Saturday, February 28, 2015

A few important facts about Quebec

1. Québec's French-speaking majority is a multi-ethnic community

Québec's French-speaking majority is a multi-ethnic community, just like Canada's English-speaking majority. Francophone Quebecers cannot honestly be described as a simple homogeneous ethnic group or even as a homogeneous cultural group.

The community of descent comprised of people who can trace some ancestry to the French settlers of New France is vast and dispersed in the whole of North America. A great percentage of those people are today native English speakers living outside Quebec and have no or little connection with the culture of Quebec. Unlike some other ethnic communities, there is nothing solidly uniting North Americans of French descent.

There is however, in Quebec, a community whose members share a common identity based on language and culture: They are Francophone Quebecers. The members of this community are not united by ancestry but by shared culture and language. This identity can be adopted by anyone who wishes to learn French and become Québécois and has in fact been adopted by many people from Ireland, the United States, Scotland, England and Germany during the 19th century and by people of an even greater number of origins during the 20th century. Quebec culture does not begin and end with Félix Leclerc and Gilles Vigneault, it includes people from a wide variety of backgrounds, for example: Émile Nelligan, Mary Travers (La Bolduc), Jim Corcoran, Serge Fiori, Normand Brathwaite, Gregory Charles, Kim Thúy, Alain Stanké, Marina Orsini, Kim Nguyen, Dany Laferrière, Naïm KattanBoucar Diouf ... just to name a few!

Quebec nationalists want this identity, socially transmitted from generation to generation, and passed on to immigrants and their children by assimilation, to keep existing and thrive. We feel that this identity is vulnerable due to our minority status in Canada and even threatened since the people who make it exist can only govern their common destiny by the means of a provincial government, whose status as a national government is denied by the central power in Ottawa.

In addition to the main French-speaking national group, Quebec is home to ten distinct Amerindian nations, the Inuit nation and a minority of Anglophones who tend to identify as Canadians first. Despite the plurality of identities found in Quebec, all its citizens are de facto and de jure part of the same political nation as the laws adopted by the National Assembly of Quebec apply to all. The same goes for all citizens of the Canadian federation who are de facto and de jure a part of the same political nation whether they identify with it or not. The two nations overlap.

The advocates of Quebec independence argue for a free Quebec State that would grant citizenship to all current residents of Quebec. Of course, there is no point in denying that one of the central reasons for the creation of this new independent State is to allow its people to govern themselves freely through political institutions that give control to the majority of them. It is the right of Quebecers as a people to determine, in full freedom, "when and as they wish, their internal and external political status, without external interference, and to pursue as they wish their political, economic, social and cultural development."

2. The people of Québec were never consulted on the adoption of any of the constitutional acts enforced to rule them

The people of Québec were never consulted on the adoption any of the constitutional acts enforced to rule them. Quebec has yet to democratically choose its constitution. As a people, Quebecers can legitimately claim the right to self-determination just like all the other peoples on Earth. Read Article VIII of the Helsinki Act.

The British North America Act was the work of British imperialists and would have been rejected by Quebec at the September 1867 election if it had not been for blatant electoral fraud. In order to create the confederated Dominion of Canada, the non-elected colonial government first had to neutralize the elected leaders of Lower Canada (Papineau and the Parti Patriote) and unite the two Canadas (Upper and Lower) with the 1840 Act of Union, hence forcing the Canadiens to become a politically weakened minority destined for assimilation in the new political system of the colony. The constitution of 1867 changed nothing of this reality.

On October 27, 1864, after the signing of the confederative pact, George Brown, founder of the Toronto Globe and one of the "Fathers of Confederation", wrote a note to his wife while packing his things before leaving for Toronto: "All right... Constitution adopted - a most creditable document - a complete reform of all the excesses and injustice we have complained of: Is it not wonderful? French Canadianism entirely extinguished."

