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:
- Give the province more leverage in managing its own cultural destiny.
- Make the province financially dependent upon the country.