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The Progressive Economics Forum

A progressive paradox for Québec and Canada

The mood in the progressive milieu here in Québec seems rather grim this morning. In Québec history we call the twenty year period when anti-union, right wing populist Duplessis ruled, the “Era of the Great Darkness”, and many by email or on social media have spontaneously referred to the upcoming period in an analogous way. Many have adopted the “black square” in their email or on their social media sites as a sign of their anxiety.

People as diverse as Équiterre founder Laure Waridel, Lux editor Mark Fortier (the editor of the french edition of Jim Stanford’s Economic’s for Everyone) and other progressives I know, are very nervous.

We expect major cuts in culture and a long and lasting change in the structure of federal fiscal policy, with further income depletion creating a permanent sense of fiscal crisis and a more generally policy of attrition of the federal state apparatus similar to Republican politics down south. Not to talk of international policy and environmental policy.

In the area of social policy many around me are also anxious, as the “tough on crime” policies aimed to please the neoconservative base might be followed up by a “tough on women” socially conservative agenda.

We are glad the NDP surge worked in Québec, but very ambivalent, many of the candidates are inexperienced, a few were merely “filling” the poster the time of the campaign and now will be sent of to Ottawa to represent Québec, others luckily are very experienced and articulate. More than half of the NDP caucus will be from Québec, and as a province we’ve put all our eggs in the progressive basket. This puts immense pressure on the NDP, in the context of a majority Conservative government, they won’t be able to deliver much in terms of “positive” results, this rhetoric will have to change as the NDP will have to develop a politics of resistance.

Furthermore, the structural links between the progressive community and the NDP in Québec are still shallow and weak, this will also have to change given the weight of Québec in the NDP caucus. If it doesn’t, if the graft does not take, then we might see in the 2015 election an anti-NDP backlash in Québec.

Those of us that might want to see a silver lining in the dark clouds ahead and talk of a 2015 breakthrough for the NDP must consider the following points.

1. Conservative support rose in terms of expressed votes everywhere in Canada except in Québec, not by much but enough to give him a majority, vote splitting between the NDP and the liberal’s is not the sole factor in the PCC victory, in Ontario the PCC garnered real support in specific communities, vote splitting on the centre and left merely strengthened an already won majority.

2. Important forces will be unleashed by the PCC majority government to consolidate this hold on Canada, the alliance with Sun media will be strengthened and used in Québec against the NDP opposition, the CRTC will be reformed, so will the federal research councils, Stat can and other canadian liberal institutions, the CBC will undoubtedly be radically downsized, public funding for parties also downsized, social and community groups will see their public funding cut further and become less visible, all this will contribute to the development of a right wing and conservative culture in Canada…

3. If the NDP outside of Québec unites with the progressive elements in the Liberal party for the 2015 bid, this will further dilute the social democratic core of the party, further marginalize its socialist elements, and most importantly for progressive economists reinforce the voice of mainstream economics in the party

4. The NDP must find a way to consolidate its base in Québec, this will imply real decisions in constitutional matters, if the party does not want to alienate its base in the ROC while building its base in Québec and translating the slogan of asymmetrical federalism into a viable vision for Québec and Canada.

Though we can’t as progressives do much about points 1 and 2 , we can act on points 3 and 4, as some suggest we start working now, I agree but I think it important to recognize, after last night’s euphoria, the real nature of our starting point.

Enjoy and share:

Comments

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: May 3, 2011, 12:54 pm

everything was going Canada and Quebec’s way for about 3 minutes last night

During that 3 minutes that I knew Quebec was going orange in a big way, I felt closer to my sister and brothers in quebec like no other time before.(except when my habs won their last stanley cup- or when I go to Montreal to visit my 3 by 6 inch brick from the old forum within the sidewalk that I own outside the Molson center) I am a progressive and they are progressive. We could rule this country under the orange and the fleur de lis

Okay so what we needed was the libs to hold their seats. I mean every poll in the country suggested a bit of a hit to the libs, but not a death blow. We were in power I could feel it. Finally progressive change was here!!!!!

