Thursday, February 24, 2005

Politics, finally (part 2)

So not to freak anyone out or anything. I haven't become a full-fledgled separatist. Not yet at least. But I am beginning to understand and sympathise with the separatist viewpoint more and more.

This separatist viewpoint encompasses a spectrum of positions. Obviously, they are all united by the common desire to turn Québec into a sovereign nation. But surrounding that one goal, there are extremes of views and ranges of motivations, many of which I don't support. For instance, last week, wedged between the plexiglass cover and the subway ads, were these black and white photocopied flyers promoting a demonstration downtown in memory of the hanging of the Dozen Patriots in 1839. They had an image of Queen Victoria on them and quotes from various Québec writers and political figures. All of these quotes had the word hate in them. I wish I had been able to get a copy so that I could include the quotes, but one I can paraphrase said "The first step in the road to freedom is to hate the oppressor" and another said something like, "Québec will not learn to be independent until she learns to hate."

Or there is this website, promoting an independent Québec. Reading some of the passages of their history of modern Québec reveals their underlying resentment, like this one, on the result of the first referendum:

1980 : As promised, Lévesque holds his referendum on sovereignty. The sovereignists mostly use a calm and moderate approach (specifying that the vote is not for sovereignty itself, but for a mandate to negociate it), while Trudeau's federalists will pull no punches, multiplying menaces and threats (you won't be able to afford gas, you won't be able to afford food, you'll lose your pensions, etc...), creating fear in the population. Trudeau will finally promise a great reform of Canada. In the end, 60% of Québécois choose to vote NO.

They also refer to the night when Trudeau signed the new constitution as "The Knight of the Long Knives." I don't know if that is what it is generally called, but it's a shameful comparison, considering that the first usage of that term refers to the blackshirts murdering the brownshirt leaders and allowing the extremists to take control of the Nazi party and eventually all of Germany. People were actually stabbed to death with long knives in the german version.

Anyways, you can get a taste of the bitterness that exists in many of the separatists argument. I have no patience for that kind of short-term emotional thinking in politics.

However, there are a lot of separatists who are very positive, who feel quite respectful and even friendly towards the rest of Canada. It is their arguments that are hard to defeat.

Basically, and fundamentally, they don't feel like a part of Canada. They feel ignored culturally,, and I have to say, that having been here for almost a year now, I agree with them. Most of English Canada has no idea what French-Canadian life is like. The food, the discourse, the social behaviour, the style of dress, the movies and books. Yes, many of us learn to speak french. But that's like learning to type and then saying you understand the internet. It really is a whole other world here. And what is especially frustrating, is that it's a great world! French Canadians really enjoy their lives, I'd say more so than English Canadians. But we're not taking. We're just not interested. So why should they bother clinging to a federation that doesn't really want them. Especially when they are quite happy without us?

Economically speaking, Québec is much more self-dependant than I realized. I don't know the numbers on any of this, so I could be very wrong. But as far as the service economy goes, Québec has it's own built in audience. They print their own books, make their own TV shows and movies (far better than their rare english equivalents, guess what, Canada, they learned to make their movies entertaining! [I exclude FUBAR from this point, of course.]. They also have a thriving software industry and the talent and educational system to keep it growing. They produce a lot of their own food, having an extensive agriculture community (that still relies on a lot of family farms) and of course they lucked out on their production of hydro power, having bought the rights to Churchill Falls in Labrador (the the endless resentment of the Newfies) until 2041 for next to nothing. Finally, they are growing weed at the rate and quality of B.C. They have a strong economic base and the kind of cultural and economic unity to keep it together. They would have strong export markets in the states and in Canada. Sounds viable to me, but I'm open to arguments from people who actualy know what they are talking about.

Finally, provincially, at this point, anyways, I may very well vote for the Parti Québecois. Why? Because their social platform is the best out there. It's a pretty pathetic selection, mind you. The Liberals, under Jean Charest, seemed more moderate at first. Since I've been here, though, they are wavering between being revealing their hidden pro-business anti-poor agenda and just being completely incompetent. I'm sure once the PQ is back in power, it will take them a year or two to screw things up as well. For now, though, the Liberals have just been so pathetic that there is no way that I could vote for them. I would've voted Green (which I did in the federal election), but now I'm hearing that the Green party has been co-opted by the NIMBY far right. Other than that, there are the communists and they are kind of cool in a PG Wodehouse sort of way, but that's not enough to earn my vote. Negatives aside, the PQ have a very strong historical belief in social programs and an equal society (language issues excluded here). They pushed for immigration and assimilation of immigrants to Quebec, they consistently support education, child care and the environment and they'll do it at the sacrifice of big business, which the Liberals never will. Unfortunately, they also tag the separatism issue along with all that.

I'm still a Canadian, still believe in one ass-kicking, beer-drinking, apologizing nation. But I can see much more clearly now where the separatists are coming from.


Buzby said...

You write that, "basically, and fundamentally, they don't feel like a part of Canada. They feel ignored culturally." How will this situation improve if they seperate? It seems that they will just become more isolated: not in engaged with a disinerested and bitter English Canadian population and too far away from France to have a meaningful interaction.

OlmanFeelyus said...

It won't improve, but that's not the point. The point is why should they stay connected to some other culture that has nothing to do with them and from which they don't benefit? It's more of an argument against staying than one for going.

Jason L said...

You make an interesting argument which I see repeated all over the world. There are a vast number of cultural, religious and political groups in these entities we call a country.

Quebec is often portrayed in the world media as a disaffected region like the Basques or the Tamils. Look at a map of the world from 20 years ago and you can see that the old country concept is fracturing.

I think what your average French Canadian has to ask themselves is what benefit it serves (on all levels) to keep moving in a secessionist direction. I am from BC and definitely feel antipathy towards Ottawas shortsightedness. We really have more ties to an Ecotopian west coast region. I for one, however, feel that having Quebec within Canada makes everyone richer. I am sorry that they feel ignored culturally but get over it!

Vive le Canada!

Anonymous said...

We need not worry about Quebec separation, because, to put it bluntly Quebecers simply don't have the courage or backbone to make the leap. Twice now they have had the chance and showed their cowardice.
Relax, it will never happen. I realize this comment may anger some but who cares? A coward's anger is nothing to be concerned about. Also many in the west think the same thing of Quebecers. I simply said what they are thinking.

Anonymous said...

I think you have hot the center of that whole debate. I'm a separatist, always have always will.

I don't hate the rest of Canada. I love talking about the other regions of Canada. I never been in BC, but I always wanted to.

I think every Québécois should learn to speak English because we need it. But I also think that every Québécois should learn to speak French because, well, that's a big part of our identity. We must protect the French, because we will lose it very fast if we don't.

But like you said, I don't feel like a Canadian. Am I better, not at all. Am I worst, hope not. I'm just different. And I don't feel like the rest of the Canada understand why I'm different.

And to be honest, I never understood why the Rest of Canada so strongly want to keep us. There's the economic reason I guess, but other than that? They always complain about the fact that we are ungrateful and weird and selfish.

As for the comment of David from Alberta, I prefer not to say anything because I don't want to be mean. But I will just say that comments like that don't help the Québécois feel at home in the rest of Canada...