrants are enormously pro-Canada and anti-sovereignty is because it merely doesn't fit their interests.