The Indirect Rule and the massive immigration of British subjects to Canada were still in effect under the centralizing Federation disguised as a Confederation. From a democratic standpoint, the legitimacy of the Confederation can be considered null. Even worst, in 1982, the constitution was amended and "repatriated" without the approval of the National Assembly of Quebec. Quebecers are, therefore, governed by a constitution that they officially rejected.

3. The majority of Québec's independentists favour a republican form of government

The majority of Quebec's independentists favour a republican form of government, an elected President and a modern and truly representative voting system to elect the National Assembly's representatives. Basically, we want the real democracy that our people have been dreaming of for over a century and a half.

4. The majority of the independentists recognize the right to self-determination of the Amerindians and the Inuit

The majority of independentists recognize the right to self-determination of the Amerindians and the Inuit. They are to be a part of all negotiations between Québec and Ottawa in the advent of secession. Despite Indian affairs being a federal jurisdiction, the Quebec government has worked with native communities to help them strengthen their economic, social and cultural autonomy. See the various agreements achieved between Quebec and the Amerindian peoples and the Inuit people over the past years.

Following recent developments in international law, Quebec independentists have recognized the right to autonomy of the Amerindians and the Inuit inside Quebec. Some adversaries of Quebec's independence have threatened to partition Quebec by playing the right of Quebecers as a political nation against those of Aboriginals. This strategy is both hypocritical and dangerous. Recognizing the right to self-determination of the Amerindians and the Inuit does not mean recognizing the right of Ottawa or anyone else to unilaterally partition Quebec along arbitrary lines. Of course, this right is only cynically attributed to the Native peoples of Quebec by the opponents of Quebec independence. This same right is never granted to the Native peoples outside of Quebec.  

5. Quebec nationalism stems from an old desire for national liberation

Quebec nationalism, in the context of British imperialism, must be understood for what it is: a desire for national liberation. The starting points of our movement are the American revolution and the ideals of the Enlightenment of the 18th century which were mainly expressed in French at that time. The Patriotes Rebellion of 1837-1839 was in essence an attempt to bring about an American-style Republic in Quebec (then known as Lower-Canada). These ideal are still what motivates Quebec independentists today.

Attempts to discredit the sovereignty movement by linking Québec's nationalism to reactionary 20th century "right-wing" movements is part of something called Quebec Bashing. The whole thing has reached near hysterical proportions since the near-victory of the sovereignists in 1995.

6. The word "Québécois" is not an invention of the Parti Québécois

The word "Québécois" is not an invention of the Parti Québécois. It has been used to designate the citizens of Quebec since the confederation and also the citizens of Quebec City long before. The French-speaking majority of Quebec has not always used this term when referring to themselves and the English-speaking minority never did, except when deprived of its very meaning. As a term referring to a political nation, it only appeared when the French Canadians of Québec chose to adopt it as their main defining identity during the Quiet Revolution. The main cultural group constituting the Québécois are the descendants of the 19th century French-speaking Canadiens and immigrants who have integrated this people. Canada used to be the name of what is essentially the two shores of the St-Laurent river, where the most important settlements of New France were located. Today, this land is called Québec, so we call ourselves Quebecers (in French Québécois).

7. The Parti patriote had wide support among Lower Canadians of all origins

The Assembly of the Six Counties
In the 19th century, the Parti patriote of Lower Canada had the support of an overwhelming majority of the Canadien population, including a significant number of English-speaking subjects, especially of Irish and American origin. The Patriotes movement is nothing marginal in Québec's history. The leaders of the time, who very often spoke both French and English (along with Greek and Latin), were not completely disconnected from the world. On the contrary, they had read the literature of the American and French revolutions and were aware of the various other liberation movements in other parts of the world. The Canadien people wanted to establish a free and democratic Republic that would have been one of the most egalitarian state of its time. See the Declaration of Independence by the Patriotes of Lower Canada (1838).

8. The repression of the Lower Canada revolution was massive

The arrest warrants issued against the patriot leaders were illegal. The massive repression of Lord Seaton (called "Milord Satan" by the Canadiens) was proportionally much worse than the repression ordered by the Comité du Salut Public in France during the period of the French revolution called La Terreur.

