Sunday, December 7, 2014

Getting Past Survival

For more than a century, survival was the principal theme of Quebec’s view of its own history. Beginning in the 1950s, Quebec intellectuals came to a different understanding of their past, one that demystified the ideology of survival and required a break with it. But now it seems they are returning to survivalist mode. This has a high social cost, which almost no one talks about. The way out of this trap is through independence, which would allow Quebecers, once having acquired political control of their own nation, to cease being nationalists.

What has happened to us? Where are we now in our history as survivors, we whose beginnings were so poorly assured, so badly rooted, in the political sense of the term, that to justify the paradox of our presence, and our French persistence, we had to manufacture mythical heroes and invent for ourselves a providential mission on this continent? To explain this crutch from the imagination, the sociologist Fernand Dumont even went so far as to speak of aborted origins, a “childhood trauma” that occurred long before the English conquest of New France. It’s hardly a recipe for stable kids.

And yet, here we still are, in the precarious equilibrium between the YES and the NO that history has given us, hanging on in our survivors’ way.

We came here 300 years ago and we stayed here. Those who brought us here could return without bitterness or sorrow, for even if it is true we have not learned much, one thing sure: we have forgotten nothing [ ... ]. Of ourselves and our destinies, we have clearly understood only the following duty: persist ... Keep on ... And we have kept on. So well that in a few more centuries the world may turn to us and say: This people belong to a race which does not know how to die ... What we are is a witness.

That’s the personification of the country in Maria Chapdelaine: I must admit I can never reread these lines, written in 1912 by a Frenchman visiting the “country of Québec,” without emotion. They evoke the long winter of our survival, the quiet resistance of those people who came from France during the 17th and 18th centuries and, following the Conquest, had to learn to survive as a distinct “race.” It was a hazardous apprenticeship, which went mostly unrecorded. We mustn’t believe that our ancestors (who in 1760 were no more than 70,000 people spread over a vast territory) came equipped with a collective survival plan. If survival was not the “miracle” that everyone claims, neither was it, at least not at the beginning, a national project (un projet de société). It was, rather, a second-best solution, a patchwork program: Survival was the response to an historic dead end. The French community in Canada faced both the threat of assimilation and the conqueror’s refusal to welcome it as an equal partner in new political arrangements. Powerless to use these arrangements to create a republic — as witness the failure of the Rebellion — it was reduced, after the Act of Union of 1840, to seeking its raison d’être in the preservation of its language, its religion and its lifestyle. The road to political freedom was impassable, but that to survival remained, and the community ended up making this its avocation: Survive and be witness.

But surviving is not living, as the historian Michel Brunet liked to say. This had been recognized by Lord Durham himself, a century before. In his famous report, he had argued that the French in Canada, if they survived, would become vulgarized, and he therefore recommended assimilation. As shocking as this conclusion is, we are forced to recognize the soundness of the argument on which his recommendation was based. When French Canadians left their farms and their parishes at the end of the 19th century to go and live in the cities, they effectively became, as Durham had warned, mostly unskilled workers employed by English capitalists — that is, a proletarian people, the same proletarian people whose docility Maurice Duplessis proclaimed to English and American capitalists, even when he had to impose it with his policemen’s clubs.

Michel Brunet, historian and essayist
We had to wait until the mid-1950s before we could start to see the real political causes of French Canadians’ economic inferiority. The names of three great historians of “the Montreal School,” Maurice Séguin, Guy Frégault and Michel Brunet, are associated with this new awareness. During the profound transformation then taking place, one that waylaid traditional ideologies, these three authors produced a complete reinterpretation of our history, based on the Conquest and on the crushing mortgage it still imposed on the future of the nation and the individuals who comprised it. The new historiography challenged the compensatory myths (equality of both founding peoples, the French mission in America, etc.) that until then had nurtured nationalism and survival, but despite that it did not conclude that nationalism should be jettisoned — as the intellectuals of Cité libre concluded during those years — but instead laid the foundations of an integrating nationalism that was economic, political and cultural at the same time, and to which a large proportion of Québec’s intelligentsia were to rally during the 1960s and 1970s.

Almost 50 years after the birth of this new type of nationalism, and nearly a quarter century after the election of the first Parti Québécois government, it seems to me that, contrary to what some would have us believe, not only are we not yet out of the survival period, but we may be in the process of forgetting why we had to undertake the Quiet Revolution to escape from it. This oblivion represents a collective memory crisis in which both the identity and the future of the nation are at stake.

Our former name of “French Canadians” provided a simple definition for us: Our language, our religion, our customs told us what we were. Anyone could recognize him or herself as a member of a nation whose distinctive characteristics were, above all else, crucial to preserve. Defined on the basis of strictly cultural criteria, this French Canadian identity allowed for a division between the cultural nation and the political nation. More precisely, it assumed that the French Canadian nation could survive as a minority cultural nation within a political nation over which it had no control. Pierre Trudeau — no more than Laurier or Saint-Laurent before him — did not challenge this assumption. His personal success had the effect of, once again, mystifying us by masking the political and collective reality of a problem which this success in itself claimed to solve. According to Trudeau, the problem was due more than anything else to an outdated way of thinking that had to be changed. In a Machiavellian way, Trudeauism thus exploited the French-Canadian voluntarism from which it had itself descended.

French Canadian.” During the 1950s intellectuals, especially poets, began to suspect that this name was only, and had always been, a decoy, a mirror used to attract larks (“Alouette, je te plumerai, etc.”). The agony of French communities outside Québec amply reveals that O Canada, whether sung in French or in English, is a bell that tolls for the French language and culture in America. The substitution of the word “Québécois” to replace “French Canadian” at the turn of the 1960s showed that people had woken up to this “velvet genocide” and resolved to put an end to it before it was too late. The new name involved the death of the old one, and of all things Canadian: The concept of country had to be less encompassing if it was to be understandable, if we were finally to become “masters in our own house,” as the political slogan of the Quiet Revolution claimed.

This control of self, this political independence, is taking a dangerously long time to come about. Forget for a moment the rather volatile results of the last referendum and consider the current state of Québec nationalism. What’s most striking is the growing indifference of those we now call “francophones Québécois” regarding the question of their national identity — as if the question was drifting further and further from common culture and political controversy, and floating off into the rarefied air of philosophical debate among university-specialists-in-the-national-question; as if, on the other hand, Québec intellectuals believed they could (finally) “ponder the Québec nation” in complete objectivity, setting aside the fact that they themselves belong to it. No doubt they can, but at what price? What is hidden behind this epistemological rupture whose consequences fill the shelves of our libraries? Shame of being ourselves? Shame of our past? Shame of the Groulx who may well still slumber inside us? Things were not always so.

Gaston Miron, poet and writer
The intellectuals of the previous generation (the Fernand Dumonts, the Gaston Mirons, the Pierre Vadeboncoeurs, etc.) never placed themselves above the throng, never set themselves apart from the collective adventure. They took up the unhappy conscience of their nation as if it were their own. (“I tie myself to everything, even to garbage, if I must,” wrote Miron the Magnificent). Their assumptions and their aims were ethical above all, even before being political. And so they never believed that to start thinking about the future of their nation, they had to make a clean sweep of the past. Nor did they believe that it was sufficient to dismiss “our master the past” no longer to be its prisoner. Instead, they backed the “future of memory,” hoping it was possible to cull new meanings from the past, meanings until then forgotten, repressed or censored. Paul Ricoeur wrote somewhere that “Memory has two functions. It ensures time-related continuity, allowing us to move along the time axis; and it lets us recognize ourselves, and say ‘me’ or ‘mine’.”

