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.


  1. Veritas: I think that after Queen Elizabeth II passes on, Canada should peacefully transition to a parliamentary democracy. We're neither a British nor a French colony anymore, after all.

    re: Montreal. Quebec needs an economic engine in which both French and English are unfettered, and Montreal is the logical place. All commercial signs there should be in both French and English (even if the English lettering is somewhat smaller), and English-language education should be strengthened for francophone and allophone students. In addition, the anglophone students should be required to learn at least passable French in the Anglo school system.

    I agree with Joe Disco that the best way for francophones (both inside and outside Quebec) to preserve French, is to feel proud of it and to speak it.

    I disagreed with you a bit on your article regarding the languages shifts in the British Isles over the past several centuries. None of the British Celtic languages you mentioned (such as Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh or Cornish) were/are major international languages like French. It's true that French has seen a relative decline compared with English, but the same could be said for a number of other major world languages.

    Paradoxically, it might be necessary to strengthen English a bit more in Quebec, in order to make French stronger as well. Whether one likes it or not, English has a lot of utilitarian value and is the main global language of business, though it's not as aesthetically pleasing as French or a number of other languages. in my opinion.

  2. re: above. I meant to say, "Canada should peacefully transition to a democratic, parliamentary REPUBLIC, of course: La Republique du Canada/The Republic of Canada. It would also be good to see the electoral reforms and other amendments which you have mentioned in other articles.