The past, present, and future of Québec (Part Nine)
By Mark Wegierski
As was suggested in an earlier piece in this series, a vote for Quebec sovereignty in 1995 might have actually been salutary for English-speaking Canada. One is left to ponder what the long-range effects of Quebec's particularism in Canadian history have actually led to: the coming triumph of an integral Quebec (and the dissolution of English-speaking Canada into “North America”); or the eventual cultural attenuation of both founding peoples?
Is it too late at this point for some kind of "dualism" as a path to save Canada? This "dualistic solution" would be heavily predicated on the recognition of "two nations" in Canada, the English-speaking and the French-speaking. It could be argued that the interests of Quebec have for a long time had an undermining effect on English-speaking Canada -- could this factor, at such a late date, be reversed? An absolute requirement for this "dualism" would be the establishment of separate Parliaments for English and French Canada. It might be something like the "sovereignty-association" proposed in the 1980 referendum by the Parti Québécois. Whatever the commercial and economic arrangements, Quebec would under no circumstances send elected representatives to Ottawa. (Any joint institutions would consist of government boards and commissions.) At that point, almost for the first time since 1963, there would be a considerable chance of forming a majority, small-c conservative government representative of a more traditional English Canada.
Although Quebec had remained socially ultraconservative until the 1960s, it has, throughout the Twentieth Century, generally voted in federal elections for the Liberal Party (apart from some exceptional elections), which has generally prevented any long-term, continuous period of Conservative government emerging from English-speaking Canada. Under Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister, the Liberal Party was mostly “traditionalist-centrist” or “centre-traditionalist” so it was not especially important whether the Liberals or Conservatives held power. However, from 1963 onward, the successive elections became of absolutely vital importance as to the kind of society that Canada would or would not become.
The very sharp political skill of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (who was Canada's emphatically Liberal Prime Minister from 1968-1984, apart from a brief, nine month, Tory interregnum in 1979-1980) had been to convince English-speaking Canada (at least in his first critical election victory of 1968, during which the term "Trudeaumania" was coined) that he would – so to speak -- "put Quebec in its place"; and to convince Quebec to vote for him because he was the native son, and would enhance the status of French-Canadians in Confederation. In Trudeau's conception, the common ground on which French and English Canada would meet would be the rights of the individual. Ultimately, of course, it could be argued that the Trudeau regime had highly negative effects on both French and English Canada. Early in his career, Trudeau had written: "There is some hope that in advanced societies, the glue of nationalism will become as obsolete as the divine right of kings". (Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Federalism and the French-Canadians. Toronto: Macmillan Press, 1968, p. 196.)
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.