Does historical memory not fill analogous functions for a nation, by allowing those who are part of it to recognize themselves as such and to say, without shame, “we” or “us”? Denial and shame of the past also proceed from memory, but from a memory burdened by what Freud called “repetition compulsion,” a memory haunted by the remembrance of our past defeats and humiliations, a memory that is missing what the very same Ricoeur called “active forgetfulness” and the “work of remembering.” This work is not the exclusive jurisdiction of certified intellectuals. It relies on a collective education to which all those in charge of a soul are invited. Our identity has to be re-made. It is often said that this identity is now just a question of language. But language is not solely a tool of communication. It also carries memory, whose updating depends in turn, and in large part, on the mastery of language. We will only be masters in our own house when we have won our language back. This was well understood by the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada but also, in Québec itself, by the William Johnsons and Howard Galganovs.

Fernand Dumont, sociologist and philosopher
Fernand Dumont was roundly criticized when he wrote in Raisons communes that there is no Québec nation in the cultural sense of the term — which actually seems pretty obvious to me. What there is, he said, is a French nation, or a French-speaking nation, that constitutes the majority nation within a Québec society in which there are also other, minority nations. An independentist from the very first day, Dumont was also a humanist, and always deeply respectful of the other person in what makes him most “other”: his language and his culture. Moreover, Québec independence needn’t give birth to a new nation-state, but to a new political community (or nation, if you wish) based on the equality of all citizens, whether francophone, anglophone, allophone, or Native. In other words, the reconciliation of the cultural and political nation which Dumont wished for at the end of his Genèse de la société québécoise did not in his mind require them to be one. Dumont used to say that if he was a nationalist, it was from necessity, and that he would never have been one had he been born the citizen of a great nation sure of itself and its future. For him, nationalism was nothing but a means — the means, in this case, that our little nation needed first to survive and then to try to get past the survival in which it had vegetated for more than two centuries. Because survival has its price, a very high price. The fact that nobody talks about it, or at least not any longer, says a lot about the depth of our social failure and the censorship that our privileged cultural class exercises over our culture. Will they ever forgive Dumont for bypassing this censorship and brutally asking the question, “Is a nation such as ours worth continuing?

For me, to be a nationalist today in Québec means answering YES to this question — in the hope that one day our children will not have to ask it, will not have to be nationalists, and can finally, simply, belong to their own nation. As for what’s ahead for us: I am no better able than anyone else to guess the consequences of events taking place during my own life — in which I am participating fully, with my own biases, hopes and fears. To know the meaning of history, as so many 20th century intellectual oracles have boasted, begins with a more or less conscious willingness to escape to the darkness in which De Tocqueville saw “the man of the democratic centuries” advancing, when the past does not shed any light on the future. It is a pitch darkness indeed. Let us not search for new alibis to justify our old fears. Let us interpret it instead as a call for new challenges — the unavoidable challenges that confront small nations who want to go on living in the era of globalization. We will take on these challenges with the same courage we summoned before, during the darkest hours of our survival.

By Serge Cantin, lecturer in political philosophy at l’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, 2000.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bill 101 for the brainwashed and the amnesiacs

Bill 101 or the Charter of the French language is often depicted as an excessive, anti-liberal, freedom-destroying law with questionable aims. Anglos don't or simply refuse to understand the need for this law and its purpose. Even when you point out its achievements like increasing bilingualism in Quebec or ending old social inequalities between francophones and anglophones, they refuse to acknowledge that anything good has ever come from what they consider to be an odious law which has “victimized” them.

I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising, the anglophone media doesn’t exactly present a balanced view of this laws. All we ever really hear about is incidents where the application of this law seems frivolous and those incidents usually get pretty distorted. For example, asking an Italian restaurant to include French translations of the Italian headings on its menu becomes “QUEBEC WANTS TO BAN THE WORD PASTA!” and so forth. Good luck having an intelligent conversation about Bill 101 with someone who has been raised on a steady diet of that crap.

There are even some francophone Quebecers who seem to be completely clueless as to why we even have this law. They’re not afraid of English. They’ve spoken to anglophones before and they weren’t assimilated so what’s the point of this law. Why indeed… Let’s start with a common question:

French in Quebec had survived for 400 years before Bill 101 so why do you need it now?

Well, the short answer is this: After the Conquest, French in North America survived as the language of an ethnic group, a group that refused to assimilate. But power and money, unsurprisingly, ended up firmly in the hands of the English conqueror. To get anywhere in our society you basically had to assimilate or serve the interests of the British rulers in some way. Bill 101 transformed French from the language of an ethnic group who happened to be the majority in Quebec to the language of our society, the common language of Quebecers. It has made it possible in Quebec to do pretty much whatever you want to do in life and to succeed at the highest levels in French. This had not existed here since the Conquest.

To quote historian Charles-Philippe Courtois:
After 1760, Canadiens not only lost their commercial empire in the West but most of their access to executive positions, to the detriment of individual socio-economic success and the capacity to shape their destiny as a people. Before 1760, Canadiens had access to most of the most important business, military, and political positions in the colony, as illustrated (toward the end of the regime) by Philippe de Rigaud Vaudreuil (1698-1778), the last governor general of New France, a Canadien born and raised in Canada. 
After the Conquest, not only did the population lose some of their elites, who moved on to pursue their careers elsewhere in the French Empire, but those who remained in New France lost their handle on government, administration, big business, and the military. The Canadien gentry entered into decline. Gradually, the colony’s elites were overwhelmingly composed of the WASP minority, power residing in the hands of London and of men nominated by Britain. Later that overarching power shifted to Ottawa, an almost entirely English-speaking government before the 1970s, and one that from Quebec’s perspective remains today the expression of an English-Canadian majority, even if at times with strong Quebec contingents.
Quebecers, especially after the failure of the Patriote rebellion of 1837-38, came to accept their inferior status to the English and a certain stability set in. Mansions in Westmount and slums in St-Henri, that was the accepted norm. This continued until the 1960s. A new consciousness arose in the sixties. It was fueled by external factors like the end of European empires and the decolonization of the Third World. And it was also fueled by internal factors like the growing rejection of the old order, i.e. the influence of Catholic Church in Quebec society and the puppet leaders who served the interests of wealthy Anglos (both foreign and domestic).

The declining birthrate among francophones combined with the wave of immigrants coming to Quebec after WWII overwhelmingly joining the ranks of the anglophone community was threatening to change the demographic balance in Montreal. Without integrating more immigrants, francophones were destined to become a minority. This had happened before in the 19th century but with a low birthrate there would be no coming back. The future of French in a city dominated by English was bleak and there was a growing realization that things needed to change.

An impressive number of studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s documented the relatively low usage of French and the inferior economic status of francophones in the workplace.

