Saturday, February 7, 2009

End of the Flag Wars: Quebec's looming engagement

Recently, Chantal Hébert, whom I believe to be one of the clearest political thinkers in the country (Canada) wrote in the Star (Toronto Star) that Michael Ignatieff would do well to avoid "flag wars" in Quebec as "(n)ot only is that a contest that sovereignists cannot lose but it is also a sideshow and it amounts to re-fighting a war when peace has broken out" (Star).   Hébert wrote that "When Ignatieff spoke of the strategic importance of the Alberta oil sands on a daylong visit to Montreal last month, I could not think of the last time a federal leader had spoken of Canada in Quebec, or at least done so outside the narrow confines of what more the federation could do for Quebecers" (Star).  So, that's good for Ignatieff and the Federal Liberal party, but it seems to me to be a very important development for Canada.

This got me wondering about just how Francophone Quebec views Canada and its place within Canada and what changes are occurring there that would explain the low pro-separatist support.  According to a friend of mine who is soon to be practicing law in Quebec, French speaking Quebecois really are taking a new look at Canada and beginning to become interested in Canada.  I'd say that this might be the start of something that we have not seen before.  

I don't think that there was ever a point in time in which Quebec had so many reasons to be upset, but yet is so positive in it's view of Canada.  That disastrous November Economic Update that nearly created a Dion lead coalition of the separatist Bloc, the semi-social Democrat NDP and the Liberals created a massive anti-Quebec sentiment in the Western part of the country.  Stephen Harper went out of his way to play up that resentment and bombed much of the last parts of a bridge that he still had leading him to the Quebec electoral promise land (and truly national party stature).  Yet, in spite of this, French Speaking Quebecers, a majority of them don't want to separate!  I know those numbers were from November, but still.  The point remains that more and more Quebecois are getting used to the idea of being in Canada.

I think that we might very well look back upon these days as the days were Quebec's full engagement with Canada began.  I'm really excited about this, not only because I'm from New Brunswick and would be geographically separated from most of Canada if Quebec were to separate, but because I think Quebec adds so much to the country.  Everywhere in the world that I go people point out that I live in "the French part" of the country and I get to tell them about New Brunswick and bilingualism and our peculiar neighbour Quebec.  I think it is cool (for lack of a better word) that Quebec is such a world onto itself and I think it is a shining example of how not every nation needs to be independent in order to feel happy and engaged as a true stakeholder in the process.  

I hope that we are moving past the days of handing out ceremonial carrots in order to appease Quebec and into the days where Quebec's place in the country (perhaps a Canada with a multi-national concept in place) is simply a given.  

For English Canada (of which I myself am a member) Quebec has done us a service as well.  We'd likely not have our own flag if it weren't for Quebec being unable to accept the old one, and something similar could be said about the anthem  Canada gains a lot from Quebec, and Quebec gains a lot being in Canada.  Perhaps soon when Quebecois look at the Canadian flag they will think of it more as their own, rather than the flag of the other.  


Anonymous said...

Wow, must be sunny over there, take off the rose coloured glasses,ha ha ha. Having lived in the Republic for three years I am experiencing a completely different reality.

I'll touch on a couple of your comments but I don't want to get into a debate on history, rather, I will give you a close up personal view of our time in Quebec.

To begin, the Red Ensign, although never a formally adopted national flag was the flag that flew above Canadian troops during the battle of Vimy Ridge. Many, see that battle as the true birth of the Canadian nation. It also flew during WWII and the Korean Conflict. It is a flag that cannot be discounted in anyway. I recall the debate and anger caused by LBP's flag. It was looked on as a partisan issue driven by a Liberal agenda by a sizable percentage of Canadians.

I don't think it is just in the west that anti-Quebec resentment increased over the Lib-NDP-Block. A quick look at groups on facebook displayed many ani-coalition feelings in Atlantic Canada. (to name just one site of popular culture opinion).

And why has Quebec not separated? Well, at the core of it I feel it is not in the nature of the Quebec people. First, it was the Church, and now it is big government that Quebecois look to. The mindset that drove Americans to their revolution is very different. I think remaining in Canada allows for protection and security that would not exist otherwise.

So, now my personal experiences, this is a direct firsthand account of living here.

We have yet to receive a child tax refund from the Quebec government. To this day we are fighting with them for this right.

Because of the Charter of the French language law we may not be able to send our son to English school. Neither I nor his mother can speak any French.

I am a "Blockhead", this is a slur which I am quite aware of.

On many occasions Quebec government workers have been openly rude to my wife in person and on the phone. My wife is what would be called a visible minority in Quebec.

To site "a friend" (as you did), one of our anglophone friends has had her property expropriated by the Quebec government. They are refusing to pay her market value and have now billed her for environmental damage on her property. This damage occurred as a result of the construction on the expropriated land but affected her remaining land. Her family has been in Quebec since arriving as United Empire Loyalists. She is an active researcher and has discovered many family names in historical documents have been changed from the English to the French version (wow!I thought it was 2009 not 1984).

