Explaining Québec separatism again

Many Canadians are under the impression that Québec's independence isn't economically feasible and that the people who support it have been brainwashed by demagogues. They discard any argumentation that goes beyond the economic rationale.

Economics are important. In 2006, the Québécois put $95B in the governments' coffers [Google translation]. Of this amount, $38.4B went to Ottawa; $47.4B went to the province; $9.1B went to municipalities. In return, Ottawa sent $5.5B in equalization and $7.7B in programs that all provinces equally benefit from. Of course, there doesn't stop the benefits of the federation. Like all Canadians, citizens of the province have access to many federal services such as National Defense and Employment Insurance.

Forecasting how an independent Québec would financially be feasible isn't an easy task. François Legault tried in May of 2005 and published Finances d'un Québec souverain [in French only]. When he did, I expected solid counterarguments from federalist forces. Michel Audet, then provincial minister of Finance, simply shoved it by the way side, deeming it jovialiste. The Globe and Mail denounced it without much justification. I gather they felt the attempt was so inane it didn't deserve much attention. I was disappointed by the absence of a substantiated response.

In his recent book, Parizeau puts forward that the province's debt is less, in gross domestic product (GDP) percentage, than the USA's and the average of OECD countries. Some argue that OECD figures include all debts and that a fair comparison should include the province's share of the federal debt and municipal obligations. I haven't heard or read Parizeau's reaction.

Things aren't clear. And it certainly seems strange that the financial component of the federalist-sovereigntist debate hasn't been the object of a clear demonstration from either camp. It lends me to believe that an independent Québec is financially viable even if it's better off within Canada (especially with the economic mishaps of recent years).

So... why does sovereignty appeal to, more or less, 40% of the province's population? Canada's a great country... how can this appeal reach such proportions? In today's communication age, demagoguery isn't nearly enough to explain it.

Over the centuries, French Canadians have 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 from the federal legislature. With its French-speaking majority, Québec has been able to use its provincial legislative platform and counter this trend.

Do Canadians realize that a second language with international influence is an asset to the country? Do Canadians recognize that Québec's weight in a predominantly English-speaking continent is a quasi unique situation? Are Canadians aware that Québec is among the few states in the world where it's possible to have a successful life without knowing a single word in the majority's language?

Most Canadians are in favor of some sort of measures to protect the French language. Yet, there is a profound dichotomy between what many Canadians deem acceptable and what many Québécois feel is necessary. To put it bluntly, homegrown culture is alive and well in Québec (see Canadian content, Part 2 and Part 3) despite the constant erosion the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has imposed unto the province's Charter of the French language for over 30 years.

Don't misunderstand me. There's nothing wrong with where Canadians want to go culturally. It's just that it's not where the Québécois wish to go.

Canada and the USA are different countries, yet they share more similarities than Québec does with the rest of the country. Is it justified for Canada to be independent from the USA? Of course... we're looking at two very different societies. Why wouldn't it be conceivable for Québec do go its own way?

Obviously, independence isn't the Holy Grail. It would come with its own set of challenges, but it would give the province full autonomy in managing its own cultural destiny.

The majority of Québécois agrees that Québec's culture is worthwhile. What distinguishes most sovereigntists from most federalists is the difference in assessing the future of Québécois culture in the Canadian context and the financial advantage of the federation. Very very simply put, there are two ways to counter the sovereignty movement:
  1. Give the province more leverage in managing its own cultural destiny.
  2. Make the province financially dependent upon the country.
And Canadians are the ones holding the key to either scenario...


English schooling in Québec

Public English schools aren't for everyone in Québec. According to the Charter of the French language, the following children may receive instruction in English:
  • a child whose father or mother is a Canadian citizen and received elementary instruction in English in Canada;
  • a child whose father or mother is a Canadian citizen and who has received or is receiving elementary or secondary instruction in English in Canada, and the brothers and sisters of that child;
  • a child whose father and mother are not Canadian citizens, but whose father or mother received elementary instruction in English in Québec;
  • a child whose father or mother was residing in Québec on 26 August 1977 and had received elementary instruction in English outside Québec.
When it comes to English schooling, newcomers have the same rights as the majority. It's fairly simple actually... sharing a common language is a major asset for people who want to know one another; that's what these rules are aiming at.

Still, some Anglophones are torn between ensuring French proficiency for their children and depriving their descendants of access to English instruction. Since 2001, the English Montreal School Board's enrollment has dropped by over 5,000 students. Lester B. Pearson School Board has lost 2,300 students in the last five years. This is basically the result of parents believing adequate knowledge of both languages gives their children a better chance of success in life. Who can blame them?

In reaction to this trend, Lester B. Pearson School Board will be closing three schools (Jubilee Elementary in Pointe Claire, Purcell Academy in Pierrefonds and Bishop Whelan Elementary in Dorval). It will also be expanding its French offering with more extracurricular activities. "We must prepare our kids to stay in Québec" says board chairperson Marcus Tabachnick. The English Montreal School Board is also launching a campaign aimed at promoting the quality of French taught in its schools.


I love English

In one of my many attempts to get my kids interested in learning my second language, I bought a subscription to I love English magazine. It's a European publication made especially for young French-speakers who want to learn English. It covers stories of interest for teenagers and the articles are sparkled with explanations on words and idioms that the reader might not be familiar with. I seldom see my kids with it, but I'm thinking if I keep it laying around the house, they're bound to develop the habit of reading it.

Last night, my daughter was telling me about a report by a young Frenchman who traveled the USA and Canada. Among other things, the young man mentioned that he liked Montréal and noted how funny the Québécois speak French. A bit befuddled by that statement, my daughter candidly asked which of the Québécois or the French people have an accent. "Well... I gather this young man just discovered that the same recipe can have many flavors." I replied. "I'd say it depends where you are... a Québécois in Paris has an accent, so does a Parisian in Marseille or in Montréal."

I think I'll renew the subscription to this fine magazine.


Lhasa de Sela 1972-2010

In the words of La Presse's Alain Brunet [Google translation]: "What we're losing with Llhasa's departure, is a vital window on what we love so much in today's Montreal. Strong foundations in the French community, a strong bond with the English one and a Hispanic asset perfectly illustrate the cosmopolitanism et multilingualism that Montreal won't ever be able to do without."

More coverage on the singer-songwriter's passing:


What am I doing here still?

I started this blog one year ago. I had been expanding my sources of information with English media for many years and sometimes felt a disconnection between my own experience and how my society was being portrayed and understood by Canadians. This feeling prompted me to share some of my views. In the process, I tried busting a few myths:I won't pretend I succeeded for all of them, but hopefully I've given the reader material to challenge some of the ideas many people accept as the unquestionable truth. I also tried shedding a different light on topics that are sometimes misunderstood or that Canadians in general are simply not aware of:I'm somewhat of a news junkie. And the way things are reported, individuals are sometimes aggregated into demographic groups as if the characteristics of the whole applied to each equally. I think individuals share more similarities than most realize or sometimes want to think. Some of the entries I've posted tackle how things should, could or might be if people recognized how similar they really are:Along the way, I also wrote a few entries to share some of my own personal brushes with non Pure Laine:No one has monopoly on truth, obviously. Some of the comments I've been reading opened up doors I wasn't aware of, perhaps I did the same for a few of you.