The Quebec Grail

It always cracks me up when the Catalan and Scottish nationalists send info-hungry delegations to Quebec. After a defeat in 1980 and a close shave in 1995, currently only about a third of voters support independence, and Bloomberg’s account of the latest, discreet Scottish mission to Quebec summarises the economic damage which has paralleled the continuing constitutional uncertainty and use of laws -principally related to the use of English- that limit people’s personal freedoms and inhibit their ability to function successfully in Quebec’s main markets, Canada’s majority Anglophone provinces and the USA:

The constitutional uncertainty in Canada has come at a cost, one borne primarily by Quebecers themselves. The rise of Quebec separatist parties coincided with a period of economic decline for the province relative to the rest of Canada, including the loss of management jobs.

Quebec’s share of Canada’s gross domestic product declined to under 20 percent [French WP says 19.0% for what I assume is 2012] from about 25 percent in 1971 [i.e. since the Quebec folk-dancing movement got going]. That drop occurred in lockstep with a fall in the share of Canada’s population to 23 percent from about 28 percent. A net 550,000 Quebecers have left for other provinces since 1971…

Montreal, the biggest city after Toronto and home to Air Canada and Canadian National Railway Co., saw the number of top 500 Canadian companies decline to 75 in 2011 from 96 in 1990…

One of modern Canada’s finest writers, Mordecai Richler, had the exquisitely bad taste to remain a libertarian Jewish Anglophone in authoritarian anti-Semitic Francophonia-on-the-St-Lawrence. His Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! Requiem for a Divided Country is a humorous, learned, intelligent, wistful, alcoholic and rambling account of the tribe’s tribulations, written as the province stumbled towards the 1995 referendum. Here’s his list of what he thinks the Parti Québécois should have been prepared to tell voters:

  1. A republic of Quebec will be liable for one-quarter of Canada’s national debt, a sum based on its share of the population.
  2. Quebec will have to trade with its own currency, and its citizens travel on the republic’s very own passports. However, filling the office of good neighbor, Canada should help Quebec develop both currency and passports so that both can be in place on the first day of independence.
  3. The Cree, and other First Nations, will not be abandoned by Ottawa. Even as the descendants of Frenchspeaking immigrants, comparative latecomers to this land, are being offered an opportunity to choose, so the First Nations should also enjoy the right of self-determination on their traditional lands. Obviously, the PQ, committed democrats, would have it no other way.
  4. Ottawa will reclaim all of NouveauQuébec, which was a gift to the province so long as it was an integral part of Canada. This dispute should be settled without resort to arms by either side but through an appeal to an international court or by the intervention of mutually acceptable arbitrators. As such a dispute could drag on for years and years, it would be folly for HydroQuébec to now proceed to invest billions in power developments on land where it may turn out to be no more than a tenant.
  5. Quebec should be warned in advance that in any new trade deal it might seek with either the rest of Canada or the United States, it will be in a very vulnerable position, offering a piffling market of six million in exchange for free access to markets of eighteen million and two hundred and forty million. The interventionist policies of the Caisse and HydroQuébec could also be brought into question.
  6. Sadly, the thousands of Québécois now employed by the federal civil service, or serving with Canada’s armed forces, will have to choose between Canadian or Quebec citizenship; and those who opt for the latter will obviously have to be discharged as born-again foreigners.

… where the Cree & Co are the southern Scots (the Cairnryan (Stranraer) ferry would be good to have, and Dumfries vs Carlisle in the league would never be devoid of interest), the islands, and quite possibly Edinburgh. (Ah, yes, but what would happen in Northern Ireland…)

Whichever way the poll goes, all of them might be interested in, and should be offered, a role in a reconstituted UK, where devolution owes less to Mel Gibson than to the practical needs of citizens. (So that’s bye-bye Barnett, too…)

“Scotland” is not exempt from the rule that all political entities fail in the end, and the end is often closer than one thinks.

(Have you ever tried to (re)bag a cat? Let me show you my scars some time.)

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