Author: Amy Rose Gofton
On April 7th, Québécois will vote for a new provincial government in an election called by Parti Québécois (PQ) leader and Premier of Québec, Pauline Marois. In the first days of the election campaign, parties latched onto a familiar topic – sovereignty and the prospect of another referendum. Once the talk of sovereignty reached the ears of the press, there was no laying the rumours to rest. During the leaders’ debate on March 20th, mingled with talk of economics, social infrastructure, governance and national identity, sovereignty, the topic which refuses to die, crawled slowly on and infiltrated nearly every discussion. Marois says that no referendum will take place until Québécois are ready for one. What she means by “ready” is unclear. Sovereignty talk has become almost a default setting for Québec’s politics.
Québec’s sovereignty is a long-running issue filled with complexities. There is no shortage of books and articles on the subject. After years of Québec sovereignty rolling to the surface and two different referenda (one in 1980 and one in 1995), the public attitude seems to be one of exhaustion and disinterest. Especially with students of our generation, the mere mention of the subject often brings eye-rolls, sighs and sarcastic laughter. Québec’s sovereignty is like that one student in the lecture hall who feels the need to challenge the authority of the professor and the structure of the system. Before long, the rest of the students just wish that troublesome student would shut their mouth and sometimes they even tell the student to do so. Eventually, the others get wrapped up with their own affairs and simply ignore the troublesome student, who continues to protest from a corner.
What disturbs me is the “othering” mentality in some Canadians. I’ve heard the people of Québec called “Frenchies” and I once heard someone announce that Québécois should all “go back to France.” So much for peace, love and diversity. To tell Québec to just leave Canada, or to sit back and silently watch as it happens, is to cut out a vital organ and expect the body to continue standing.
Chances are, Québec won’t be attempting to leave anytime soon, as the province has been mulling over the prospect for decades. There’s no reason why this decade would be the decade of severance, but then again, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be. To lose Québec would be to lose an angle of our culture and a large chunk of our economy. I’ve heard people say that if Québec separates they will be serving themselves, economically, a death sentence. I would go further and say that the loss of Québec would be a death sentence for the whole country.
Canada is divided into regions, many of which have a history of feeling excluded. If Québec were to secede, the image of the country that Canadians carry around in their heads would be shattered. Federalism would have failed. What deterrence would there be to stop other provinces from deciding to make a leap for sovereignty as well?
Ultimately, if Québec made the decision to secede, what right would the rest of Canadians have to try and stop them? There is never any use in trying to hold on to someone or something which does not wish to stay. The idea of a united Canada from coast to coast has always and will always hold a special place in my mind and I would do all I can to convince the people of Québec that Canada is a country worth staying in. I hope that each student on this campus would too, but perhaps not. The principle of laissez-faire seems to have transferred from economics to politics.