9. Québec is a nation in both the sociological and political meanings of the word

Québec is a nation in both the sociological and political meanings of the word. In the English language, nation comes from Old French nation which itself comes from Latin natio 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 is the United Nations's definition at least. A more modern definition is 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 inside Canada. They are absolutely right on this. That is precisely why there is an independence movement in Québec.

10. The Quebec State is much older than the Canadian federal State

The Parliament of Quebec, created in 1791, is much older than the federal Parliament of Canada, which the Parliament of the United Kingdom "created" in 1867.

The existence of a political nation within Québec goes back to at least 1663 when New France was made a royal province of the Kingdom of France. With the cession of 1763, this provincial state, its code of law and some of its key civil institutions, were detached from the Kingdom of France and attached to the Kingdom of Great Britain. The French Province of Canada became the British Province of Quebec.

In 1774, the Quebec Act created a crippled Parliament consisting of an unelected Legislative Council. A minimum of 17 and a maximum of 23 Councillors were appointed by a Governor, himself appointed by the British government.

In 1791, the Constitutional Act divided the territory of the Province of Quebec in order to create two distinct colonies. A new Province of Upper Canada and Parliament of Upper Canada were created to meet the demands of the United Empire Loyalists who started colonizing the Ottawa region in 1785. The territory of Upper Canada corresponded to the vast area North of the Great Lakes.

The rest of the Province of Quebec, to the East of the Ottawa river, was renamed Lower Canada. This territory, the St. Lawrence river valley, corresponded to what was previously French Canada and included Québec City, Trois-Rivières, and Montréal. The crippled Parliament of Quebec was modified to include an elected Legislative Assembly. (Upper Canada received corresponding institutions.)

In 1792, the Lower Canadian population elected its first representatives to the Parliament of Lower Canada. The Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, located in Québec City, was the only institution representing the people of Lower Canada, in the majority French-speaking and Catholic. This representation was totally powerless, as was the corresponding representation in Upper Canada.

In 1837, the non-elected colonial Executive government of Lower Canada, feeling it had lost control of the majority of the people, ordered the arrest of the Parti patriote leaders. An armed conflict broke out. Following the military repression of the people who resisted, Lower Canada was annexed to Upper Canada through the Union Act of 1840. Despite the fact that the population of the late Province of Lower Canada constituted a numeric majority over the population of the late Province of Upper Canada, both sides were given an equal representation in the new Parliament.

The union succeeded at 1) turning the national representation of the people of Lower Canada into the representation of an artificially-constructed national minority, and 2) breaking the previously unbreakable solidarity of those who considered themselves the elected leaders of la nation canadienne.

Indeed, the forced legislative union caused the disunion of the Parti patriote leaders, who became divided into those who sought reforms within the new union framework and those who wanted to repeal the Act of Union. The conquered people of the late French Canada were finally divided. But the political agitation was far from being over and the stability of the new union regime proved uncertain. The federal system, presented to the electorate as a "confederation", became a reality in 1867, with the adoption of the British North America Act. This Act of the UK Parliament created a new Parliament for a new Dominion federating all British American colonies. This federation was given the name of "Canada". The late provinces of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were re-separated as "Ontario" and "Quebec". The people of Quebec, thus finally obtained a full Parliament. Unfortunately, this one came without the full legislative powers needed by Quebecers to control their own destiny. Conflicts of jurisdictions between the federal State of Canada and the provincial State of Quebec have been a permanent issue ever since.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jane Jacobs on Quebec: Independence or Decline

Commenting on Jane Jacobs’s book on Quebec sovereignty, the architect Joseph Baker wrote in The Gazette on March 22, 1980: "If I were René Lévesque, I would buy all the copies of Jane Jacobs's book and I would hand it out free of charge to everyone west of Saint-Laurent Boulevard. I would even translate it and take back the white paper." This was two months before the 1980 referendum.

What exactly is it that Jane Jacobs, the famous urban planner, said about Quebec that was so original that it brought this eminent citizen of Westmount and future president of the Quebec Order of Architects to make such a proposal? And, are Jane Jacobs’ thoughts on the matter still relevant today?

