Quebec Nationalism

Quebec Nationalism

Canada is a nation divided into separate entities around issues of regionalism and provincialism, and Canadians in general do not place their trust in the federal government but in the governments of the different provinces. Regionalism became a force early in Canadian history and was then entrenched with the creation of the Confederation. The Canadian Confederation was an attempt to create a strong central government, seen by some as necessary to help the country develop economically. This Confederation was based on several principles intended to bring together the French-speaking and English-speaking worlds, and while this has been effective in setting in place an administration and a central government for Canada, it has not been successful enough to diminish separatist tendencies and inter-ethnic tensions.

A new effort to address these issues involves the creation of a Council of Federation, raising the question as to whether the newly formed Council of the Federation does or does not mean the end of Quebec Nationalism/Autonomy.

The government of Canada contributes to the continuation of regionalism. This government is a parliamentary system with an executive cabinet that can control the House of Commons. The country has a presidential, divided-powers system in which the executive does not control and must negotiate with both houses of Congress. Demographics based in part on geographical differences and climatic differences also contribute to regionalism, for each area in the country has its own identity, its own needs, and its own values to a great degree. Consociationalism is defined by McGarry and O'Leary (1993) as power-sharing. Such democracies have four features:

1) a grand coalition government incorporating the political parties that represent the main segments of the divided society;

2) proportional representation, employment, and expenditure in the public sector;

3) community autonomy norms that give the ethnic community self-government over matters of most interest to them; and 4) constitutional vetoes for minorities (McGarry & O'Leary, 1993, pp. 35-36).

McGarry and O'Leary point out that there are cleavages other than language running through Canadian politics and even between the two founding groups of the French and the English. Another factor that causes each to insist on linguistic dominance is the uneven geographical distribution of the two main linguistic groups. Historically, the position of the two groups has shifted, for the French were originally the majority. The English and French elites negotiated a power-sharing arrangement to avoid a civil war (McGarry & O'Leary, 1993, pp. 42-45).

The Canadian system has emphasized rather than diminished the differences between the two populations in Quebec, and other cleavages have also prevented a truly national consensus from emerging on these issues and others. The Canadian system has always been one in which the people have trusted local government more than federal government, and this has contributed to the retention of certain local attitudes and has bolstered the separatists in Quebec. The balance between federalism and confederation has contributed to continuing ethnic and regional differences rather than truly managing them. Taylor (1991) considers the issue of values in Canada and whether there are different values in the different regions of Canada, finding that such differences are minimal. Indeed, he finds that there is great similarity throughout the country, a similarity also found even across the French/English distinction, at least in terms of the things in life which are seen as most important. Even when it comes to the values that specifically relate to political culture, there seems to be broad agreement (Taylor, 1991, p. 53). Taylor finds that this was not always the case and that 50 years ago the differences were greater. The two societies, English and French, had different views on a number of issues. Taylor believes that the reason the two have come together is because each has moved to a more liberal social view, though it is not clear what he means here by a liberal society. What he says about Canada as a whole, however, emphasizes a certain conservative turn of thought in the political culture which Taylor believes has differentiated Canada from America. He also finds that Americans place a premium on the idea of rights, and they will defend their use of violence when it is in service of the protection of rights. Canadians, on the other hand, place more value on the ideas of peace, order, and good government. This is how Canadians see themselves, and it is how they try to maintain their lives (Taylor, 1991, p. 55).

The meaning of nationalism in Quebec seems to differ among different groups, as has been shown in polling concerning the issue of separation. Young (1998) notes that there are differences of opinion for support for sovereignty, independence, or separation, which mean different things to the people. Quebecers showed by 69% that sovereignty and independent mean different things to them (Young, 1998, p. 142). The ethnic differences in Quebec are apparent in a region that speaks French instead of English and that has more ties to France than to Britain, unlike the rest of the country. The city of Quebec was first captured form the French during the French and Indian War in North America, and this capture occurred in 1759: "The memory of the defeat fires up French Canadian nationalism even to the present day" (Grabowski, 1998, p. 21).

The differences are not simply ethnic, however, for different philosophies and different ideas bout government have also developed and surface from time to increase the drive for nationalism. Most provinces seek increased fiscal restraint and deficit reduction on the part of the federal government, for instance, but there are real differences about how to achieve this. Many in Quebec believe that the federal government is sinking and that it is time to abandon it and secede to create their own country. Ethnic differences may contribute to this, but it is just as easily characterized as a civic issue at this level (Dasko, 1996, p. 119).

The conflict throughout the last century has involved both ethnic differences and civic differences with the two often meshed in complex ways. Chennells (2001) notes this when speaking of the ethnic conflict between French-speaking Canadians and English-speaking Canadians in Lower Canada, with the conflict manifested over a variety of issues. From the turn of the century, there had been divergent political interests divided largely along ethnic lines, with the French dominating the assembly and the British dominating the councils. The French majority has favored one sort of taxation, and the British another:

Increasingly during subsequent decades, the direct source of political conflict became the composition of, and division of powers between, the assembly and the executive (Chennells, 2001, p. 87).

Such differences continue to this day, showing that it is not that easy to separate the ethnic differences from civic ones or to characterize nationalism in Quebec as deriving from one or the other, when in fact it derives from both and more form the interaction of both. These differences have waxed and waned over time, but they have not gone away.

In 1987 Prime Minister Mulroney brought together the nine provincial premiers and Quebec's prime minister (note they even chose to use a different title for their regional representative). The Meech Lake Accord was his attempt to bring Quebec back into the Constitution. This accord was not ratified by its June 22, 1990 deadline. The premiers of Newfoundland and Manitoba took offense to Quebec's efforts to rid itself of English in its midst by outlawing English on its commercial signs and refuesed to ratify the accord. Mulroney next proposed the Charlotttetown Accord, which was rejected by six of the ten provinces (Grabowski, 1998, p. 42).

Cameron and Simeon (2002) cite the rise in collaborative federalism, and they note that co-determinism in this context involves the two levels of government working together as equals or having provincial and territorial governments take the initiative on their own to act collectively in the absence of the federal government (p. 49). The authors offer a history of intergovernmental relations in Canada, especially in the period since the end of World War II, noting the growing antipathy of the public to increased executive federalism. The 1970s saw a growing regionalism and more assertiveness on the part of English-speaking provinces, with provinces less and less inclined to defer to federal leadership. More recently, what the authors call "collaborative federalism" has become the means by which national goals are achieved, with some or all of the eleven governments and territories acting collectively (p. 54).

In 2003, provincial and territorial leaders met in Charlottestown to adopt what they call "a plan to revitalize the Canadian federation and build a new era of constructive and cooperative federalism," with the centerpiece being the creation of a Council of Federation to meet on a regular basis and to which other councils will report. Brown (2003) asks if this will work and if intergovernmental cooperation such as is practiced in Canada can overcome the problems of federalism itself, noting of intergovernmental relations, "Not only are they…