SO for about those three minutes I was happy, thinking finally all my PEF blogger buds would actually maybe get more experience implementing their critical perspective. It was probably the best 3 political moments in my entire life, it seemed so much longer, but then three minutes later the Ontario results started coming in. Ken Dryden was losing and that was the key- I seen my child hood idol, (the irony was killing me) going down in flames, and it was not some notion of strategic voting on the NDP LIb part- it was the tory count going through the roof. First I thought it might have been new condos or something, similar to the Olivia Chow worry, but then all the headlines flashed over the past few days of the great orange crush making its appearance, and sure enough, more lib strongholds were under water. The blue libs were destroying their own party.

I then had this sick feeling, my sisters and brothers in Quebec, who finally gave the progressive need over the sovereign need more weight and rolled the dice, and we were in serious jeopardy of losing our chance.

Suddenly the orange fleur de lis disappeared and a blue cloud appeared- and out came lightening bolts- hitting my brothers and sisters in Quebec and us orange progressives.

You know the rest, but as mentioned, we do have to know very very clearly here, where to start. As the right starting point is the key to a true beginning- lets not fool ourselves- Quebec has miraculously maintained a distinct culture despite all the stars being aligned against it doing so. And that should never be forgotten and this morning Steven Lewis forgot that in his commentary, as Judy Rebick pointed out on a televised Democracy Now program this morning.

the beginning is upon us and the heavy equipment for building a new movement for a more encompassing economically and socially progressive force is within reach. Lets not waste this opportunity, given the Blue dragon now pillaging the land, there is a meeting ground where we can all hunt and gather cooperatively and reap that collective rewards.

Very very awesome post Eric- the best I read all morning, there is hope and we need to feed it.

PAul

Comment from Rentier Fungicide
Time: May 3, 2011, 2:40 pm

If asymmetrical federalism in any way involves restrictions, say, on the Canada Health Act, or limitations to the federal spending power, or extension of the Loi 101 to areas of federal jurisdiction, then the NDP will simply marginalize itself, becoming the Bloc light, and unelectable in the rest of Canada. Indeed, the best way to revive the Liberal Party may be to do exactly as Eric suggests. One of the salient points of this election is that demographic changes and Parliamentary seat redistribution have made it eminently possible to form a majority without Quebec. A more promising strategy for the NDP would be to risk sacrificing many of its Quebec seats in favour of more politically stable support in TOPATS (The Other Provinces and Territories). If one is to supplant the Liberals as the official opposition, you have to do it in areas of common ground with other Canadians — Eric offers no hope of that.

Comment from Nathan Rao
Time: May 3, 2011, 2:54 pm

Excellent post. I’d be curious to know what role you and others think Québec solidaire would be willing and able to play around points 3 and 4, and how likely the federal NDP would be to respond positively to any gestures in this direction.

Comment from Eric Pineault
Time: May 3, 2011, 2:58 pm

Gee alot of us in Québec are trying to believe in a progressive Canada, but seems Canada doesn’t believe in itself anymore !

Comment from Eric Pineault
Time: May 3, 2011, 3:15 pm

Well I will offer my services to Mulcair and Boulerice after having tried to help out the NDP during the campaign in the media (CBC radio and TV and the Devoir) on top of more personal – networking effort.
I’ll answer the underlying “fundemental” question in a next comment. But lets put it this way, in the last twenty years progressives here have decided that social issues trump independence, but… but the national question remains, paradoxically its a “Canadian question”, how to or three nations work together their arrangements in a non oppressive form, that’s the “Canadian” question. Maybe we’re just the last people to still think its a question… I hope not. And the NDP’s proposal for a asymmetrical federalism is an answer that fits with the spirit here.

