Are you a progressive Canadian?
In this blog I discuss the question of Quebec independence and I make the point that recognition of Quebec’s right to self-determination (which need not imply promotion of the independence option) is a necessary component of any progressive political stance. Failure to recognize this right constitutes a serious impediment to secularism in Canada in general, not just in Quebec.
Sommaire en français Dans ce blogue je considère la question de l’indépendance éventuelle du Québec. Je maintiens que la reconnaissance du droit du Québec à l’auto-détermination (ce qui n’implique pas nécessairement de prôner l’option indépendantiste) est une composante essentielle de toute orientation politique progressiste. Le refus de reconnaître ce droit représente une entrave majeure à la laïcité au Canada en général, et pas seulement au Québec.
Let us consider a little thought experiment. Suppose that at some date in the near future, the Parti Québécois (or another sovereignist political party) holds power in Canada’s province of Quebec, and that they plan to hold a referendum to decide whether Quebec should become an independent country. Furthermore, in order to simplify our thought experiment, let us suppose that, after intensive negotiations, all significant players in this drama—whether passionately in favour of Quebec independence, or fervently opposed to it, or holding some intermediate opinion—have agreed on the following three major points:
- the wording of the referendum question;
- the criterion for victory or failure of the independence option;
- in the event of failure, a restriction on the holding of similar referenda in the future.
Point (1) means that all have agreed on the wording of the question which will be put to voters. For example, “Do you want Quebec to separate from Canada to become an independent republic?” or whatever the various players agree to.
Point (2) means that all have agreed on what threshold will be necessary to decide that the referendum results represent a victory for independence. For example: 50% + 1 of all votes cast; or 50% + 1 of all eligible voters; or 60% of all votes cast; or 60% of all eligible voters; or whatever the various players agree to.
Point (3) implies that, if the independence side loses, all players agree that another referendum posing the same or a similar question may not be held again for a minimum number of years—for example, 15 years, or 25 years, or whatever the various players agree to. This will avoid the so-called “neverendum referendum” scenario, i.e. repeated and frequent referenda.
Thus we have what I think is a comprehensive set of conditions to make the referendum as fair as possible. Perhaps I have forgotten some other condition which should be met and which could be negotiated by all the major players in addition to the three listed above. I assume that all such major issues have been dealt with before the referendum is held.
I now ask you, dear reader, what your reaction would be if—after all these conditions had been met and the referendum held—the YES side won. What, in your opinion, should be done? In particular, what course of action should be adopted by the federal government in Ottawa?
I think the answer is obvious. Having agreed to a set of conditions assuring the fairness of the vote, and the YES side having won, the Ottawa government would have no choice but to accept the decision and to begin negotiations, in good faith, with the Quebec government, to facilitate the transition to sovereign nationhood for Quebec. If you disagree with this course of action, then you do not recognize Quebec’s right to self-determination. Furthermore, if you do not recognize Quebec’s right to self-determination, then you and I disagree on a fundamental principle of Canadian history and politics.
Now, in practice, I recognize that the conditions I have set up in preparation for the referendum are probably unrealistic. Indeed, if any of the parties to that preparation did not recognize Quebec’s right to self-determination, as I am certain some would not, then they would probably demand conditions to which independentists could never agree, such as, for example, an unrealistically high threshold for victory (condition 2). In practice, any referendum would probably occur in a context where controversy about the terms of the referendum continues to abound. Nevertheless, my goal in presenting such an idealized situation where most agree on those terms is to reduce the number of variables, i.e. to simplify the situation in order to expose one major variable, that variable being whether or not the stakeholders recognize a right to self-determination.
It is the duty of every […] progressive […] to support Quebec’s right to self-determination.
The bottom line is this: It is the duty of every person who considers himself or herself to be progressive in any real sense of that word—that is to say, in favour of fundamental human rights, in favour of social justice (an expression I continue to use despite the frequency with which it is bandied about and often abused), in favour of values which the left has traditionally defended (but in recent years has unfortunately tended to forget)—it is such a person’s duty, I say, to support Quebec’s right to self-determination. That does not mean that they must promote Quebec independence. Indeed, one may quite legitimately oppose it for a variety of reasons—for example, the political and economic instability which might (or might not) be the consequence of splitting up the Canadian federation and might (or might not) impoverish the population or otherwise significantly reduce their quality of life. But in that case one must respect Quebec’s right by opposing it honestly, with rational argument. And if the will of the Quebec nation—as expressed through a fair referendum—is to become independent, then one has a duty to respect that decision.