The Quebec government seems to have it's hand in every aspect of personal and professional life. An example, my wife does not apply for citizenship to Canada, she must apply to Quebec.

Nearly every service we have dealt with, ie. phone, power,cable, medical,..has been problematic in some way. Nothing has unfolded without hassle.

I pay the highest taxes in all of North America, right here, in Quebec. It is a beautiful country, has a wonderful culture, but it feels oppressive if you are the "other"(a feeling I never had in Thailand). I would not include the word pluralism when describing Quebec. The flight of Anglo speakers the last 30 years bears this out. There are other examples of our time here but the feeling we have been left with is exhaustion. It seems like there is never a time we are not fighting for some right or entitlement.

My personal opinion is that Quebec is a nice idea in the minds of Canadian nationalists. It is a comfort to them that it is there, that the Canadian state extends unbroken from sea to sea to sea. However, the reality is that it is not a welcoming place for an English speaker or a visible minority. I think, like any healthy divorce, the two entities, Canada and Quebec would be much happier going there own ways and remaining friends.

Craig Williamson said...

A couple of points in response. Firstly, I can assure you that my glasses are more yellow than rose tinted, though rose tinted glasses really do make the world seem nicer. That's what you two should do. Try it...hehe

Okay, more seriously: I wasn't making any sort of value statements regarding Quebec. I'm happy to see them getting more used to the idea of working as a part of Canada rather than working to get more from Canada. I'm happy to see the politicians move from beyond gimmicks to win the support of Quebec and into something new. Michael Ignatieff has a good academic understanding of the concept of multi-national nations. I'm not sure if he gave that talk that Chantal Hebert was talking about because it's just the way he thinks, or if it's because he planned it. Either way, I think it is good. That is my simple assertion.

I do not suggest that a non Quebecois, especially a visible minority would necessarily feel comfortable in the Quebec nation. I use nation because...Quebec clearly is not the same as the rest of Canada precisely for some of the factors that you spoke of. They meet all of the criterion.

Anyway, I myself don't think I'd want to live in Quebec. I like it, it's a great place to visit, but I like to feel truly part of a place I live in. Unlike yourself, I do not really feel that way in Thailand. I do feel welcome here and the people are almost never rude to me. I have been treated unfairly in Thailand due to being a foreigner a number of times, but for me I suppose it's just the general feeling of being an outsider. The other as you put it. I can sympathize with you position, and even more so with the position of your wife.

My ex-partner was certainly treated much worse than I when we lived in Korea. I saw from his experience how unpleasant it can be to be from certain parts of the world and be in other parts of the world who look down on the former.

Is there any possibility of moving elsewhere within Canada? I personally always felt very at home in Toronto while I lived there for a short time. I also really like Vancouver but I think it's a bit small and geographically far from the East. Okay, don't think I needed to tag that last line on there.

Anyway, it is great to see you responding with such gusto. Maybe I'll try to come up with some topics just to bait you. It's fun when you get a bit riled up (at least from a distance ;)

Craig Williamson said...

Another couple of points. The nearly 50% of Quebecors who voted in favour of separating were very much ready to take that step. Somewhere between 25% to 35% are very much in favour of separating according to my understanding of numerous polls over the past number of decades. In that last one, it really was because of non-ethnic Quebecois. I can't remember the number, but if we only look at the French, the majority of them really did want to separate.

On the flag, numerous variations of the Red Ensign existed, as you know, but that certainly does not minimize the loyalty that people felt under that flag. Especially those who fought under that flag. I get that. When the new flag was brought in, my own grandparents immediately raised the Jack and refused for years to recognize the Maple Leaf.

The thing is is that by that point in time, the old flag was already not really representative of the majority. It was certainly not popular in Quebec but it also had little value to a lot of the other communities who together made up a majority. Also, the younger generations at the time seemed to be losing their Empire loyalty.

On an interesting note, Larry Zolf recalled several years ago that he was the one who slipped the information to Diefenbaker that the government was burning the old ensign flags. Zolf recalled how Diefenbaker stood up in the Commons that day (opposition leader still) and shook with passion as he decried the desecration of a symbol with so much value to so many. Zolf was speaking fondly of the relationship he had with The Chief though they didn't agree on a whole lot.

I suppose one of the reasons why I like Diefenbaker so much is that he really did come from the outside. He was the first non French or British Prime Minister, he also came from the West in a working class family and was not exactly walking the corridors of power before he came to power. He appointed the first female cabinet minister, he passed the Bill of Rights, he gave First Nation's the right to vote without giving up their status, he played a big part in making Canada what it is today. So, I'm a big fan of his. But, what happened with the flag had to happen.

Anonymous said...

I liked the Chief as well. What I always find amusing is how the left derides him for the canceling of the Arrow program. An instrument war and the war industry.

Craig Williamson said...

Well, there were all sorts of problems with the Arrow but it's just a Canadian nationalist thing, in my opinion. Also those bits on the Arrow that used to run really left that as the only thing a lot of younger people know about the Chief. People should recognize him for the Bill of Rights (even if it was more a sentiment) and his other pro-equality actions.