Unconditional love

It's October 30, 1995 and the referendum campaign is finally over, one month of arguments against and for sovereignty. They say campaigns should be a time to debate ideas. It rarely is and this one was no different. But these are complex issues to vulgarize and the fact that either camp hasn't been able to clearly demonstrate the advantages of its own option doesn't make things any simpler. Let's face it. If it were so clear that Québec would be better off on itself, the sovereignty movement would have made a clear demonstration. If Canada understood Québec's contribution to the country and what it brings in return, it wouldn't have to rely on such hollow symbols as the passport and currency to boast its appeal.

I voted "Yes". For a lot of people, that makes me a sovereigntist, or a separatist if you prefer (either word is acceptable, it simply indicates how one values the impact of an independent Québec). But labeling people isn't that simple. La Presse's André Pratte, for example, is a renowned federalist, but he voted "Yes" in both the 1980 and 1995 referendums. Other famous federalists such as Pierre Trudeau have considered Québec's sovereignty as an acceptable option in their younger days.

The opposite is also true; many sovereigntist leaders once believed in Québec's place within Canada. Before joining the Parti Québécois, Jacques Parizeau and René Lévesque had been actively involved with Québec's Liberal Party.

Regardless of their convictions, these four Québécois personalities have (or had) a rich perspective on whether or not Québec should become a sovereign state, something that the current debate (if any) lacks blatantly. For the most of it, current positions in both the federalist and the sovereigntist camps, sound like a binary equation, on or off, black or white, day or night, good or evil... you get the picture... can you hear Darth Vader's Theme? In all truthfulness, hardline federalists and hardline sovereigntists aren't listening and they pretty much sound the same. Each camp has its radicals, rednecks on one side and bluenecks on the other.

I don't understand this unconditional love that prevents people from considering the merits of their opponent's option. I mean... both of these options obviously have their cons and their pros. How can there be any dialog if you aren't willing to consider and properly respond to your opponent's arguments?

I voted "Yes" in 1995 because I believe sovereignty is a better alternative than the current status quo. Many people don't understand this "fair-weather" attitude. I simply think that the current federal model should be challenged, in return, I accept the idea that Québec's sovereignty isn't the Holy Grail. If you feel uncomfortable with this statement, well... perhaps you're part of the current trend that believes constitutional talks should take place only when pigs fly.

In the meantime, I'll be carefully listening to what Ottawa has to say.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious: exactly what do you want to change in the current constitutional framework in order for Québec to remain a part of Canada? I always find it strange to hear, and I have no idea whether this applies to you personally, people point to the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982 as the reason they are unhappy with the constitutional framework of Canada. I do understand why peole in Québec would be unhappy that the constitution was repatriated without their provincial government's consent, though I wonder what they really expected when they had placed separatists in power, but this constitutional arrangement has actually devolved more powers to the provinces than was the case prior, a trend which continues to this day. So do they long for the days prior when Québec as a province was weaker? I don't think Québec really has communicated in any solid way what it wants from English Canada.

Michel Bolduc said...

After the patriation of the constitution, René Lévesque took what he called "le beau risque" and helped Mulroney's Conservatives win the federal elections in 1984. Mulroney delivered his end of the bargain in 1987 with the Meech Lake Accord to reintegrate Québec in the Canadian constitution "in honor and dignity", but the Accord unraveled in 1990. It included five conditions drafted by Robert Bourassa's government:

1. the recognition of Québec as a "distinct society" within Canada;
2. extension and regulation of the right for a reasonable financial compensation to any province that chooses to opt out of any future federal programs;
3. a constitutional veto for Quebec and other provinces regarding main amendments;
4. provincial input in appointing Supreme Court judges, at least three judges must be from Québec;
5. increased provincial powers with respect to immigration.

Some of these conditions have been partially addressed, but are basically at the heart of what Québec has been requesting repeatedly. These demands were drafted by a Liberal government, yet a lot of people feel they are unreasonable.