Comment from Purple Library Guy
Time: May 3, 2011, 3:57 pm

Mr. Pineault, I’m from BC and I can’t really disagree with you about Canada not believing in itself. Considering how low the Conservative vote was in Quebec, that means well over 40% everywhere else in Canada were voting for a bunch of American-in-spirit corporate raiders.
I’m sorry we couldn’t do better. You stepped up, and the rest of us couldn’t follow through.

. . . Not yet, at any rate. As important as turning this victory in Quebec into a real progressive force of strong Quebecois and CCF-derived leftist visions united, is for that new force to turn its sights on other areas and organize there. If we build region by region maybe we can make something that can trounce the Cons next time around, and create ground-level resistance in the mean while.

Comment from Denise Freedman
Time: May 3, 2011, 4:07 pm

The one thing I never understood in my years volunteering in the NDP is what is now called ‘asymmetrical federalism.’

I thought this was just another way for Conservatives to end the influence of the federal government and with it the end of the possibility of anything in the future resembling single-payer, CAP, Established Programs Financing.

Yeah I know, I’m just old.

But I have long believed the notion of provincial experimentation, even as we see in the United States today, and for an awfully long time, means the end of any national vision that truly deserves that term.

Maybe there is nothing in the future but relinquishing tax points, reducing corporate income tax, and taxes on the wealthy. After all, they are the persons, corporate and real, who are the font of all innovation. No national/federal government ever originated anything important or real.

Didn’t Chretien-Martin teach us that?

This is my fear for the future of the NDP, now that, what was it, 60% of its MP’s are from Quebec.

Where will the impetus for social democratic vision come from between now and 2015?

Added to the newfound respectability of the technocratic approach to electioneering, and its 40 year toll upon Canadians, all Canadians, is it even possible to think in terms of vision?

Comment from Brandon L
Time: May 3, 2011, 4:42 pm

We’ll Purple I voted NDP, because the cutting taxes while spending will lead to higher prices; plus higher taxes, when we pay back the interest let alone the principal negating any benefit from keeping taxes low. As stated in the past. Im forced to vote for higher taxes if were going to spend.

Since the true cost of government as Erin Wier’s work clearly points out, is that what it spends is the greatest burden. Lowering the taxes would not increase the deficit, and you would not need offsetting reductions, if taxes were the only cost.

The spending that the left wants in play are at levels not seen since WW2. Not the great depression. Keynes did not rack up huge deficits for WW2, while only strictly taxing the rich.

As I have stated I want little services from the government, & others want more services. I can live in either outcome if its paid for.

Many candidates on the left are unwilling to raise taxes to match the speding they require. The candidates on the right are their equals just with the unwilling emphasis to decrease spending to match their tax rates.

Canadians as a whole elected canadiates that will low taxes, high spend; they be conservative or NDP, ramping up deficits.

In an ironic turn of events decreasing spending should be seen as spending & paying for tax cuts.

Keynes in “1940, [argued] that the war effort should be largely financed by higher taxation and especially by compulsory saving (essentially workers loaning money to the government), rather than deficit spending, in order to avoid inflation” while the government spent the tax dollars collected.

Since many wish were returning to levels not seen since WW2, how we pay for this is extremly important.

Raising taxes, plus cumpolsury saving takes money out of our hands that we would have spent privatly hence the simplicity of taking money out of circulation, will mean prices will be flat or falling, since we paid for all the government spending, and allows to make choices for longer timeframes, mayb start a business, or save less since you know later there wont be a defcit to pay down in higher taxes since you did not incrue interest, or have to pay the principal to begin with.

In order to avoid deficit financing, like Kynes, the taxes of everyones must be on the table. Taxing only the rich, would lead too deficit spending, which Keyne specifically avoided when ramping spending to such levels. I agree, with Keynes no deficit spending for spending at historic levels.

Im making the case Keynes did. If you refuse to raise everyones taxes, then frankly spending should be dramaticly reduced to match what the voters want to be taxed at.