Some facts about Quebec before Bill 101:
  • 83% of the directors and managers in Quebec were anglophones; 
  • Francophones earned on average 35% less than anglophones;
  • Francophones came 12th in the income distribution by ethnicity, just before the Italians and Native people;
  • Even with the same level of education, francophones earned less than anglophones of any background; 
  • Unilingual anglophones earned more than bilingual francophones;
The government of Quebec is the only government in North America which is controlled by francophones and is therefore the only government that truly represents our national interests. And so the government of Quebec in the 1960s and 1970s implemented some very important reforms in the areas of economy, education and language which aimed to change the course of our collective destiny. One of the most important reforms was the Charter of the French Language. This law transformed Quebec society.

Bill 101 was adopted on August 26, 1977. The preamble to the Charter sets out the Quebec legislator's principles of action. It indicates the National Assembly's resolve "to make of French the language of Government and the Law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business." It recognizes the valuable contribution of the ethnic minorities to the development of Québec and the right of the Amerindians and the Inuit of Québec to develop their language and culture of origin. The preamble also specifies that the National Assembly intends to pursue the Charter's objective with all due respect for the Quebec English-speaking community's institutions.

The Charter proclaims that French is the official language of Québec. It then enumerates a series of "fundamental language rights", such as the rights of workers to carry on their activities in French, and of consumers of goods and services to be informed and served in French. French is recognized as the language of the legislature and the courts in Québec, although judgments and proceedings may be in English, if the parties so agree. The French language becomes the language of communications of the government, its departments and affiliated agencies as well as of government-owned firms and the professional corporations. The administration of municipal, school and health bodies may be carried out in both French and another language if these bodies serve a clientele where more than half speak a language other than French. As for commerce and business, French becomes the mandatory, but not the exclusive, language for labels, signs and commercial advertising (with many exceptions).

The Charter of the French language states that French is the mandatory language of instruction in kindergarten, elementary and secondary school classes. This principle holds for both schools run by school boards entirely financed by the Québec state and for private school that receive some of their funding from the government.

The Charter nevertheless makes an exception to this principle and gives several categories of pupils the right to instruction in English in public or private schools financed by the state under the same conditions as for French-language schools. Canadian Children whose parents received their elementary instruction in English in Canada may receive instruction in English. The Charter protects some acquired rights. Children who, at the coming into force of the law in 1977, had received their instruction in Québec or in Canada in English, retained the right to continue their studies in English.

The law recognized that the Aboriginal peoples of Québec could provide instruction in an Amerindian language. The languages of instruction of the Cree and Kativik School Boards are Cree and Inuktitut respectively, although English and French are taught as second languages.

The anglophone community has had its own social institutions - hospitals, school boards, colleges and universities - since well before Bill 101 came into force. It manages and improves them as it sees fit and they offer Quebec's English-speaking population a varied and full range of services in English. The Charter of the French language did not intend to question either the continuity of these institutions or the principle of the freedom to provide services in the client's language. What changed was the provision that no Quebecer would be wronged by the lack of service in French and that the public acts of governmental and parastatal institutions be carried out in French, exclusively or concurrently with another language.

The results of these reforms were dramatic. The labor market disadvantages of francophones during the 1960s and 1970s were largely redressed by the 1980s. Francophones made significant advances in the workplace in terms of earnings as well as in other dimensions, such as representation in highly-paid professions and managerial positions and ownership of enterprises. In addition, the use of French in the workplace dramatically increased and the historic link between francophone workers and low income disappeared. Also, proficiency in French among the immigrant communities of Quebec and even among Quebec anglophones rose dramatically after Bill 101 and has remained so.

It’s hard to argue that there were no inequalities in the past and it’s hard to deny that Bill 101 went a long way in redressing these inequalities so the usual counter argument is to say that if francophones were economically disadvantaged in the past, it was their own fault. You see, saying that it was our fault is meant to delegitimize our solution to the problem, since it affects Anglos who, according to this narrative, were merely innocent bystanders. 

You’ll often hear something like this:

The reason francophones were poor and completely absent from the higher economic levels is that their priests told them to avoid others and to stay on the land.

This is, in fact, a favorite anglophone myth. Francophones weren’t poor because of economic exclusion and cultural domination, they were poor because they sheepishly listened to their priests who told them to stay on their farms… Yet when the rural areas in Quebec were overpopulated, approximately 900,000 francophones of Quebec left despite the objections of the clergy. They were attracted by the rapid industrialization in New England and the economic opportunities that it brought. If those opportunities had been available to them closer to home they surely would have taken them.

By 1890, an estimated 50 to 150 families of British descent living in the "Golden Square Mile" and Westmount, owned more than a third of Canada's wealth. Montreal was Canada's largest city and its Anglo elite dominated the country. Francophones were not part of the club. The francophone elite remained mostly made up of doctors, lawyers, and priests..."essential services" for the bodies and souls of cheap labor.

Contrary to popular mythology in English Canada, it was the economic shift from Montreal to Toronto, accelerated by the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway, that made a francophone renaissance in Montreal possible. Had Montreal remained the economic center of Canada, all of the people who flocked to Toronto would have come here instead making Quebec's metropolis an English city and Quebec culture would have remained a museum piece frozen in time.

But Toronto took over and many Montreal Anglos followed the jobs to Toronto. This enabled us to take control of our society and of our economy. With the creation of institutions like la Société générale de financement and La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec capital was suddenly made available to francophone entrepreneurs. Private companies like Cascades, Bombardier, Lavalin, Provigo, Quebecor, etc., benefited from these policies. In 1960 Francophones only controlled 47% of Quebec's economy. By 2000 they controlled 67%. That's a substantial achievement by any standard.

By the 1980s Quebec society harvested the benefits of the economic, educational and language policies adopted during the two previous decades. The rise of new generations of highly trained people transformed all walks of life. Francophones also gained a much higher profile. In the large Canadian and American corporations operating in Québec, where they had long been confined to the lower ranks, they rapidly rose to prominent positions. Private enterprises owned by Francophones became much more numerous and powerful; some of them, such as Bombardier and Quebecor, achieved the status of multinational corporations.

Bill 101 was a big part of the changes which took us from being an underprivileged ethnic group to a nation capable of achieving big things like creating the world's largest hydroelectric producer, Hydro-Quebec, and a nation that can accept and integrate immigrants. We are far more in control of our destiny today than at any time since the conquest and independence is the logical next step. But Quebec Anglos can't see anything positive in the changes we brought about, changes that benefited the majority of Quebecers. They even deny that there was anything wrong with the old order. If we were poor back then, it was our own fault. If a unilingual Anglo struggles in today's Quebec, it's our fault. We are always to blame... 