In The Question Of Separatism - Quebec And The Struggle Over Sovereignty, Ms. Jacobs says that the economic development and prosperity of Montreal necessarily entail an independent Quebec. Without this political sovereignty, Montreal will lose its role as a metropolis and will slowly become a satellite of Toronto, its economy becoming increasingly subservient to that of the chosen "Canadian metropolis". And in the end, all of Quebec will lose out. Montreal will play the same role in relation to Toronto as Lyon to Paris, Glasgow to London, Melbourne to Sydney, in short, a city receiving whatever the greater metropolitan city is willing to grant it.

Proof of Ms. Jacobs’ predictions abounds in the media. In fact, Canadian newspapers are filled with articles where commentators go on and on about the plight of Montreal without ever proposing a convincing solution. The blame is always attributed to political instability, language laws, our lack of collective daring, unions, and so on. Yet the most important urban planner of the twentieth century, Jane Jacobs, wrote this in 1980:
"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.
"Yet there is probably no chance of this happening as long as Quebec remains a province of Canada. 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.
She wrote this in 1980 and repeated it in an interview in May 2005. Some argue that in taking a position in favor of Quebec independence in 1980, Jane Jacobs lapsed into a secondary domain, straying away from the main subject of her work which was cities and their economies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Her position on Quebec is in tune with the rest of her work, both by its content and by the weight of its arguments.

Her book on Quebec is the logical continuation of her previous two books, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) and The Economy of Cities (1968). The first book revolutionized urban studies worldwide. Champion of urban diversity, social as well as economic, not out of altruism but for the sake of economic vitality, she explained how the majority of urban planners despised everything that was urban and showed a total unawareness of the sources of vitality that make a big city. Fifty years after its publication, this book still is a bedside book for any serious urban planner.

She brought more depth and insight into the economy of cities in her second book, published in 1968, by explaining how urban economies begin, grow in population, and expand economically. She contrasts cities that grew brilliantly only to fall due to their own success, and cities that managed to maintain a more economically viable foundation upon which to grow and prosper through changing times. She also suggested new development paths. She was already predicting the huge economic potential of recycling municipal waste, alas a field still underdeveloped to this day.

What brought about her book on Quebec? CBC Radio had offered her the prestigious forum of the radio series entitled The Massey Lectures. Free to choose her subject, Jane Jacobs titled the series “Canadian Cities and Sovereignty–Association”, which was to become the heart of her book on Quebec. Without the research and reflection on the concrete case of Montreal and Toronto, she would never have been able to write her other ground breaking book, Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984). In that book, she amply shows the terrible effect of demobilization and economic slowdown in major cities like Montreal, which must comply with the requirements of a “national” logic which imposes a so-called national metropolis.

Eloquent examples

Montreal Stock Exchange Tower
Four years after the 1995 referendum, Montreal almost entirely lost its stock exchange due to a reorganization that still left it with the exclusivity of derivative products for a period of ten years. Six years later however, seeing Montreal’s success in this area, Toronto tried at all costs to get its hands on this exclusivity. It threatening to launch its own derivatives exchange to compete with the Montreal Exchange if it refused the merger deal that the “Metropolis” was offering. Toronto, of course, had the support of Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who was formerly the Ontario Minister of Finance.

The same trend can be seen in the regulation of financial markets. In June 2006, a committee appointed by a minister of the Ontario government, recommended the creation of a single "national" body to regulate financial markets in Canada, thereby eliminating the AMF in Quebec. Jim Flaherty took up the ball and in the name of our "national" economy, supported the creation of a national regulator, which of course would necessarily be in Toronto. This plan is still in the works. Thus, the dismemberment and destruction of all the Montreal's financial sector continues inexorably by the closures the Montreal Exchange, by the concentration of these activities and related transactions (management of mutual funds, etc.) in Toronto and increasingly in Western Canada.