When the rich were supposedly “soaked”, there were more large corperations paying an effective tax of zero, then today:fun fact. In the 1950s you could deduct wedding expenses, of your second cousin through a business. Secondly, we had something called victory bonds, and the payroll tax, and many others taxes for the war, that affected everyone, and brought in more revenue then the taxes on the rich. Besides the black market the developed for food. Thirdly the Canadian dollar was worth more, in the 1950 golden age, it was less diluted, then now. The billionaires were millionaires, and millionaires could only dream of a million.

We as people, not just the rich paid for the spending upfront in higher taxes, higher borrowing costs, and stonger currency; then we have now. I would also like to go back to a fixed monetary standard. ‌

Its funny today prices for gas, or steaks, or a suit from Sax’s have never been cheaper. They are dirt cheap like my grandfather told I about. Put simply, a US 1946–1964 or a Canadian 1935-1967 silver dime (10 cents) has a melt value of about USD$3.30.

In the 1950s the golden age, gasoline averaged 20- 25 cents. With that same currency canadians used then; today all prices are dirt cheap.

I have some currency from my grandmother, from the pre-1950s. For a single (1$) silver dollar I can buy a months worth of groceris from the produce section. I cannot not do that working in canadian dollars, from my job hence my gravitation to cheaper-unhealthy food. Pretty sad state were in.

Now a possible “in-roads” for left and right is looking at the companies that get special tax treatment or subsidy that makes the effective tax their paying lower then say mom and pops pizzaria. For example I want gays, and lesbian too be able to be married by law, but I want to strip the benefits you get when you are married heterosexual or not. I do not see how marridge is a government responsibility, and those progressive who are for gay rights, what about poloygamists rights. In many countries; families have 3 husbands and 3 wives, etc, or any combination equal or unequal.

That poligamist in utah in the reality show made the point banning polygamy drives it undergounds, hence unregulated groups of adults marrying children off… Dont even get me started how we arrest prostitues who never see the fruits of their labor, who are often raped to begin with, and are exploited from day 1.

That either the mom and pops pizzarias should have their taxes lowered to those of general electrics of the world, or raise the general electric’s of the world taxes to match that of the mom and pops pizzaria.

Look at the US still stuck behind, while the rest of the world increasing interest rates, while the USD is still droping. Bernanke is behind the curve, and will stay so, there will never be Positive Real Rates of interest in the US like Paul Vockler any time soon, which is a real shame. I know many commentators here like Paul T, know thats problem. I fully expect QE3, as the US recovery stalls at end of june. QE3 is bad for Canada, yet they will go through with it.

Secondly the moment the Yuan appreicates, we will watch many countries appreciate, and mexico border will be up to Canada as America faces higher prices then we can imagine. If were going to peg to a currency, lets peg it to the Yuan, and not the US dollar.

The us does not have the factories built, they do not have the infrastructre, and import prices will rise faster, and the domestic sector will be overwhelmed, and there too you will see higher prices, when 350 Americans buy only American.

Im the new brand of conservative, young 20s which you wont really have to deal.

I do not care how you live your life, go nuts, go wild. No matter the ammount of force, society tries will make you a beleiver in the christian god, or drugs are bad, or green is good, fossil fuel is bad. I care about living within ones means like my grandmother which doesnt require that you be married to the same woman for 50 years.

The most effective argument the left should use, if they wish to to turn the minds of the right of center. As the economy weakens hammer home the GW Bush routine. Question the conservative base in spending as you have done militarlily, and on domestic crime prevention, and which should instead be used domesticly on social programs if were in a position we cant raise taxes…

Comment from BB
Time: May 4, 2011, 2:23 am

We believe in canada the problem is FIRST PAST THE POST SYSTEM

The only reason tories got a majority was the damn first past the post system.