Our crime is and has always been our insistence on existing in our own right and not assimilating. You see, in the great Canadian multicultural mosaic there is an unwritten law which says that the Anglo-Saxon culture will always come first. They will ban your language from their schools or they will forcibly take your kids away and stick them in deadly residential schools if you don't comply. This is why wanting Quebec's culture and language to come first in Quebec is endlessly denounced as "ethnic nationalism" by Canadians. It's not that it is more "ethnic" in any way, it is simply that it is the wrong ethnic group.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Myths and fallacies about Québec

Fallacy: An argument, or apparent argument, which professes to be decisive of the matter at issue, while in reality it is not; a sophism. The point of an argument is to give reasons in support of some conclusion. An argument commits a fallacy when the reasons offered do not, in fact, support the conclusion. This is independent of whether or not a conclusion is true or false. For example, it is true that some cats are black, but it will never be true that they are black because Oceania is a continent. In this case, the fact that Oceania is a continent, a true assertion, cannot be the reason why some cats are black, another true assertion.

Sophism: Deliberately invalid argument displaying ingenuity in reasoning in the hope of deceiving someone.

Myth: A fallacy that sticks around for a long time. 

1. Quebecers rejected separation on two referendums and by doing so indicated that they clearly wish to stay in Canada.

Quebecers rejected propositions for constitutional changes by referendum on three occasions: at the 1980 referendum on Sovereignty-Association, the 1992 referendum on the Charlottetown Accord and the 1995 referendum on Sovereignty with partnership. The 1992 referendum was initiated by the federal government of Canada, while the other two were initiated by the government of Québec. To find out the details on these, read the Constitutional saga page. There never was a referendum on the status quo, only a few polls with (unfortunately) vague questions most of the time. The most reliable polls seem to indicate that at best 20% of Quebecers are satisfied with the Canadian federation in its current shape. There is roughly 80% of the population that is not satisfied with the 1982/1867 constitution. This 80% (6 million people) is divided between those who wish to reform the federation (nationalist-federalists) and those who want Quebec to leave the federation and be a sovereign country (sovereignists). Both sides have so far failed to gather a majority of the vote at decisive moments. About one half (of the 80% who wish for a change) wants to give more autonomy to Québec within the Canadian framework through profound constitutional changes, the other half doesn't believe that any such transformations within the current regime could bring justice and equality to Québec and consequently opt for independence. It is a fallacy to claim that Quebecers have expressed a strong wish to "stay" in Canada, because people who voted No are not necessarily people who wish for no constitutional change.

Here's how the logic works: A bicycle is green. A group of people want to paint it red, another want to paint it blue and the remainder, a minority, want to leave it as it is. A majority is dissatisfied with the green color of the bicycle. A referendum is passed. The question is: "Do you want to paint the bicycle in blue?". 40% vote Yes and 60% vote No. Therefore, a majority does not want to paint the bicycle in blue. However, this does not mean that a majority wants the bicycle to remain green! Quebecers have expressed their division between the options of constitutional reforms and independence (red and blue in the analogy). Read the information on Indirect Rule to learn about methods used by colonial regimes to divide the opinion of conquered masses. Québec's national issue is as of today still unresolved.

2. Canada is a bilingual country.

First, "being a bilingual country" is a vague statement. What is true is that since 1968, the federal government defines Canada as a bilingual country in the sense that its administration pretends to offer equivalent services in both English and French, according to the preference of the citizen and where the number of speakers justifies the expense. 9 out of 10 provinces in Canada have a solid English-speaking majority. The exception to this rule is Québec, where about 80% of the population is French-speaking. According to Statistics Canada, 85% of the total French-speaking population of Canada resides in Québec. This normally leads people to think that Canada is bilingual in the sense that part of the country is English-speaking while another part is French-speaking. That is not what the federal government claims and in fact denies this geographic reality because this would imply a recognition the province of Quebec's unique character as a predominantly French-speaking society.

There is an interesting paradox between the linguistic realities of Canada and Quebec and their respective language policies. On one hand, Canada presents itself to the world as a bilingual nation (whatever that is supposed to mean) while in reality it is very much an English-speaking nation-state which contains an anglicized French-speaking province. On the other hand, while Quebec presents itself to the world as a French-speaking non-sovereign nation, it is in fact the most bilingual part of Canada. To understand how this came to be, we invite you to read the History section of this site. Here is an overview:

For many generations, Francophone Quebecers born under the Dominion flag dreamed of a beautiful idealized bilingual and bi-national Canada because they saw the "confederation" of 1867 as a pact between two nations: the Canadiens (later Canadiens-français) and the "British Canadians" (eventually the "Canadians" alone). They demanded institutional bilingualism (bilingual currency, bilingual public administration, sometimes even bilingual schools) and most importantly, bilingualism throughout the federation just like in Québec.

In the 1960s, a new generation of Québec leaders finally abandoned this idea for many reasons. We recommend that you read on the Quiet Revolution to try fully understand the analysis of the situation that was made back then. One of the most important reasons for the rejection of bilingualism in Quebec can be understood by reading the statistics published by the 1962 Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Bi-nationalism (Laurendeau-Dunton). The socioeconomic picture of the Francophone communities of Canada was disastrous. For the first time, Quebecers got a clear picture of the use of the English and French languages inside Québec and inside the rest of Canada. Since the 1970s, successive Québec governments, federalist or sovereignist, support the idea that Québec should be as French-speaking as English Canada is English-speaking. Ironically, it is around that time that English Canada began idealizing institutional bilingualism.

3. Québec's economy is not strong enough for independence.

Before the 1960s, Québec was your typical British colony. Just like in India or Australia, the economy was mainly in the hands of loyal British subjects and was primarily based on the exploitation of natural resources (and workers). This is no longer the case in Ontario, Québec and to a lesser extent, in Alberta and British Columbia. Ontario and Québec have diversified post-industrial economies. Have a look at the economy of Ontario on the Government of Ontario's website. Also, read the sections dedicated to statistics and Québec's economy. It might also be useful to remind people that many former colonies declared independence under substantially more difficult circumstances.

4. Hundreds of businesses and hundreds of thousands of qualified English-speaking workers have left Québec because of the rise of separatism in Quebec.

Since the beginning of the industrialization of America, migrations from rural areas or declining cities to booming regions and cities is a well studies phenomenon. You can read a great book entitled Grapes of Wrath on the depopulation of Oklahoma in the United States. Montreal was the metropolis of English Canada from the late 1800s to the end of the Second World War, at the expense of Toronto, the largest city in Ontario. There has always been a great mobility of workers within Canada from the moment they were English-speaking. The same goes for the United States. It can be observed that within a booming city like Calgary for example, a great number of people are from the other Canadian provinces to the point that, together with the immigrants, they form the majority. The interprovincial migration of French-speaking Quebecers is a very different story. Indeed, to them, leaving Québec really felt (and still feels) like moving to another country. In fact, between the 1850s and the 1940s, no less than 900 000 Canadiens-français left Québec for jobs in the United States because of the political situation and its consequences in their home country. (See Laws against French in Canada.)

