The event stirred some attention, to say the least. In the aftermath of the 1995 referendum, a few attempts were made at explaining what motivates Québec separatism. Hillwatch, a service government relations firm, wrote an article to explain this peculiarity of Canadian politics to a foreign audience.
The article builds on an analogy using a fictitious New California and Spanish Americans to draw a parallel with the Canadian situation. Although interesting to read, there is a very significant difference between the USA and Canada that the article fails to acknowledge. Americans quickly drifted away from England and they are the ones who basically "invented" their country, not the Spanish Americans. In contrast, British North Americans have only recently embraced their own canadianity, an identity that was mainly forged by French Canadians (see The Québécois aren't truly Canadians).
The article also lists some preconceived ideas that it identifies as lies Québécois politicians have been feeding residents of the province. I remember 1995 quite well and, although I've heard most of the statements listed, I can't say I heard them from the sovereigntist leaders in the way they are being presented in the article. These statements (in italics below) deserve to be commented:
- The Federal Government takes more money from Québec than it gives back. In 2006, the Québécois sent $38.4B to Ottawa and received $12.8B in transfers from Ottawa. Québec obviously receives other federal services that aren't accounted for, but either way... if the economic discrepancy between both parties were so clear, wouldn't have the demonstration been clearly made?
- An independent Québec would be able to create more jobs. Maybe, or maybe not... who knows exactly what would happen in a sovereign Québec? If all economic ties were to be severed, jobs would obviously be lost.
- A separate Québec would have no problems becoming a member of NAFTA. Then again... maybe, or maybe not... but with such a well integrated economy, why is that so hard to believe? And if NAFTA didn't work, perhaps the European Union would be interested; France still seems to be very much attached to Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.
- If Québec separates, Quebeckers will keep their Canadian citizenship and passports. Why are the Canadian citizenship and passport such a big deal? There are plenty of countries the size of a sovereign Québec would be that have an appealing citizenship and passport (Finland, Danemark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland...).
- An independent Québec would provide better education and healthcare. That depends on the resources it would have at hand. It probably wouldn't change all that much.
- A separate Québec will absorb all federal civil servants in the province. Well... unless federal civil servants aren't doing anything productive, someone would be required to carry on the added work that comes with being sovereign.
- Independence costs Quebeckers nothing. Has anyone really being saying this? Independence comes with a price.
- An independent Québec will be able to use the Canadian or US currency. Why not?... as long as it adheres without a say to the monetary policies that comes with it, any state can use any currency.
- A separate Québec could keep its present territorial boundaries. Obviously, if the country can be divided, so can a province. But it's safe to assume that Ottawa would want to maintain its own territorial integrity along current borders to prevent other claims.
- An independent Québec would offer its citizens a better quality of life. Again, that depends on the resources it would have at hand. It probably wouldn't change all that much either.
- Québec cannot control its own affairs in Canada. Canada has to deal with the USA's influence, so does Québec. Let's just say that the challenges would be different.
- Québec is in debt because of the federal system. Like any province, part of Québec's debt is under federal control. A sovereign Québec would be in debt on its own.
- Once Québec declared independence, the rest of Canada would rush to form an economic association. Probably not... some sort of backlash is to be expected. However, is it so hard to believe that Canada would come to reason after a while?
- Québec agriculture would still have access to the Canadian market after separation. See NAFTA above.
- Québec could pay the interest on its share of the national debt but not assume any responsibility for the principal. I've never heard this one. Like it does today, Québec would assume its share as any other province. The challenge would be to find a transition formula that's respectful of both parties.
The article pretends to explain Québec separatism, but it builds on the premise that its foundations are faulty. As it is too often the case in English media, the article doesn't give the idea of sovereignty a fair shot. It does give, however, Francophone readers a very good idea of how Anglophones rationalize the sovereignty movement. Still, explaining Québec separatism is a lot simpler than the length this article goes into (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism):
- Over the centuries, French Canadians developed their very own culture. A culture based on French, but a culture which is very different from what you'd find in other French-speaking states.
- In the last century or so, French has been steadily declining in the majority of provinces without great concern. With its French-speaking majority, Québec has been able to use its provincial legislative platform and oppose this assimilation trend.
- Canadians who fail to see the value of this important asset to the Canadian identity are putting Ottawa in front of a Gordian knot. They are forcing Québec to keep using its provincial leverage and they are fueling the sovereignty movement.