Comment from Rentier Fungicide
Time: May 4, 2011, 12:27 pm

Two fallacies underlie this whole discussion — first, that Quebeckers voted NDP because of the party putative progressiveness, and that the slight rise in support for Conservatives reflects a move to the right of the English-Canadian electorate. Neither claim could be more false. Just as many Quebec electors supported the Conservatives two elections ago, the main driver of support in Quebec was Layton’s hyprocritical appeal to Quebec nationalism (in this case combined with a lack of other viable options at the federal level). In TOPATS, many Canadians, due to the pathetic leadership and poor organization of the Liberal party, felt stuck between the scylla of xenophobic Quebec nationalism promoted by Layton, which threatens to tear the country apart, and the charybdis of Conservative ideology and anti-democratic practices, opted for the latter, for at least it offered in the long run some tiny glimmer of hope for pan-Canadian politics. The result was a majority without the participation of Quebec. It is therefore virtually impossible to see how the NDP can hope to pick up an additional 52 seats in TOPATS without standing up FOR national social programs, equality of the provinces, national official bilingualism (i.e. against Law 101), First Nations self-determination, minority language communities, national enforcement of healthcare and environmental standards, and so on, which means, in effect, the next party to govern Canada, other than the Conservatives, will be one which opposes Quebec nationalism (if, that is, Quebec does not vote for separation first, abetted by the many indépendantistes in the NDP caucus).

Comment from Carl Rosenberg
Time: May 4, 2011, 4:48 pm

I appreciated the above article and discussion. My comment here is of no great import, but I was interested in the comparison of Harper and Duplessis. I thought of this parallel after Harper first became PM. Duplessis was certainly one of the most reactionary and authoritarian figures in Canadian history, and it’s not pleasant to witness an early twenty-first equivalent, this time on a national scale.

Carl Rosenberg
Vancouver, BC

Comment from Rentier Fungicide
Time: May 5, 2011, 7:20 am

Eric’s evocation of “two or three nations” seems xenophobic to me: Quebec, like Canada, is not home to one, or two, or even three nations (after all there are, what, at least 12 First Nations in Quebec alone, and, depending how one measures it, even more than that). Plus, Québécois are part of the French-Canadian nation, the Canadian nation. If Québécois want to define themselves as part of a Quebec nation, who am I to say no to them? By the same token, who are Quebec nationalists to assert that all Québécois are part of a Quebec nation?

Talk about “how two or three nations work together their arrangements in a non-oppressive form” is merely narrow-minded nationalistic wind unless the NDP is willing to stand up and say that First Nations may not be forcibly included in a Quebec nation, that the term Quebec nation can only be applied to territory over which they hold aboriginal title with their consent, that the NDP will not condone use of the term “Quebec nation” in the absence of a formal consultation, such as a referendum, by which the will of the Quebec populace to be recognized as a Quebec nation can be legitimately and transparently recognized, and that notwithstanding all of the above, the Government of Canada has a duty to maintain its nation-to-nation relationships and treaties with First Nations.

Another problem with Eric’s approach, perfectly aligned with the Dupplessis-ist approach to politics, is the assumption that there is just Quebec and some other Canadian nation — that is a convenient fiction for Quebec nationalists, but Canada is a multinational space even excluding Quebec. Quebec is indeed distinct, not from Canada though, but from all the other Canadas (let us recognize Newfoundland nationhood while we are at it, for Newfoundlanders are substantially more distinct from the TOPATS even than Quebec).

Non-oppression means based on democratic and transparent processes, and there has been nothing remotely democratic or transparent about Layton’s appeal to Québécois nationhood.