The case we are concerned with, the interprovincial migration of English-speaking workers from English Montreal to Ontario, can be rightfully studied in this context. The economic decline of (English) Montreal in favour of Toronto began a few decades before the rise of modern Québec. We recommend you read the book Remembrance of grandeur: the Anglo-Protestant elite of Montreal, 1900-1950 by Margaret W. Westley to learn about this. The exile of Anglophones in the 1970s and 1980s is an overly exaggerated myth. It is a fact that during this period a large number of people, mostly Anglophones, but also Francophones, moved out of Québec. Most of the time, they settled in other Canadian cities where English is the language of the majority, unlike in today's Montréal. The role played by Québec's rising pro-independence movement in this is marginal compared with the socio-economic transformations that occurred in Québec before and during the Quiet revolution. During the modernization of Québec society, the French-speaking majority reconquered its own economy and that obviously caused monolingual Anglophones to leave for places where they would not feel like immigrants by being forced to learn French in what they considered to be their own country. (Something Quebecers know very much about since the British Conquest.) The irresponsible and demagogic English-Canadian media, which propagated fear of the evil separatists amongst Anglophones undoubtedly contributed to the exile more than Francophones affirmative actions. The presence of Trudeau's soldiers in Montréal during the 1970 October Crisis surely did not help. As for the hundreds of businesses owned by Anglo-American interests that moved out of Québec, they were replaced by other ones owned by Quebecers. That is called decolonization. This phenomenon has be studies in all parts of the world conquered by the British, the French, the Spanish and the Portuguese.

5. Québec is not a good place to invest money. It is a politically unstable zone.

Canada is a politically unstable country. It will remain so until a) its constitution is reformed to recognize Québec as an equal nation or b) Québec becomes an independent country. Despite this, in recent years, foreign investments have grown faster in Québec than in other parts of Canada. Read the section dedicated to statistics on this site.

6. Québec is not a nation.

Québec is a nation in the sociological and political meaning of the word. In the English language, nation comes from Old French nation which itself comes from Latin nation which means "to be born". This word is unfortunately vague for it can designate different ideas or concepts. Nation can mean a people or a nationality which is a human group who shares some or all of the following attributes: customs, culture, religion, institutions, language and history. That's the definition of the United Nations at least. Another definition is that of the political nation, a human group that is politically organized under a single government, i.e. the government represents the whole people. These two definitions are not in contradiction with each other; as a matter of fact, they often complement one another: you typically have a nation (people) under a national government (state) for example.

Another meaning of the word nation in English is an independent country. Often, people will say that Québec is not a nation, meaning that it is not an independent country and in fact is just a province, a federated state. They are absolutely right on this. That is precisely why there is an independence movement in Québec.

7. The French language currently is and always has been well protected by Canadian and British laws.

Please read Laws against French. The French language is alive and (fairly) well in only one place in North America, in Québec where French is the language of the majority. The relative security and stability of Québec French is directly attributable to Quebecers' will to protect their national language and resist the consequences of Québec's position inside Canada.

8. Francophones were never threatened by assimilation in Canada.

The francophones of Canada belong to two distinct populations: the Acadiens and the Canadiens. The Acadian population was deported by the British government in the middle of the 18th century. It was hoped that by dispersing them in the other 13 colonies they would eventually assimilate in order to survive. To escape the deportation, many Acadians sought refuge in Québec, then known as Canada. Between 1755 and 1763, over 10,000 Acadian civilians, 75% of the total population, were deported. These events occurred in the middle of the French and Indian War and are considered to be among of the worst war crimes of North American history. You can read more on this subject in our section dedicated to history.

The Canadiens did not experience deportation. After the Conquest of 1759, there were about 70,000 inhabitants in Canada (modern day Québec). The British authorities believed that this population would be gradually assimilated under the pressure of British immigration from the neighbouring colonies and Great Britain. Summarizing the evolution of the Canadian political system, which directly conditioned the linguistic evolution of the country, is almost impossible. Rather, we will again invite you to visit the section dedicated to history and follow the amazing story of these 70,000 men and women. What we can say in a few words however is that if the assimilation attempts were ultimately unsuccessful in Québec, it is solely attributable to Quebecers' will to survive.

9. The Anglophone minority of Québec is oppressed.

The English-speaking community of Québec is arguably the most well-treated "minority" in the world. If the Francophones of Canada had been given the same rights as Anglophones, the entire history of the federation would have been different. One important detail is that even though the Anglophones are technically a "minority" in Québec, they are the majority in every other province, which means that the Canadian federation as a whole is largely English-speaking despite Ottawa's symbolic bilingualism. Anglophones are a linguistic majority inside Canada. It is Francophones who constitution the only linguistic minority among the two "official language" communities. The Québec government recognizes Anglophones' linguistic rights inside the Charter of the French language. The Québec government also finances a complete English language educational system from kindergarten to University. Québec Anglophones rarely get to feel like they are part of a minority; rather they often see Francophones as the minority (of Canada).

Mentalities evolve: today, a good number of Québec Anglophones also speak French as a second language and have no difficulty accepting the fact that French is the legitimate public language of this unique part of the world.

10. Quebecers are not an oppressed people and never suffered from the colonization of their country.

The consequences of British colonization in Canada were disastrous for the Québec people and even more disastrous for all Aboriginal nations. Discrimination of all kinds, social exclusion, collective as well as individual impoverishment, exile etc. Quebecers' resistance to assimilation and political oppression is a great lesson of courage for all small nations on Earth.

11. The French of Canada have no national culture of their own.

Ha! ha! ha! ha!

12. If Québec separates, it will isolate itself from the rest of North America and the world.

With the status of an independent nation, Québec will have a seat at the United Nations and every other international body where only nations are allowed to sit. By opening a real network of embassies throughout the world, Québec will be more present on the international scene and will build strong and everlasting links with all parts of the world. With full control over its economic, social, cultural policies, and the power to sign its own treaties, the rest of the world will know Québec and Québec will know the rest of the world more than ever in the past. Really, we feel this follows from the simplest and most down to earth logic there ever was. How did people start thinking otherwise? Or should we say, who could have propagated such a non-logical idea in the population?

Monday, July 14, 2014

July 1st: Why is the occasion so sad?

For any foreigner living in Quebec, the surprise is annual. Quebec’s national holiday, June 24th, is a major event.

Canada day, the first of July, is largely ignored. How did this situation come about, unthinkable in any normally constituted nation (and I am choosing my words carefully)?

It’s because there is a fundamental flaw. The first of July 1867, date of Canada’s founding, was a holiday and the authorities organized several events. The high clergy was very favorable towards confederation, knowing itself masters of the powers delegated to the new province, notably education, the means of its self-perpetuation.

The Québécois, then called the Canayens – the others were Les Anglais – were particularly concerned. In the intense debate at the time, the project’s leaders, such as the conservative George-Étienne Cartier, even promised to hold a referendum on the subject. But having tested that method in New-Brunswick, and having been told no, they went back on their word.

Elections were held from August to September 1867, and served as unofficial referenda. The Red party (of whom the Quebec Liberal Party is a distant descendant) opposed confederation and preferred instead that Quebec remain an autonomous province within the British Empire, a sovereignty-association before its time. 

That election was one of the most colorful in political history. First of all, as was normal at the time, the vote was not secret: the voters signed their name in a big open book. Only men 21 years and older possessing a minimal amount of wealth could vote, which reduced the electorate to a fraction of the adult population.

In addition, the clergy announced that voting for the Red party would be a “mortal sin” which would lead, for all eternity, to the flames of Hell. Mgr.Ouellet’s predecessors warned that the priests would even refuse absolution to the guilty, thus ensuring their damnation. (The historian Marcel Bellavance showed that in effect half as many absolutions were granted the following Easter than the previous one.)  As a preventative measure, the curates also refused absolution, in the confessional, to the faithful who admitted having read opposition newspapers.

