Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Politics, finally (part 1)

I've been avoiding the topic of separatism for a while now, but my friend Heather, who is also embarking on the same journey (though she left at least a year ahead of me and has a french-canadian boyfriend), asked me why I hadn't written anything about politics yet. We had a brief discussion and came to an interesting conclusion about the evolution of our own politics. It inspired me to finally broach the subject here.

I've been avoiding it mainly because it's really complicated and I feel about as educated about the political situation here as I do on the plausibility of the existence of Fermat's last theorem (good friends will note that this has rarely stopped me in the past, however). Also, though, there is something very apolotical about the life here, as if I'm not the only one avoiding it. Language and culture come up all the time, but actual politics rarely. Part of this could be Montreal. Perhaps we are just to busy having a good time and living our lives to worry about what's going on in l'Assemblé nationale. Perhaps in Trois-Rivières or Chicoutimi they are still arguing about Canada's role in the confederation.

It also could be the result of good old-fashioned Canadian politeness. That is one cultural strain that seems to cross both solitudes. The french are just as thoughtful and pleasant as the english, I've noticed, avoiding topics that may cause discomfort. They are also just as duplicitous about it, often being indirect to avoid confrontation when it would cause less misunderstanding and resentment if they would just come out and say what they wanted.

Finally, our Canadian politicians are really pathetic. In America they are generally evil or just so polished that they are more like celebrities than politicians. Here, our leaders are no strangers to greed, avarice and corruption. It's all just at a smaller, less sophisticated scale. But boy are they bumbling idiots. Even within the lax strictures of their own strategic gamesmanship, they are error-prone and maladroit. It does make for newsworthy, if embarassing scandals. Guys jumping out of helicopters, Prime Ministers having customized golfballs made on the public coin, police forces arresting their own mayors, etc. And their language is worse. Paul Martin, the current PM, stammers worse than Richard Nixon and his predecessor, Jean Chrétien, was notorious for not being able to speak in either of the two official languages. I think most Canadians are just so bored and annoyed with the whole thing, that it's not worth wasting the time you could be swallowing beer or puffing on a joint to talk about it.

But I digress. My point is that politics do not come up that often, at least not yet and not in my social circles.

That being said, I will get to my second point, which is sort of an introduction to a longer political thread that will be running through the life of this blog: my own political position on separatism.

For those of you who are not familiar with Québec's history, here is a very, very brief overview. Founded by the french in the 17th century, named La Nouvelle France, who then lost it in a war to the english in the 18th (a lot of beavers are killed in between these two events). It morphed into Lower Canada when the nation was created in 1791 and then Québec again when Canada kind of gains its independence with the British North America Act of 1867. Up until 1960, Québec's economy is controlled by the english. Power, too, mostly lies in the hands of the english. The population is kept quiet by the power of the catholic church and the strength of their cultural traditions. This all changes with the death of iron-fisted premier Maurcie Duplessis, who ruled Québec like a dictator, suppressing cultural and political change. With his death, Jean Lesage, the next premier opens everything up. The culture, politics and economics of the province undergo tremendous change, which we know today as la Révolution Tranquille. Amongst the upheavals in the education system, the role of women (who didn't get the vote until 1940) and social services, the most significant change was language. French became the official language of Québec (Canada also became officialy bilingual). Since then (and boy am I skipping out a lot), the largest political question in Québec is whether or not it should become a truly independent nation. This is the issue that most of us have grown up with. There have been two referenda where the province voted on whether to stay in the confederaton or not. Both times, they voted against it, though the second result was really close.

I consider myself a Canadian patriot. Probably more patriotic than most (currently preparing to defend against the US Water Invasions of '16). Ironically, this fervour is most likely a result of my years in the states. I came to Québec being completely against separation. First, as Russia slowly disintegrates, we edge closer to becoming the largest country in the world. Second, I consider having a powerful, rich and distinct culture as an incredible gift that we should cherish and nurture. Third, Québec is a fundamental part of our history, as is every other region. We exist because of the sum of our parts.

Negatively, I considered fervent separatists to be driven by resentment and emotion. Also, their complaining, except for the language argument, sounds exactly like every other bitching province in this country. In B.C. they are always moaning (and always have) about the federal government imposing laws on them, taking their money, etc... I take the long, historical view in of social structures and I'm shooting for Star Trek world, so I think the provinces can suck it up for the sake of building a strong nation for the better of all.

Culturally, I think every anglo should have the opportunity to spend some time in Québec, just as every quebecer should spend some time in the west (not Ontario, that wouldn't help them much) so that both can benefit from what the other has to offer, which I know now, to be plenty. When we are presented to the world as Canadians, we look good by being already exposed to such a different (and often contrary) culture within our own borders.

Finally, I always held to the common argument that Québec would not be able to survive on its own economically.

As I say, those were the feelings that I had when I moved here. They have changed somewhat, in a way that is surprising to me. I will share those with you in tomorrow's posting...


Buzby said...

A good start. You should really dig into it and find out all the current reasons for and against seperation. It'd be cool to understand it all.

Jason L said...

I agree. The "fabric" of Canada is weak enough as it is with out the country being physically and politically divided. I think you hit the nail on the head when you point out that the general ineptitude of Canadian politicians over the past 25 years has soured your average anglo on questions of national identity.

There hasn't been a politician since Trudeau who has inspired in the way I think they should (not to say he was perfect).

You didn't mention the anglo exodus from Montreal. Was this after the last referendum? Is it possible that, for the anglos at least, the deviciveness of the period caused them to be shy of expressions of politics?

OlmanFeelyus said...

Holy shit! So now you guys want me to be doing real research and actually learning about facts and stuff!

The anglo exodus happened after the Parti Québécois got in power for the first time in 1977. They introduced bill 101 early the following year which severely limited english language usage (or strengthened french language usage, depending on how you look at it). It made french the official language with laws, signs and limited teaching of english in schools among other things. Sun Life Insurance was the first of the yellow running dogs to leave Québec claiming economic insecurity. Capitalism seems so tough when it's got all the institutions on its side (military, political, propaganda) but it shows it's ultimate weakness pretty quickly!

Anyways, I'm going to expand on this political current and pass forward information as I come to it. It's a pretty fascinating history actually, going all the way back.