Comment from Eric Pineault
Time: May 5, 2011, 8:01 am

Cher Fongicide Rentier, j’ai résisté à date à commenter vos propos qui me semble viser essentiellement à provoquer la dissension plutôt que le dialogue franc et constructif qui caractérise la démarche des gens que j’ai connu au Forum. Je m’en tiens à quelques points qui me semble essentiels et après je m’arrête là.
Votre conception du Québec me semble référer justement à l’ère où Duplessis en alliance avec le clergé catholique régnait sur la nation canadienne française, comme on l’appelait à l’époque.
Les “canadiens français” de la province du Québec en élisant Lesage ont décidé de rompre avec se référent national pour construire la nation québécoise, il faut se rappeler que Lesage était un Libéral, pas un “séparatisse”. Je n’ai pas connu cette époque, mais j’ai grandi dans cet “état de fait”. On peut vouloir le changer, le critiquer, en souligner les limites, en particulier dans le rapport aux francophones hors Québec qui sont resté “canadien français”, et aux nations autochtones. Mais je constate encore là le fait simple et évident, les nations autochtones et les francophones hors Québec, ainsi que la myriade enrichissante de nouvelles et moins nouvelles communautés culturelles (le mot ethnique est proscrit au Québec) se sont particulièrement bien adapté à la refondation de la nation “British Canadian” en nation canadienne “multiculturelle”. Le seul élément qui ne cadrait pas avec cette vision généreuse portée par Trudeau fut précisément la société québécoise.
Le fédéralisme asymétrique ne fait que reconnaître se fait historique et contemporain.
Of course if we all just spoke english and watched american TV les choses seraient plus simple pour vous. Mais ce n’est pas le cas. Platte.
C’est tout ce que j’avais à dire sur ce sujet.
Cordialement
Eric Pineault.

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: May 5, 2011, 9:34 am

I truly do not like when people hurl the first nation card at Quebec. And what English Canada has done so much more with first Nations and giving them choice? NOT!

Please rentier as a progressive, I would hope for a bit of a higher ground here.

As the NDP has chosen to do in the past and present, recognize Quebec within an asymmetrical federalism, I do think Eric makes his point clear, that we must start from that point. If not you might as well hive off the Quebec NDP right now and forget about any unified NDP forces.

There is a reason why Quebec chose the NDP and rentier, it is not for any reason you mention.

We need to accommodate the NDP in quebec, not mutilate. That is something I do think labour in this country has done a lot better than any other institution. Say for example the CAW, CEP or the USW experiences. These are the models we need to draw on for successes and failure and try and build this into a union of collective action within the political framework. when or if, the party ever gets into a position of power is when that debate must be undertaken. Right now, the NDP has made some genuine open promises to Quebec voters and they must be respected.

Comment from Rentier Fungicide
Time: May 5, 2011, 10:18 am

Paul Tulloch: quite right, the NDP should not speak for native people, any more than Preston Manning should (that was a great irony, his defence of Quebec First Nations).

Progressives, however, are in favour of social and economic justice. I live in Quebec and educate my children in French, but if supporting a Quebec nation means that I must accept a Quebec nation, which is maybe 40 years old as Mr. Pineault himself attests, in the PLACE of recognizing the right to self-determination of the First Nations in Quebec (who have been around for thousands of years), then I say that NDP must not support a Quebec nation.

The notion of asymmetrical federalism as proposed is not just racist but actually imperialist. Because that is exactly what the old empires did, they transferred nations and people against their will, without their consent, just as New France was transferred to the British Crown by decree, because the French Crown preferred to do so.

Eric does NOT makes his point clear: it is rather his fundamental ignorance not only of Canadian history but of Quebec history which occludes honest debate. He refuses to discuss further, and you urge me “as a progressive” not to broach the topic further. Very open-minded indeed. And yet, I never mentioned multiculturalism — Mr. Pineault did. I never questioned Québécois right to self-determination, just called for a transparent and democratic process. If the Quebec left cannot tolerate honest and open debate over these questions, then it is not progressive at all, but just a nationalist jumble of “nous autres contre les anglais”.

M. Pineault, je promets de vous répondre en plus ample détail, en français, dans un jour ou deux — pour l’instant je dois me concentrer sur mon boulot.