The result: 40% of the voters didn't show up, refusing to commit that sin and thereby reducing the electoral population. Other techniques were used:

Kidnapping: In order to be a candidate, you had to be present on the prescribed day and hour for a “nominal call” of the candidatures. Why not kidnap the opposing candidate – they would say retract – during the time of the procedure?  This happened in three ridings, to the benefit of the conservatives.

The buy-off: Elsewhere, the conservative candidate, sometimes with the help of the parish priest, offered a sum of money or a nomination (nominations had to be approved by the clergy).  In exchange, the liberal would withdraw his candidature during the nominal call, which would instantly elect the conservative. This happened in two ridings.

The disenfranchisement: The officers in charge of the nominal call, often conservatives, had the power to “disenfranchise” a parish, which is to say to annul an election, on various pretexts. The liberal part of the riding of L’Islet – half of the voters – was thus “disenfranchised”, as in three liberal parishes of Kamouraska, giving a narrow victory in both cases to the conservatives.

In that election, the most fraudulent in Quebec’s history and even by the standards of the day, 45% of the voters (thereby a majority of Francophones, since the Anglos voted conservative) nevertheless defied the bans and voted against the federation. Quebec’s membership to Canada was thus decided by less than 10% of the adult population, less than 20% of adult males. The Canayens of the time knew and historians today know that had it been a free vote, the electorate would have predominantly refused membership in Canada.

These facts are obviously lost to the collective memory. But they help to explain why the first of July 1867 never constituted for the Francophones of Quebec an occasion worth celebrating. That is why we never transmitted, from generation to generation, the urge to celebrate … a fraud.

And yet …

Certain people accuse the “separatists” of wanting to hinder Canada by making the first of July the legal date for the end of leases, instead of the first of May as was the case previously. In fact, the change was decided by the Liberal justice minister, Jérôme Choquette, great scourge of the separatists in 1971. The reason: so as to not perturb the school year of children affected by the relocations.

By Jean-François Lisée, June 30, 2010

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Are you suffering from Dutch disease?

The Alberta tar sands (visual approximation)
Is your economy tired and listless? Are you losing jobs but don’t know why? Did your trade surplus turn into a deficit? Did you elect a bunch of corrupt Liberal lackeys who promised to cut everything under the sun, and yet the neoliberal heaven on earth hasn't materialized? Well, you may be suffering from Dutch disease. No, this has nothing to do with legalized prostitution. Dutch disease refers to a decline in the manufacturing sector of an economy as a result of an increase of the exploitation of a natural resource. The term was coined in the 1970’s to describe the effect of the discovery of a large natural gas field by the Netherlands in 1959. When the price of a raw material increases, exporters of this raw material receive more and more money from importing countries. Inevitably, the value of its currency increases proportionally to the price of the commodity, making their production in other sectors, especially the manufacturing sector, much less competitive. This is what happened in the Netherlands in the 1960’s and this is what is currently happening in Canada, especially since 2003.

Diagnosis: The oily source of the problem

The source of the ailment in our case is in a distant and foreboding land where an evil, black and sticky substance festers underneath the ground. Efforts to extract this substance have resulted in a devastated and toxic landscape. No, it's not Mordor. Rather, it’s a pestilential land called Alberta, where beer-bellied rednecks terrorize the countryside with their SUV’s and ten-gallon hats. And the toxic substance in question comes from a large and growing hole in the ground in northern Alberta. It's a particularly polluting form of oil that is affectionately called tar sands.  

Just as confinement in an oxygen depleted environment can foster harmful bacteria, prolonged exposure to conservative governments and the right-wing Canadian media produces harmful short-sighted conservative greed-weasels for whom money is more important than people and the environment. Ottawa has become the natural habitat of the Canadian greed-weasel. Their single-minded obsession with turning Canada into a global energy superpower, combined with the vast amounts of tar-laden sand in Alberta, has produced a noxious industry that exports oil throughout the world... well, 86% to the US, with most of the remainder going to Asia.

The effect of which is to drive up the value of the Canadian dollar relative to other currencies, which hurts the economies of provinces that depend on the export of manufactured goods. In Canada, the regions that benefit from rising commodity prices are not the same as the regions suffering the negative effects of the increase in the value of the currency and the loss of competitiveness in the manufacturing sector. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland are the big winners, Quebec and Ontario, the big losers. If Alberta and Quebec had distinct currencies, Alberta’s would be valued much more that Quebec’s. This would help Quebec’s exports but turn Alberta into a petrostate like Kuwait and Bahrain that exports oil and not much else. As it is, since both states share a currency, Alberta benefits from a Canadian dollar that is lower than what it should be (from its perspective), and Quebec is penalized by a Canadian dollar that is higher than what it should be.

Prognosis: The ever declining economy of Quebec

Without a drastic cure the future is bleak. According to a study by the CIBC there is a very strong link between rising oil prices and the rise in the Canadian dollar. It even says that the correlation between the increase in commodity prices, mainly oil, and the value of the dollar is approaching 100% (page 5)!

And this not very leftist bank, also mentions Dutch disease ...
"The impact of the Dutch disease on Canada’s factory sector has meant that what were once trade surpluses in auto parts, rail equipment and other manufactured goods are now deficits, leaving commodities as the sole source of Canada’s trade surplus by the end of the last expansion, and making the currency even more tied to commodities."
In fact, the trade balance of Quebec went from a surplus of $6 billion in 2002 to a deficit of more than $27 billion in 2010. In Ontario, it went from a surplus of $22 billion in 2002 to a deficit of $31 billion in 2010. In short, the trade balance deteriorated by $33 billion in Quebec between 2002 and 2010 and $53 billion in Ontario! Dutch disease is a disease that costs quite a bit of money for some people while enriching others. This, in turn, cost Quebec an estimated 55,000 manufacturing jobs in only five years which, of course, leads to other negative consequences for the economy. The value of the Canadian dollar is expected to increase in time (Jeff Rubin, former chief economist at the CIBC bank, believes that the Canadian dollar will eventually exceed the American dollar by as much as 20%), so things will only get worse for Quebec.

Prescription: Independence with a separate currency

Some claim that Quebec benefits from being in the Canadian federation because of the equalization payments it receives ($3.8 billion in 2003-2004 to $8.55 billion in 2010-2011). After all, even if the monetary policies or the investments in economic development of the federal government favors other provinces, you still get a wad of cash, right? Isn't that great? No, not if you consider that for at least ten years, one of the biggest problems of the Quebec economy has been the strong Canadian dollar. While the value of the Canadian dollar versus the US dollar rose from less than $0.63 in 2002 to parity in 2012, an increase of 37%, the international trade balance of Quebec went from a surplus of more than $6 billion to a deficit of nearly $29 billion (I know I'm repeating myself but it bears repeating). In percentage of GDP, this deteriorating international trade balance corresponds to a shift from a 2.4% surplus to a deficit of 8.1%! Does equalization really cover that? I don't think so. In any case, we are endlessly depicted in the Canadian media as transfer payment junkies or even beggars living off the largesse of Alberta. This is even parroted by clueless buffoons from Quebec like Conservative minister Maxime Bernier and Alain Bouchard, CEO of Couche-Tard.

