Quebec Sovereignty Essay, Research Paper
Is sovereignty a viable option for Quebec?
From the days of Upper and Lower Canada up until the Meech Lake accord and Charlottetown agreements, there have been never-ending conflicts between Quebec and the federal government. For decades, Canada has been hearing cries of salvation for a dying language and a repressed culture. The Quebecois have, over the years, fought passionately to have their demands for special status met by Canada, but beyond the emotional statements of a culture fearing extinction, is sovereignty really a viable and feasible option for Quebec? The debate in favor of separation is a highly emotional one, but draws very little from facts and figures. The fact that separation from Canada would severely harm Quebec is easily proven by examining the prosperity-within-Canada of the “Quiet Revolution”, the fallacy of the French-Canadian Nation, and the obvious economic disaster that would occur after separation, caused by the outstanding debt and a drop in foreign investment.
First, let us look at the glorious days of Quebec, the “R volution Tranquille”, as well as the passage of Bill 101 and the first referendum. One of the most prosperous periods in the history of Quebec is that of the 1960’s, when Jean Lesage’s Liberal government brought on, notably, the nationalization of hydro-electric facilities, a provincial hospitalization scheme and comprehensive educational reforms. Separatists argue that Canada will continue to take over provincial jurisdictions and will never give them the rights and powers they deserve, and that separation is therefore the only solution, but the Lesage government was able to achieve it’s goal of being “Ma tres chez nous!” without threats of secession. In the late 1970’s, the L vesque government replaced Bourassa’s dissatisfying Bill 22 with the ultimate weapon in conserving the French language and culture: Bill 101, a protective bill devised to ensure the use of French as the primary language of business and politics in Quebec. Thus, Quebec had reached cultural sovereignty, which was at the very root of its discontempt with the federal government. Political sovereignty was no longer arguably necessary (Cook, p.109). By the time the 1980 referendum arrived, the L vesque government had managed to maintain an exceptionally solid and honest government, but it still had failed to prove that it was necessary to make radical changes to the constitution to satisfy the needs of Quebec (Cook, p.110). In the “R volution Tranquille”, we find proof that sovereignty is not necessary in order to achieve prosperity.
Also, a very important factor contesting separation is the socio-cultural one of the fallacy of French speaking Canadians being strictly in Quebec. When nationalists speak of the urgent need to defend the rights of the French Canadians, they speak only of French Quebecois. Results of the 1996 census show that 20% of the population of Manitoba uses French as a primary language at home. The same goes for an even more striking 30% in New Brunswick. Claiming to defend the French is unfair to the near one million French speaking Canadians living outside of Quebec. There is also the equally, if not more important issue of the gross misrepresentation of the close to 30% of Quebecois who do not consider themselves French-speaking (Statistics Canada). There are approximately 1.3 million people in Quebec whose rights are not being fought for and whose culture is being undermined at the expense of the majority. If Quebec were to separate, it could very well face a violent protest from the visible minorities, much like Canada has been faced with the French Quebecois.
Next, a look at one of the strongest arguments against the sovereignty of Quebec: the assured post-separation economic mayhem. First, we must address the still vague issue of the distribution of the national debt and what proportion of it should be covered by Quebec. The most commonly used figure is that found in a research conducted in 1991 by the B langer-Campeau commission on Quebec’s political and constitutional future (Drache and Perin, p.158). This report estimated that Quebec’s share of the national debt would be of 70.3 billion dollars (Drache and Perin, p.161). Add it’s current outstanding debt of 76 billion dollars, and we have a total debt of some 146 billion dollars (Statistics Canada). It is estimated that a sovereign Quebec, with full taxation powers, would have a GDP of 170 billion dollars, making it’s debt-to-GDP ratio a staggering 85.9%, placing it above the highest rate in 1991, that of the Netherlands at 83%. Now let us assume that Quebec maintains strong economic links with Canada. In theory, this is a very attainable goal and would benefit both Quebec and Canada, but in reality, there would be minimal co-operation and co-ordination between both governments following separation, making it impossible for them to manage their economies efficiently and coherently. It is quite possible that Canada would be seeking a certain level of vengeance on Quebec for putting it in such a difficult political and geographical situation.
Finally we will examine the highly negative effect that separation would have on foreign investment and trade in Quebec. As Daniel Drache writes in Negotiating with a Sovereign Quebec: “In a world of trading blocs and increased capital mobility, the nation-state is extremely vulnerable to the uncertainties of global markets (p.14)”. Foreign investors have the world within their reach, and such an unstable political situation would surely drive them away. A decrease in investment would also aggravate the issue of paying the debt because it would mean a decrease in national income. To maintain a decent level of income from international trade, Quebec and Canada would have to adopt a common trade agenda, which would be difficult considering the previously mentioned argument that the two governments would most likely encounter difficulties co-operating with each-other. This is not to mention that Quebec would have to deal with the fact that Canada was now trading domestically through the Quebec territory. This would not be appealing to foreign investors because they would not want to trade with a country that is in such a particular trading situation.
In conclusion, there are several historical, cultural and economic reasons, other than those stated in this essay, arguing that Quebec would fail and Canada would disintegrate following the political separation of Quebec. Personally, I believe that in a world leaning towards globalization and unification, exemplified by the countries of the European Union, it is ridiculous for a province so highly esteemed internationally to want to isolate itself and disconnect from an equally highly esteemed and internationally recognized federal state with which it could achieve great things. I do believe the French Quebecois’ rights have been neglected by the federal government in the past, but I believe that it is possible for Canada and Quebec to respect each other and reach an agreement that would satisfy both parties. I believe it is possible that we will one day live in a united Canada that all visible minorities, living in all provinces, can proudly call their home.
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