A Separate Quebec – Opinion

Please note: the following is an opinion piece

By: Brandon Kaufman

In 1980, Quebec held a referendum that asked if its citizens desired a province with “sovereign-association” to Canada. Sixty percent of Quebecers rejected this change in dynamic. In 1995, another referendum put it more bluntly: Did Quebec wish to separate from the rest of Canada? This time, the results were far slimmer. Only 50.6% of Quebec citizens voted no. The razor-thin results seemed to indicate that Quebec was warming to the idea of partition. Yet for twenty years, nothing manifestly reflected this. That is until the election of 2015, which saw a re-birth of the Federal Bloc Quebecois Party. This was perhaps the first post-referendum demonstration of the continued demand for Quebec to be recognized as a distinct society.

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The demand has continued on account of the intense cultural anxiety felt amongst Quebec natives. To understand why this fear exists, one must look at the historical strife surrounding Quebec and the Anglophone provinces. Their friction dates back almost three hundred years, when New France fell and French-speaking Roman Catholics found themselves uncomfortably pledged to the Crown. Their fortunes did not get much better: the influx of American immigrants after their Revolution caused this minority to wane. Tensions burgeoned between the minority Francophones and majority English speakers; in 1911, for example, the government of Ontario introduced legislation that prohibited French schools.

Their dwindling population led to a Quebec panicked at the thought of a homogenized Canada: one wherein its people are uniformly anglophones. As such, they wanted to distinguish their province, inhibiting complete integration. Quebec first attempted to set themselves apart through Bill 101. The bill—officially titled the Charter of the French Language—mandated French as the only official language in Quebec. A clause in the bill stipulated that English may not be used on commercial and road signs. Valerie Ford, a retailer, thus was unable to put up her store signposts. She appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada in Ford v. Quebec. In a 9-0 ruling, the Court struck down the provisions that kept her from promoting her business. Next came the Meech Lake Accord, which would have recognized Quebec as a “distinct society”. It ultimately failed to be entrenched in the Constitution, much to the chagrin of some Progressive Conservative and Liberal MPs. These lawmakers defected from their parties, and established a new one dedicated to the principles on which the Accord was based — namely, separatism.

 

Recently, the party has found relative electoral success, holding ten seats in the House of Commons. They continue to push laws that attempt to distinguish Quebec from the rest of Canada. In 2015, Gilles Duceppe, then leader of the Bloc, called for an expansion to Bill 101. This is tangible evidence that the through-line of separatism—which began at the Plains of Abraham and intersects with efforts like the Meech Lake Accord—has no endpoint in sight.

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