By adopting a Quebec dollar, Quebec could greatly reduce this deficit, because it would be able to devalue its currency by at least 20% relative to the Canadian dollar which would make products from Quebec much more competitive and imports more costly. In addition, Quebec would gain an essential tool for getting out of a recession. It is also noteworthy that Iceland, which has its own currency, even though it only has slightly more than 300,000 inhabitants, was able to get itself out of the European recession while countries with much stronger economies are still undergoing austerity measures and unemployment rates above 25% in Southern Europe because they have adopted the euro... 

I'm not claiming that switching from the Canadian dollar to a Quebec dollar would happen without any hitches. There are dangers which is why the PQ prefers not to talk about it (even though they should). For example, the currency of a small country is always more vulnerable to currency speculation than that of ​​a large country. That said, this did not prevent speculators from attacking the British pound in 1992 ... In addition, the cost of imports, including those of petroleum, would increase significantly. But wouldn't this be an incentive to end our dependence on oil and perhaps switch to a greener, more hydroelectricity based economy? 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Montreal and Toronto

Montreal in the 1960s

To understand why sovereignty emerged as a serious issue in Quebec when it did, we must look at two cities, Montreal and Toronto. They are responsible for what has been happening in Quebec since World War II. Between them, they have converted Quebec into something resembling a new nation, provincial political status notwithstanding. Nobody planned this outcome. Nobody even recognized what was happening at the time it happened. The events that worked this transformation do not go back very far. We can date them statistically as having begun in 1941, but that is because 1941 was a census year. I suspect they began in 1939 with the outbreak of World War II and the beginnings of the Canadian war economy.

Let us begin with Montreal. Between 1941 and 1971, Montreal grew enormously. In those thirty years the city more than doubled its population, increasing to more than two million. Immigrants from other countries contributed to Montreal's growth; as did people from other parts of Canada. Of course, some of the growth was natural increase, accounted for by births in the population Montreal already had. But the major influx was from rural and small-town Quebec.

Before, rural Quebecois had migrated to Montreal, just as they migrated to Quebec City and to New England, but this new migration dwarfed previous rural-to-city movements within the provinces. The rapidity with which the movement happened and the absolute numbers of people involved were unprecedented.

The French-speaking migrants to Montreal spent the 1940s and 1950s finding one another. The "Quiet Revolution" arose from their networks of new interests and relationships: from new communities of interest and interaction in the city; in the arts, in politics, working life and education. French culture in Montreal was in a quiet ferment as people built these relationships and put together ambitions and ideas they could not have developed even in a smaller city like the capital, Quebec City.

Until the late 1960s, Montreal still seemed to be what it had been for almost two centuries; an English city containing many French-speaking workers and inhabitants. But, in fact, by 1960 Montreal had become a French city with many English-speaking inhabitants. By the time people in Montreal, let alone the rest of Canada, recognized what was happening, it had already happened.

Now we need to bring Toronto into the story. Montreal used to be the chief metropolis, the national economic center of all of Canada. It is an older city than Toronto, and until about the mid-1970's, it was larger. At the beginning of the 20th century, Toronto was only two-thirds the size of Montreal, and Montreal was much the more important center of finance, publishing, wholesaling, retailing, manufacturing, and entertainment -everything that goes into making a city economy.

The first small and tentative shifts of finance from Montreal to Toronto began in the 1920s when Montreal banks, enamored of the blue-chip investments of the time, overlooked the financing of new mining opportunities which were then opening up in Ontario. That neglect created an opportunity for Toronto banks. The stock exchange which was set up in Toronto for trading mining shares merged with the old generalized Toronto stock exchange in 1934, and by the 1940s the volume of stocks traded in Toronto had come to exceed the volume traded in Montreal.

During the great growth surge of Montreal, from 1941 to 1971, Toronto grew at a rate that was even faster. In the first of those decades, when Montreal was growing by about 20 per cent, Toronto was growing by a rate closer to 25 percent. In the next decade, when Montreal was adding a bit over 35 percent to its population, Toronto was adding about 45 percent. And from 1961 to 1971, while Montreal was growing by less than 20 percent, Toronto was growing by 30 percent. The result was that Toronto finally overtook Montreal in the late 1970s.

But even these measurements do not fully suggest what was happening economically. As an economic unit or economic force, Toronto has really been larger than Montreal for many years. This is because Toronto forms the center of a collection of satellite cities and towns, in addition to its suburbs. Those satellites contain a great range of economic activities, from steel mills to art galleries. Like many of the world's large metropolises, Toronto had been spilling out enterprises into its nearby region, causing many old and formerly small towns and little cities to grow because of the increase in jobs. In addition to that, many branch plants and other enterprises that needed a metropolitan market and a reservoir of metropolitan skills and other producers to draw upon have established themselves in Toronto's orbit, but in places where costs are lower or space more easily available.

The English call a constellation of cities and towns with this kind of integration a "conurbation," a term now widely adopted. Toronto's conurbation, curving around the western end of Lake Ontario, has been nicknamed the Golden Horseshoe. Hamilton, which is in the horseshoe, is larger than Calgary, a major metropolis of western Canada. Georgetown, north of Toronto, qualifies as only a small southern Ontario town, one of many in the conurbation. In New Brunswick it would be a major economic settlement.

Montreal's economic growth, on the other hand, was not enough to create a conurbation. It was contained within the city and its suburbs. That is why it is deceptive to compare population sizes of the two cities and jump to the conclusion that not until the 1970s had they become more or less equal in economic terms. Toronto supplanted Montreal as Canada's chief economic center considerably before that, probably before 1960. Whenever it happened, it was another of those things that most of us never realized had happened until much later.

Toronto in the 1960s

Because Toronto was growing more rapidly than Montreal in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and because so many of its institutions and enterprises now served the entire country, Toronto drew people not only from many other countries but from across Canada as well. The first two weeks I lived in Toronto back in the late 1960s, it seemed to me that almost everyone I encountered was a migrant from Winnipeg or New Brunswick. Had Montreal remained Canada's pre-eminent metropolis and national center, many of these Canadians would have been migrating to Montreal instead. In that case, not only would Montreal be even larger than it is today, but -and this is important- it would have remained an English Canadian metropolis. Instead it had become more and more distinctively Quebecois.

In sum, then, these two things were occurring at once: on the one hand, Montreal was growing rapidly enough and enormously enough in the decades 1941-1971 to shake up much of rural Quebec and to transform Quebec's culture too. On the other hand, Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe were growing even more rapidly. Montreal, in spite of its growth, was losing its character as the economic center of an English speaking Canada and was simultaneously taking on its character as a regional, French-speaking metropolis.

These events, I think, are at the core of Quebec's charged and changing relationship with the rest of Canada. Things can never go back to way they were when an English-speaking Montreal was the chief economic center of all of Canadian and when life elsewhere in the province of Quebec was isolated and traditional. These changes are not merely in people's heads. They cannot be reasoned away or even voted away.

