Thursday, September 6, 2012

To Quebec, With Love

    I had tons of debates with Quebec souveranistes in the eighties and nineties. What I remember most is their exasperated reaction to my theory that  sovereignity in their rendition was not a political goal but a way to express resentment over their state of dependency.  They went bonkers over that. They called me names.  In one case it nearly came to blows, mind you, not between myself and a proud Quebecois, but between two of them, over the merit of my insight.  Not that either of my interlocutors agreed with me.  It was clearly over a fault line in the Quebec political consensus.

    To an outsider, Parti Quebecois are separatists, but this can be very misleading. Most péquistes want some sort of continued association with Canada, at minimum common currency and defense. Commonly, they envision a trade and tariff union, and a free passage of goods between the two future countries. They do not see issues arising from people in Quebec wanting to retain Canadian Citizenship and vice versa.  This sort of associationist dreamer's paradise goes as far as imagining that where there are federal public services presently, these would continue to be provided out of Quebec as sort of an outsource.  This idea actually has a wide currency in the Outaouais region adjoining Ottawa, and doubtless played out in the federal Public Service union's support of Parti Quebecois in the last election. 

    There is of course a much harsher version of the Quebec separation from Canada.  Unlike the souveranistes, the minority independentistes don't care much about the future of the bilateral relations with Canada; they will take care of themselves. To the hard core separatists, the independence of Quebec is the equivalent of the second coming.  Achieving it guarantees love and better chances of winning a lottery for everyone. It is not necessary to plan for something that by definition provides solution for everything. Jacques Parizeau, the Quebec premier who almost delivered on the dream in the second referendum in 1995, had a plan which he described Quebers in the advent of a "Yes" vote as lobsters thrown in hot water.  A few days before the referendum Parizeau boasted on a radio show that after the win in the referendum he will appropriate 30% of Canadian federal assets outside Quebec. That by the same logic Canada would have a right to 70% of its assets in Quebec, was passed in silence.  It is that kind of a crazy mindset that almost broke up the country. But as I said, the independence maniacs are rare these days and recruit chiefly in the bucolic verdure of Quebec among those who will never learn English even though they have watched American TV channels daily since childhood.

   Stephane Dion's Clarity Act removed much of the base legal uncertainty about Quebec's right to secede from Canada but the issue is evidently not closed.  The Parliament of Canada recognizing Quebec formally as a nation within Canada in 2006, did not do it either. The newly-elected PQ premier Mme Marois has already made it clear that she wants more powers under Quebec jurisdiction.  Her party remains committed to sovereignity in the long run.  

Nip PSAC bosses in the bud

    In view of the obvious surge in popularity for the PQ, its agressive tone and some of its projects (a petition by 15% of Quebec voters will obligate the government to hold a referendum on any subject - including sovereignity), the Harper's government needs to be vigilant. It cannot afford to pass over political provocations or allow free ride to the naysayers to Canada.  It needs to take initiative and show it is in control of what it has the mandate to control. 

    Public Service Union leaders cannot be engaged in provincial electoral process on behalf of their membership who are federal employees.  If there is no bill to that effect on the books, there needs to be one, pdq.  The calls for busting the union seem disproportionate but we need a firm response to the kind of PSAC activities seen during the recent election in Quebec.  One would expect Rona Ambrose's office to issue a memorandum to inform PWGSC employees of the perils of Quebec going independent.  There would be enormous pressure on the Government of Canada to relocate all its offices from Quebec and remove all Quebec residents from Canada's federal public service.  Anyone offering assurances to PSAC members in the Outaouais region that their jobs and careers would continue as before, is irresponsible and clearly has special agenda.  The breakup of Canada would almost certainly lead to losses of tens of thousands federal jobs in Montreal and Western Quebec.

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