Writing an op/ed on the National Post's Full Comment blog, Adam Daifallah hits on what amounts to a key observation about the continuing battle between separatism and federalism in Quebec:
Federalism, he concludes, simply isn't glamour enough to compete with separatism on an emotional level:
"With apologies to Lisa Raitt, the biggest problem with federalism in Quebec is that the arguments in its favour are inherently unsexy. Who isn't at least mildly intrigued by the idea of founding a new country? It conjures up all sorts of romantic notions and fuzzy feelings. Defending federalism is defending the status quo -- which is almost always more difficult.Sadly, the appeal to "how great things could be" may not only be lacking in federalists in Quebec.
In the debate over Quebec's place in Canada, federalist forces will always be starting a few steps behind. In politics, emotion moves people, not ideas. Federalism is the greatest system of organizing government the world has seen. Yet Quebec federalists have continually failed to put forward an emotionally compelling alternative case to compete with the idealistic discourse of the sovereignists. 'Look how great things are' can't compete with 'Think of how great things could be.'"
Earlier this year, Ken Dryden gave a series stirring speeches during a speaking tour in which he urged Canadians to be ambitious.
But that Canadians would need to be urged to be ambitious at all is, in itself, a troubling prospect. Canadians have been raised being told about the innumerous accomplishments of their country: in wartime, in science and technology, in art, and just in the act of building a country in one of the most inhospitable climates in the world.
Of all the things Canadians may lack, ambition shouldn't be one of them. But if federalists outside of Quebec can't muster that level of ambition, one cannot fault federalists within Quebec for failing to aspire to the same standard.
"I attended law school in Quebec City for three years. Part of my reason for doing so was to better understand Quebec and its political dynamic. I had been told that in order to truly appreciate Quebec politics, one must recognize that it is really two provinces: Montreal, and everywhere else. This proved to be true.But one also has to keep in mind that the conservatism of Quebec City and its locales has been badly perverted.
Quebec City is an ethnically homogeneous, culturally conservative city that sees itself as the epicentre of francophone North America -- and it is. It is confident in itself and in the status of the French language; there are so few English speakers that the Anglo 'menace' is not apparent. I'm convinced this fact is partly the source of its conservatism."
That conservatism, especially in the post-Duplessis era of the province, has been transformed into a fervour for separatism. The Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois have earned their bread and butter by assembling a fragile electoral coalition of socialist progressives and cultural conservatives with nationalism acting as a glue to bind them. They've managed to seduce each with disturbing ease.
But even more disturbing is the blatant partisanship of many federalist organizations in Quebec. The director of one pro-Liberal federalist group recently lauded the decline in Conservative polling numbers as a good thing -- even though the Bloc Quebecois has made gains at the Tories' expense.
Somehow, partisanship between Canada's two political contenders has somehow come to mean more than fighting separatists -- otherwise, such individuals would be plenty content to combine forces with the Tories and fight the Bloc together.
But this would forget that many Quebeckers consider themselves Quebeckers first, and Canadians second:
"The francophone students I encountered at law school were generally confident, proud people who, while firmly attached to Quebec, were not strongly motivated by the sovereignist cause. It would be inaccurate to say they felt a strong attachment to Canada. Their loyalty first and foremost was to Quebec and likely always will be. But I never got the impression that there was a burning desire to forge ahead with the sovereignist project and hours of discussions confirmed this. Indeed, I only encountered one student who openly admitted he would take up arms and was willing to die for Quebec sovereignty.Yet, while the conditions that may spark cultural agitation between Quebec and English Canada remain low, Daifallah notes that the risk of such agitation is almost always present:
These young people didn't grow up knowing Rene Levesque and don't hold grudges toward English Canada. Like many young people today, they are less attached to borders and the concept of nationality in general. With the rise of the Internet and social networking websites, the link between language and culture and territory has been broken. One can correspond, watch and read news and live in French just about anywhere now, not just on Quebec territory."
"In theory, then, all this should be good news for federalism. However, support for sovereignty in the polls remains constantly at 40% and above. Linguistic and political tensions have been low for at least the past decade. But the next time there is any sort of provocation or crisis, that number could easily grow to over 50% again. Why?Simply put, federalists in Quebec spend far too much time appealing to the rational intellects of Quebeckers -- not in and of itself a bad idea -- and not enough time appealing to emotion.
The reasons are many. Nationalist sentiment in Quebec will never completely die. Respect for the federal and provincial division of powers can keep passions at a low ebb. But the federalist camp has never made a serious and gripping case for Canada in Quebec. They have been too timid, too lazy or unwilling to tackle the sovereignist storyline head-on. Until this changes, there will never be a serious dent in support for sovereignty. The intensity of the passion for the sovereignist cause may be dissipating, but sovereignty continues to be the default option for disgruntled Quebecers. Making Quebecers realize that both federalism as a form of government and Canada as a country are sexy -- in part due to Quebec's being a part of it -- is the only way to change that."
Federalist Quebeckers left themselves vulnerable to charges that Canada was simply an economic relationship between the various provinces. As Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau seemed to suggest in 1995, such a relationship could be reestablished with something so simple as admitting Quebec into NAFTA -- even if they simplified the ease with which Quebec could be admitted.
Only when it became apparent that the Referendum campaign was sliding disastrously in the direction of the separatists did federalists -- from across the country -- appeal to the emotions of Quebeckers with a massive rally in Montreal.
Daifallah clearly makes the case that in the complex puzzle of Canadian federalism, one key piece -- emotion -- is clearly missing.
In order to put Canada's separatist demons to bed for good, Canadians have to find the will to be a little more emotional about their country -- at least at a few times when an international hockey championship isn't on the line.