Quebec's election not a referendum on staying in Canada
By: Alan Murdock
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 01, 2012 06:00 am
Here we go again. Quebec is heading for the election polls and the possibility of a separatist government returning to power is once again staring us all in the face. Of course, La Belle Province is thousands of kilometres away so who really cares? We should. Witness the courage of Premier Jean Charest’s daring act of inserting himself between our newly minted premier and the pouting lady from British Columbia. Alberta needs Quebec support if we are to have a national energy policy, which gives us access to the Maritimes and lessens their dependence on Venezuelan oil. China be damned.
Still, Quebec has always been a sticking point in the development of a comfortably homogenized country. Lower Canadians have had a special relationship within Canada dating back to the MacDonald-Cartier days.
La Belle Province has, for generations, jealously protected its culture and its arts in a most distinct manner. From the very first settlements until the middle of the last century, Quebecois families had been highly influenced by the Church – not only for language and cultural protection, but also for their educational needs. Outside of the major urban centres the Church was often the defining force for community development and family occupational direction. They also told people who to vote for. This linguistic and cultural insularity fed into the anti-war riots in Montreal when Ottawa announced conscription in the Second World War. The descendants of Les Filles du Roi who lost the battle of the Plains of Abraham had no interest in being forced to fight England’s or France’s battles. They had left there generations before. They were truly ‘Canadians first.’
Then along came the 1950s and Jean Lesage (a Liberal don’t you know). Premier Lesage started the Quiet Revolution. He changed Quebec indelibly by taking over public education and fostering a primarily secular society. Francophone Quebecers moved away from a classical studies-based system of education and began to take ownership and leadership in corporate and financial arenas of Quebec society with an expanded francophone post-secondary school educational network. It was therefore natural that a wave of nationalistic and language-based pride should sweep the province. It was also the breeding ground for a feisty generation of brilliant minds – including Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Rene Levesque. The descendants of the original settlers of Quebec had become Maitres Chez Nous and Quebec inside Canada dominated our national psyche until we nearly lost the country to Jacques Parizeau on Oct. 30, 1995.
For the past nearly 17 years we have been lulled into thinking that Quebec has become more comfortable within Canada. We have seen the growth of a multinational and multicultural society across our country – including Quebec. Yet Quebecers remain stubbornly as distinctive as Newfoundlanders. More particularly their absolute commitment to preserving and promoting their culture and arts remains a driving force in their society. And it enriches our nation.
Like most Canadian elected bodies, we have a historical habit of allowing governments to continue to serve until they get into really big difficulties. Then, if they haven’t turfed their leaders, we get rid of them. Usually it takes eight to ten years, unless your name is Hazel and you live in Mississauga. That’s what is happening in Quebec. The issue now is whether they are stuck in a rut of having to choose between a provincial government that is integrated into the national political framework or whether they turn inward and choose to be led by the direct descendants of the families who founded La Nouvelle France. That’s what makes the untested CAQ, the Coalition Avenir Quebec, lead by former PQ minister Francois Legault, such an intriguing possibility. He may well be the man – full of contradictions but distinctly Nouveau Quebec.
Canada is a peculiar country. We haven’t figured out if we are a multicultural society or a bilingual country – or both. Maybe we need to adopt the European Union calling card of Unity through Diversity. That way we can feel comfortable in accepting the election result in Quebec for what it is – a provincial event and not a referendum on staying in Canada.
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.