Québec's basic need is simple, a desire to perpetuate its culture. I'm sure Canadians can understand this, having themselves a hard time containing the USA's cultural hegemony. Many people believe that Canada will never accept giving Québec what it needs to satisfy its desire. Jacques Parizeau is among these people and became a sovereigntist because he didn't see any other way.

Call me a dreamer, but I'm listening.

Anonymous said...

2,4,5 seem to be in practice if not constitutionalized. 1 has been passed by Parliament symbolically twice. 3 is de facto true for Québec anyway, because in order to change the constitution you need to have 50% of the population in agreement through referendum and 7/10 provincial legislatures agreeing. Québec being the second most populous province, and Ontario usually keeping an eye on Québec, it's unlikely (though admittedly not constitutionally protected) that nothing would be passed contrary to Québec's wishes. So it seems we have come a long way, really (maybe that's why the sovereignty movement is having so much difficulty finding traction!). Further, there is no call from English-Canada to change the constitution, anyway, making the idea of protecting Québec with a veto somewhat moot, really.

But if this is really what Québec wants, why did it vote against the Charlottetown accord?

Michel Bolduc said...

When Robert Bourassa drafted the five clauses to be included in the Meech Lake Accord, he labeled them as Québec's minimal conditions. The Charlottetown Accord didn't address all five of these conditions. The sovereigntists did a good job at pointing that out and the general sentiment from Meech's failure did the rest.

As for the current situation regarding Québec's requests, your assessment is basically right. Many have been roughly addressed, none have been constitutionalized and the majority of Canadians aren't open to go any further right now.

But as you know, selective arrangements aren't the same as constitutional amendments. And the Bloc has become an important safeguard for many Québécois who want to make sure these arrangements hold. Hence, the Bloc's presence at the House of Commons is appealing to many who aren't even sovereigntists.

Perhaps, this delicate balance is your idea of a united country. To me, it's a shabby foundation to build a nation on.

Anonymous said...

Even the office of the Prime Minister isn't in the constitution, neither is the office of the Supreme Court! Neither of those institutions are in any danger of going anywhere. So with all due respect, to demand everything to be constitutionalized for it to be a 'real and united country' is to me a total misunderstanding of what this country is and ever was, and a total misunderstanding of parliamentary democracy. It's really a strange disconnect from the history of one's own people. The fact that we even have a constitution that delineates some matters is itself a novelty considering we are a parliamentary democracy that is officially a constitutional monarchy. Also, this emphasis on constitutionalizing something as a safe-guard overlooks the numerous and ongoing examples of countries that did just that but never enforced anything (the U.S. had slavery when 'men were created equal', denied blacks rights till the 20th century whereas the men at least had the right to vote in Canada; India has all kinds of safeguards for minorities [like dalits] that have never been enforced, and there are many other examples elsewhere, and that's only referencing the constitutional democracies that are considered successful). Constitutions aren't all they're cracked up to be, and constitutions that are contrary to cultural realities are rarely woth the paper they're written on. So from that context, the change we've seen in Canada is incredibly significant and is really the groundwork for anything that happens on the constitutional level. Our type of democracy is basically based on societal cultural norms, so to point to significant changes in practice and culture that have formed new institutions/practices in a parliamentary system is pointing to significant and real change. To have achieved all these gains essentially makes it defacto true and precedent setting in the common law, parliamentary system, just as it is defacto true that the Prime Minister (who is not in the constitution) really runs this country and not the Queen. I'm not against changes to the constituion solidifying these things but I find this cult of the constitution in Québec both mystifying, ignorant of our institutional history, and somewhat misplaced. But if that's what it takes, it doesn't bother me to do it.

Michel Bolduc said...

When I read your Sept. 23rd comment, I first wondered if you were serious. I realize now that you based your argumentation on a "common law logic".

I'm not a law specialist, but it is my understanding that the common law, as you point out, builds on precedence. In contrast, the civil code (in Québec) uses codification in order to address issues. I'm sure my assessment of these differences is simplistic and incomplete, but perhaps this is the reason why Canadians in other provinces don't share the importance the Québécois see in reopening the constitution.