Comment from Eric Pineault
Time: May 5, 2011, 11:41 am

I agree with Mr Tulloch when he refers to union experience as model of asymmetry, having experienced it myself with both CUPE and CAW. As for the debate with Mr Rentier, I just find the whole thing unconstructive at this point and I dare say since the beginning when he urged the NDP to focus on what we calls TOPATS without Québec.
I don’t understand why recognizing Québec as a nation implies the non-recognition of first nations. Does he imply that Québec has never discussed or signed treatise with first nations ? Does he imply that somehow recognizing Québec would take away past, present and future rights from first nations ? Does he think that only the federal state, or TOPATS as he calls it, can deal fairly and equitably with first nations ?
Asymmetry is not about territories or first nations. Asymmetry is about a different path that has been chosen democratically in Québec to construct a welfare state and socialize the capitalist economy, a path specifically chosen because of a distinct national identity linked to a common culture and language, a path chosen to strengthen this culture and language, again a process that has its lot of errors, blunders, limits, and in the past twenty years serious regressions except on women’s issues, where the advance has continued here much further then elsewhere because of the specificities of the women’s mvt in Québec.
I’m among those who think this can be done together with the rest of Canada, and that united and in the recognition of our common past and struggles, that we will be stronger. Should we also work with first nations in their demand for self-determination, of course, I’m ready to go much further down that road then the actual status quo, but that is a whole other discussion.

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: May 5, 2011, 2:33 pm

I do actually think both of you agree on the question of first nations and how it is both our histories and present that have been unjust. So i do think there is grounds for a mutual understanding of the issue. Potentially that is what we need here, a recognition that progressives whether they be inside or outside of quebec share more in common than they differ. Hence the optimism for moving forward the interests of quebec within the NDP contra social and sovereign dynamics.

When we talk of asymmetric federalism, I do think it is a perception problem we are dealing with, at least in the English popular culture. I do not think asymetrically means anytime more than protecting quebec’s ability to shield it’s dominant culture, while at the sametime being as multicultural. Living north of a massive anglophone cultural machine like the USA, is grounds for anybody to protect themselves, English Canada does it, and so what is the problem with Quebec doing it. To enable such protection, undoubtedly takes more federalist cultural mechanisms than other provinces. So if that means embowering quebec to achieve those goals, I do think most other canadians can be sympathetic, if informed and educated in a fashion that can promote Quebec and its distintiveness as an asset for Canada. So many other countries have a long history of such ahievements

I did not mean to infer that we cannot debate such issues, it was potentially just the format and the lack of detail in your post.

Comment from Mathieu Dufour
Time: May 7, 2011, 11:07 am

I’ve been wondering for the last couple of days whether or not to intervene in the discussion here, or even to write a whole different post to act as a lightning rod. Éric is one of the nicest and most thoughtful person I know and I appreciate his desire to move beyond dissension in this discussion, so that we can focus on building a common movement. At the same time, I feel that we should be frank and honest about the many issues plaguing this federation if we are even to hope to succeed in this endeavour. The point is not to spew bitterness, but rather to be lucid about the task at hand and the current state of affairs.

I also appreciate the fact that many people don’t really come to the PEF blog to read about constitutional disputes… but hey, one does not necessarily prevent the other. So let’s look at various issues in turn. The point is not to be exhaustive, but to start a dialogue on salient points that could be problematic.

There was a short exchange between Rentier Fungicide (RF) and Éric in French, which implicitely brought up the language issue. OK, so Éric and RF could have sparred in French, but could I really be writing this post in French and engage in a broad discussion? I doubt so. The idea of bilingualism coast to coast is bankrupt. It did not work. And maybe that’s fine.

It is hard to deny the campaigns of assimilation that took place for the greater part of the twentieth century (incidentally, that’s why francophones from Québec retreated to a province where they formed a majority – it was an attempt not to get wiped out, whether it made sense or not in hindsight). There are whole generations in some parts of the country whose French was beaten out of them (e.g. Western Newfoundland). But at some point in the 1960s and 1970s, things changed a bit and there was a genuine attempt for a bilingual country. I can’t say I like Trudeau much, but I think that on this one, he tried for real.