(Yes, Quebec constitutes a distinct nation within Canada: definition (1) of the Wiktionary definition of nation is “A historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, ethnicity and/or psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”)
Furthermore, if one opposes the Quebec sovereignty movement irrationally, for example by claiming that it is “racist” or “fascist” or some such nonsense, that is by simply slandering it, then one is guilty of ethnic bigotry against the Quebec nation. And ethnic bigotry is a form of racism (in the extended sense, as I have defined it in a previous blog, although not in the strict sense, because Quebecers constitute an ethnic group and a nation, but not strictly a “race”). Thus such specious accusations are blatantly hypocritical because the persons making them are themselves guilty of racism.
The strategy of slandering the Quebec sovereignist movement by associating it with repressive and xenophobic right-wing political movements is […] hate propaganda against the Quebec nation.
Let us be very clear. There is nothing about the Quebec independence option which is essentially “racist” or “intolerant” or “fascist.” The strategy of slandering the Quebec sovereignist movement by associating it with repressive and xenophobic right-wing political movements is an extreme form of what has become known as “Quebec-bashing” but which I would simply call hate propaganda against the Quebec nation. Racism and ethnic bigotry are present in all societies and any nationalism may be vulnerable to the influence of such tendencies. However, any right-wing clerico-nationalist tendencies in Quebec have been largely eclipsed in the last half-century by the resolutely secular nature of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. The conflict between Quebec sovereignists and Canadian federalists (i.e. for and against Quebec independence) is essentially a confrontation of two competing nationalisms:—Québécois and Canadian—and it is largely a matter of taste which of the two one prefers. Opposition to Quebec independence often takes the form of ethnic bigotry against the Quebec nation, and that bigotry is often expressed through the vehicle of Canadian nationalism—which can be very intolerant.
A lesser issue related to self-determination needs to be asserted as well. Respect for Quebec’s right to self-determination also implies respect for decisions of political importance but of lesser consequence than independence, decisions which may clash with values held by many Canadians outside Quebec. The obvious example of this is the desire of the majority of Quebeckers for a version of secularism in keeping with the republican tradition, i.e. laïcité. As Quebec is a separate province within Canada and Canada is a federation in which provinces hold significant powers, the right of Quebeckers to decide for themselves already has some legal basis, but that right is compromised by the fact that federal law takes precedence (which, in fact, constitutes an excellent argument for Quebec independence).
[…] old bigoted anti-Quebec memes were trotted out in order to demonize the Quebec Charter of Secularism […]. Partisans and dupes of Islamofascism made full use of such demonization to oppose the Charter.
We saw how old bigoted anti-Quebec memes were trotted out in order to demonize the Quebec Charter of Secularism proposed by the Parti Québécois government in 2013-2014. Partisans and dupes of Islamofascism made full use of such demonization to oppose the Charter. This bigotry rendered the Charter debate highly toxic and impeded rational discussion of the important issues involved. If Quebec’s right of self-determination had been respected, this problem would have been greatly reduced.
So-called secularists […] who allow their hostility towards Quebec nationalism to cloud their judgement […] constitute a major threat to the very secularism which they claim to support.
Why am I making this point in a blog normally devoted to issues of atheism and secularism? Because the demonization of Quebec independentists (and even softer nationalists) is a major impediment hindering efforts at secularization in Canada. Secularism is a major value of the Quebec nation, something which that nation shares with French culture in general, the result being that progress towards greater autonomy for Quebec and progress towards secularization tend to go hand in hand. This has been the case throughout the Quiet Revolution of the late XXth century and it continues to be the case. So-called secularists in Canada outside Quebec who refuse to recognize Quebec’s right to self-determination, who allow their hostility towards Quebec nationalism to cloud their judgement, who allow themselves to be manipulated by Islamists, constitute a major threat to the very secularism which they claim to support.
If the above blog speaks to you then you may be interested in the organization Anglophones for Québec Independence (AQI) founded in 2015. I personally am not a member, because I prefer to remain neutral on this issue, but I am very glad that such a group exists because they work to alleviate the stigmatisation of Quebec nationalism. Indeed, part of AQI’s mission is “to demystify inaccurate stories about Quebec and to answer insulting attacks, including the tired accusation that Quebecers are racist or xenophobic.” In other words, they promote intellectual hygiene, which can only make secularism debates healthier.