A culture can persist without its own metropolitan capital, as Quebec's did for so long. It can persist as a museum piece. But is cannot flower and thrive without a metropolis. French Quebec has its own cultural metropolis now. But to continue thriving as a culture capital, Montreal must also thrive economically. There's the rub. As a regional Canadian city, which is what Montreal has now become, its economic future is unpromising.

To understand why this is so, we must be aware of Canada's customary view of economic life and its traditional approach to economic development. Canada exploits and exports resources, to the neglect of developing industries and services based on manufacturing or inventions requiring manufacturing. This is a profoundly colonial approach to economic life, but in Canada's case economic colonialism is not something forced upon the country. Canada prefers colonialism.

The experience of Canada has been that the largest and most quickly obtained fortunes, whether public or private, come from resources: furs, timber, apples, coal, iron, nickel, gold, copper, silver, wheat, cobalt, fish, uranium, hydroelectric power, aluminum, potash, oil, natural gas -to name some of the most influential. Societies, like individuals, are shaped by their experiences. Canada's get-rich-quick experience with resources has shaped all the country's major institutions: the national government, the provincial government, the banks and all other financial establishments. It has shaped the way venture capital and subsidies are used, the types of development schemes contrived, and the assumptions of almost everyone in authority. These are not easy things to change.

When a single dominant approach to economic life and wealth has been pursued as consistently and as long as it has been here, the experience gets thoroughly built into how things work. It especially gets built into the uses of capital. Dazzling sums of money are available for resource exploitation and for vast construction projects associated with them, such as dams, pipelines, refineries, bulk storage and depots. When the attention of government does stray to manufacturing or innovation, as it does from time to time, the scale of effort does not adjust. Dazzling sums of money sunk into grandiose technological schemes. To put if figuratively, if the Canadian economy were a zoo, nothing would be purchased for it except elephants.

To be sure, Canada does not lack manufacturing altogether. But of such manufacturing as the country does have, almost half is undertaken in American-owned branch plants, and –increasingly– some of the rest in other foreign-owned branch plants.

Most branch plants have been established, however, because of Canadian tariffs on manufactured goods. Canadian tariffs are imposed not to encourage indigenous economic development, but to force foreign exporters of manufactured goods to set up branch plants within Canada. This profoundly parasitic approach to "development" was largely responsible for Toronto's and Montreal's economic growth during the 1950s and 1960s; that was largely branch-plant economic growth. 

Canada's regional cities also have their traditional role. They work primarily as service centers for the exploitation of resources from their hinterland. To be sure, all have some manufacturing, even the small ones like Halifax, Thunder Bay and Saskatoon and the larger ones like Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, as well as the largest, Vancouver. But large or small, the regional cities of Canada do not serve as creative economic centers in their own right. They boom when the exploitation of their hinterland booms. They stagnate when the resource exploitation reaches a plateau. They decline when it declines.

This is devastating to Canadian regions where resources stop yielding more and more wealth. The passive regional cities, generating no innovations, replacing so few kinds of imports, creating so little new work, so few factories for transplanting, so few new markets themselves, cannot serve as substitute resources. Halifax, which boomed long ago when exploitation or resources in the Maritime Provinces boomed, cannot perform such services for the now impoverished Maritimes (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island). Winnipeg, although it boomed when the wheat lands of the prairies boomed and was celebrated as the locus of the largest grain exchange in the entire world, promptly stagnated when the tasks of settling the prairie wheat lands and constructing the vast grain transportation and storage facilities had been more or less completed. Probably the currently booming Alberta oil cities of Edmonton and Calgary will stagnate in their turn -for the pattern is a consequence of Canada's curiously lopsided use of capital and its profoundly colonial approach to economic life.

If Montreal had not happened to be the national economic center of Canada in the past -if Halifax, say, had occupied that role or if Toronto had fallen into it much earlier than it did- Montreal would surely have been merely a passive regional city, stagnant long since. At any rate, there is little in French Canada's experience, assumptions or expectations of economic life to suggest otherwise.

Now, however, Quebec is presented with a difficulty not only unprecedented there, but unprecedented in Canada. The country has never before had a national city which lost that position and became a regional city. As a typical Canadian regional city, Montreal cannot begin to sustain the economy or the many unusual assets it has now. As it gradually subsides into its regional role, it will decline and decay, grow poor and obsolescent. No boom in resource exploitation can save it because -as a national center- it had already surpassed what even the most prosperous Canadian regional cities are capable of supporting. None of the traditional Canadian approaches can contend with this new problem.

A third of Quebec's population is concentrated in Montreal. Not only will a declining Montreal have directly depressing effect upon that large share of the province's populations, it will have a depressing effect of the province generally. The city will become a poorer market for producers in the hinterland who now depend on it. It will be a declining source of city jobs for the population at large. Its all-important cultural function in the province's life will suffer.

Montreal needs an independent Quebec

In sum, Montreal cannot afford to behave like other Canadian regional cities without doing great damage to the economic well-being of the Quebecois. It must instead become a creative economic center in its own right. That means it must cast up streams of new enterprises which, among them, take to producing wide ranges of goods now imported from other places, including other places in Canada, and which will generate new, city-made products and services that can be marketed outside of Montreal and Quebec as well as within; and it must become the kind of place where such enterprises can find the capital they require, and in turn generate more capital.

Yet there is probably no chance of this happening if Quebec remains a province. Canadian bankers, politicians and civil servants, captivated as they are by the sirens songs of resource exploitation, ready-made branch plants, and technological grandiosities, can hardly be expected to respond to Montreal's quite different economic claims upon their attention. Beliefs and practices common to all of Canada are not apt to change simply because one city, Montreal, and one province, Quebec, so urgently need them to change.

The Quebecois themselves seem unaware of the nature of the problem which looms in their future, and given the prevailing assumptions, they may not come to understand it. But they will understand this: things are not going well.

That is why the issue of sovereignty for Quebec, now that it has been raised anew as a possibility, is not going to evaporate. Inevitably, whether or not they could do better on their own, the Quebecois are going to think they could, and many of them are going to want to try. We may expect the question of separation to be raised again and again in coming years until it is finally settled either when Canada accedes to some form of sovereignty for Quebec or when the Quebecois accept the decline of Montreal and become resigned to it and to its repercussions.

The latter seem to me unlikely. Quebec is not like the poor Maritime Provinces, which have been tied ever more tightly into Confederation by adversity and the federal government's redistribution of tax money to alleviate it. The Quebecois have a special fear: that if they themselves cannot make a success of Quebec, their long struggle will prove to have been "a sad tale told by a minority on the road to oblivion." 

While it is quite possible that Quebec would do no better on its own than as a province of Canada, there is little reason to suppose it would do worse, and there are even some practical reasons for supposing it might do better. Furthermore, as we all understand, dependence is stultifying, and sometimes the obverse is also true. That is, sometimes independence releases new kinds of effort, opens up formerly untapped funds of energy, initiative, originality and self-confidence. That has been the experience, for instance, of Norway when it broke away from Sweden at the beginning of the 20th century.

An abridged version of chapter two of The Question of Separatism by Jane Jacobs.