What is the result decades down the road? Well most of the younger generations in Québec speak enough English to get by. Is it the converse true? No, and by a margin, which is perfectly understandable. Why would anybody learn French outside of Québec? Because they want to preserve a French culture they like, because they like the language, maybe because they believe in a bilingual nation (hard to imagine such a concept to be operative in elementary school, but it could be through their parents)… Ok, all good and valid reasons, but unlikely to apply to a majority of kids. Consequently, even if we teach French to every primary school kid, I doubt most will learn.

The story is different for English. It is currently dominant language in the world – and certainly in North America – so there the question is reversed: Why wouldn’t people learn English? And lo and behold, in proportion, many more people do than the reverse. More than a year after moving away from Halifax to go to New York, for example, I still get calls to comment on economic issues because there simply aren’t that many economists who can do it in French there – and Halifax is not exactly the boonies.

But that’s stating the obvious. The deeper question is: Why should we care? I used to get incensed at my Albertan friends when I lived in Vancouver when they ridiculed their French classes, but frankly, they had a point. Why not let folks from other provinces learn Spanish or Mandarin if they prefer? As long as we can find a way to communicate – and again, it is seldom in French anyway – then fine. Forced bilingualism is, in many ways, a repressive policy…

And this is what asymmetric federalism is about: Live and let live. RF says that people in Newfoundland are just as unique as Quebeckers, maybe more, and he brings up first nations. These are valid points, but I fail to see why decentralising hurts anybody – let all preserve the culture they want while being given the means to do so (so sure, the centre can redistribute said resources). There is a lot of hate given to bill 101, for example, but most if not all provinces have the exact same provision for French school (not immersion). If the latter is not perceived to be a problem, then why should the former?

The NDP has a tradition of wanting to have a strong central power, partly because it finds many of the things that happen locally to be highly distasteful (e.g. the campaign against public healthcare in Alberta). But there again, at some level, why protect people against themselves? Sure there could be minimum standards, especially in a way such that any Canadian can be treated in any province with their provincial insurance, but beyond that?

Worse still, progressives wishing for a strong a progressive centre forget that from one election to the next, this centre may remain strong, but could cease to be progressive. The conservatives have and liberals have provided good examples of what can happen then over the last few decades. One could recall Anne McLellan forcing Québec to a law and order agenda with respect to young offenders, for example. I would even bring the issue of war. Conflict after conflict in the 20th century and beyond, Québécois did not want to go. They got shot in compliance for the First World War, duped for the Second World War, and simply ignored most of the times otherwise (a notable exception may be the last Iraq war – polls were showing a Yes from TOPATS and a no from Québec and Chrétien decided not to go).

Shortly put, a strong and centralised federalism is not guaranteed protection because the apparatus can be captured by anybody. Decentralisation, on the other hand allows more breathing room on average, at least when it is wanted. On this note, I was going to address the issue of “Québec’s putative progressiveness”, but I’ll pass. Maybe in a later post, but I am afraid that then we would get bogged down.

Québec is a complicated place. Many in Generation X are frustrated with the current state of affairs, a frustration they express via the ADQ, which is not particularly progressive, to say the least… and then, it is also a place where there can be a general student strike led by a group with autonomous communist leanings. The space remains contested, like everywhere else…

Anyway, all this to say that I think it is useful to engage in frank and open discussion about such issues. If we are to find a modus vivendi in this country and unite under a progressive banner, more understanding between the two solitudes would not only be useful, it is essential. The more past issues are swept under the rug, the more they fester. This is true for First Nations, but also for francophones and Québécois. Barring that, yes, there might be a desire to leave, however messy this road is to be. If the conservatives are as vengeful as they can be, this is a distinct possibility.

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