Mirabel: Trudeau's white elephant
Possibly the best example of Montreal's subordination to Toronto can be seen in the realm of air transport. Things started out well enough in the late sixties when Pierre Trudeau announced that Montreal would be "the main gateway to air traffic in Canada, only 60 minutes to New York, three hours to Nassau, six hours to Paris, Brussels or Madrid.” Building a new airport for Montreal was probably the most important federal decision on the physical development of Montreal since 1945.

However, the decisions regarding this airport were made against the expressed will of the government of Quebec, which wanted to build the airport to southeast of Montreal. In short, Ottawa chose the Mirabel site to promote the development of the Montreal - Ottawa axis and the east-west "national" corridor of Windsor - Toronto - Ottawa - Montreal. Ottawa was thus ignoring the development perspective advocated jointly by the Quebec government and the City of Montreal which was to favor the economic and urban development within the triangle formed by the cities of Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Quebec City.

In the end, following some political maneuvering for a “national” gateway endorsed by the Canadian government, Toronto’s Pearson airport was deemed better suited to become the main "gateway" from which international flights would depart. Therefore, Montreal, whose Dorval airport was renamed the P.E. Trudeau airport (hard not to see the twisted irony in this), has become completely insignificant to air transport, a mere satellite airport serving the chosen "Canadian metropolis”. Trudeau's Mirabel airport, which cost over $500 million to build in the 1970s, is currently being demolished.

Profitable flights transferred to Toronto 

This subordination continues today. Many profitable and regulated international flights have been transferred to Toronto and they're not done, more continue to be transferred every year. The Toronto International Airport has become the first airport in Canada, Vancouver's Airport is now second (not too surprising considering its advantageous geographical position for flights to Asia). Montreal ranks third, its business consisting mainly of local flights feeding the Toronto Pearson Airport. According to an article published in Le Devoir, even Calgary may soon overtake Montreal in terms of international flights.

The transfer of most international flights to Toronto is of course a deliberate choice. After all, is Montreal really too small a city for all of these international flights? Toronto is a city of over 6 million people, compared to 4 million for Montreal.  Let’s look at the importance of numbers.

There are several cities larger than Toronto that find themselves in the same situation as Montreal. For example, the city of Qingdao in the Shandong region of China, is a wealthy city of almost 9 million people and yet its airport plays a regional role, like Montreal. On the other hand cities much smaller than Montreal such as Zurich (400,000 inhabitants), Dublin (500,000 inhabitants) or Copenhagen (2 million) are hubs for international flights. In short, the size or even the economic importance of a city does not necessarily explain its importance as a flight destination. It’s the political status of a city within its own country that explains the importance of some cities and the insignificance of others. 

The smaller size of Montreal to the more populous Toronto does not explain the decline in international flights. The reality is that Montreal has become, over time, a city at the service of Toronto. Head offices move to Toronto, the Montreal Stock Exchange has been swallowed up by Toronto, the largest banks now operate from Toronto and Montreal has no choice in the matter but to cow-tow to Toronto. Like many other major cities, Montreal lives in the shadow of its government chosen State metropolis. 

For, while less wealthy and populous cities around the world play much more important roles than Montreal, within the Canadian "national" logic, Montreal finds itself in an almost neocolonial situation. Like other cities that are rich and populous, such as Marseille, Qingdao, Kaohsiung, San Diego and so on, Montreal was simply not chosen by its state to be the star city. As the metropolis of an independent state however, Montreal would have far greater importance. Jane Jacobs was therefore quite right in saying that without independence, Montreal would be transformed it into a satellite city, and it has.


We pay the price of dependence every day. Whether it is the takeover of the Montreal Stock Exchange by Toronto, the control of our businesses by Bay Street, or the decisions taken by Ottawa that go against the will and well-being of our nation, being the province of another nation is debilitating or as Jane Jacobs said "dependence is stultifying." But on the other hand, she continues by saying that "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." For the future and prosperity of Montreal and of all of Quebec, we need to try the second option: independence, since the first option: dependence, has clearly not been working for us.

Based on articles by Robin Philpot and Maxime Duchesne