The Truth About the Quebec Issue
The Canadian unity crisis involving Quebec has been a controversial
issue since before the country^s confederation. Surrounding the
seemingly unsurpassable dilemma of unity there are three main
obstacles. The significant lack of action for Canada on the part of
many francaphone Quebecois, prevents any profound attachment to the
country on their behalf. A mood of intransigence on the part of
Canadians outside Quebec serves to alienate and anger the individuals
within the province. A perceived leadership vacuum throughout Canada on
behalf of its citizens contributes to a widespread feeling of
hopelessness (Reid, 1991). The complexity of, and speculation towards,
the Canadian unity crisis masks the infallible truth that while
presently, there is no solution to the problem there is some hope for
the future. Within the province of Quebec there is a significant lack
of patriotism or any real attachment for Canada. In 1995, The Angus
Reid Group asked a national sample of Canadians to describe how they
personally felt about Canada. Four options were given:
* I am strongly attached to Canada-I love the country and what it
* I am attached to Canada, but only so long as it provides me with a
good standard of living;
* I am not attached to Canada and would prefer to see it split up into
two or more countries; and
* I would prefer to see Canada amalgamate with the United States.
Outside of Quebec, there was evidence of a high level of patriotism
with over 85% of Canadians saying that they are deeply attached to the
country and what it stands for. In the province of Quebec, only
one-third of the population and only 20% of the francophones, displayed
this level of affection for Canada. While there is debate over the
cause for these statistics, some individuals believed that the
statistics were as a result of lingering wounded pride because of the
failed Meech Lake accord in 1991. Many Quebecois were insulted by the
way that many Canadians outside of Quebec trivialized the situation,
and the province^s demands. Others believe that this problem is
indirectly the result of Canada^s official bilingual status. The
reasoning behind this is that biligualism serves to even further
alienate and differentiate the French within the country. This poses a
difficult conundrum. Bilingualism can not be abolished because while it
serves to alienate, it is also perceived! by the French as preserving
their unique culture and identity. One hope is that through Canadian
media a new stronger more unified identity can be achieved. Arguably,
the CBC is this best forum for this shift in values because of its
status as a Canadian symbol. This concept is further validated by
Gerard Veilleux, president of the CBC in 1996.
Today in Canada, no one is sure what values all Canadians do share in
common. That uncertainty obviously makes it harder for the CBC to do
its job effectively. But I would also argue that at a time like this, a
strong CBC is even more essential than ever, to assist in redefining
and rebuilding the nation-to be one of the principal forums for this
national process of soul-searching and consensus-building. It is not
entirely unfeasible to think that the CBC has the potential to unite
Canada through its dedication to no particular province in Canada but
instead the entire country. The lack of patriotism within Quebec is
directly reflected in the inflexibility of Canadian citizens outside of
Quebec. Quebecois are further alienated and exasperated by the mood of
intransigence on the part of other Canadians. This desensitization and
refusal to acknowledge the severity of the issue at hand provokes
Quebec^s feelings of neglect. The Maclean^s 15th annual poll found that
in Quebec the ^percentage of respondents saying it is likely Quebec
will be a separate country within the next 50 years^(Macleans, 1998)
was 56% compared to that of 38% in the rest of Canada. This startling
statistics indicates an inability on the part of the rest of Canada to
acknowledge the seriousness to which Quebecois regard the issue. Their
inability to fully acknowledge the issue severely trivializes a cause
Quebecois deem most important. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau
believed that a mood of intransigence ^provides little room to maneuver
between a single constitution which would affect all Canadians equally,
and the formation of a completely independent Quebec state with few
ties to the rest of ! Canada.^. (1991) This intransigence is best
exemplified in the treatment by the rest of Canada towards a proposal
by the Quebec Liberals in 1991, known as the Allaire Proposal. Allaire
suggested a shift in some powers from the federal government to the
province of Quebec. Under Allaire, Quebec would be solely responsible
for such responsibilities as: health, agriculture, unemployment
insurance, energy, the environment, and language among others. Allaire
also suggested a sharing with the federal government of other powers
like, native affairs, justice, taxation and revenue. Allaire was
immediately refuted as being too generous to the province of Quebec.
Many politicians and citizens spent little time on the issue of Allaire
before quashing it. Although the full terms of Allaire could probably
never have been agreed upon, it is not entirely unfeasible to think
that some compromise could have been reached. One which neither would
have insulted the Quebecois nor left the rest of ! Canada feeling
violated. Certainly what is most important is not the final result of
such a proposal but instead the government^s treatment of it. This
concept is a key determinant in the future of Quebec as a part of
Canada. If the rest of Canada can find a way in the future to show more
respect to the Quebecois there could be a way to amicably satisfy both
groups. One barrier that prevents this process from taking place is the
way with which most of Canada regards their leaders.
The perceived leadership void throughout Canada advances the prevailing
feeling of discouragement. When those polled in the Maclean^s 15th
annual poll were asked, ^How satisfied [they] are with the job Prime
Minister Jean Chrtien is doing?^ (1998), only 7% of Canadians were very
satisfied. As Canadians consider their potential and their futures,
there are many different paths open to them- all of which appear
equally difficult. Without faith in their leaders, Canadians have
become immobilized while the rest of the world moves on. Canadians are
aware of this fact and it only serves to dishearten them further. It is
Canada^s leaders who are primarily responsible for all facets of
national unity. Without effective leaders who command the respect and
confidence of those whom they represent any attempts at finding a
solution will be ineffectual. Few leaders are able to have any national
effect because they are only seen as preachers of the biases which they
hold. Richard G. Lipse! y, a professor of Economics at Simon Fraser
University, commented on this at the President^s 25th Anniversary
Lecture Series at the University:
What we need is a statesman who can communicate to the people in a non
partisan manner that they have problems, not just on the budget but
also on all of the other problems [national unity] that I have
discussed. We desperately need a leader not just a consummate
This is perhaps the best solution to the question of Canadian
leadership, it is however too idealistic. The majority of Canadians do
not feel that he/she is in any political position at this time, and so
another unsurpassable problem presents its self. Canadian unity is an
issue which, is most deserving of attention but which also has no
present solution. The lack of attachment and patriotism for Canada
within the province of Quebec prevents the Quebecois from having any
affinity to a unified Canada. The mood of inflexibility and
stubbornness outside of Quebec only contributes to their feelings of
animosity and neglect. Many Canadian citizens hold the belief that
there are no suitable leaders within the country who hold the people^s
best interests at heart. It is perhaps so unpleasant an idea that
politicians would rather debate, argue and lay blame, rather than come
to terms with the fact that presently there is no solution to this
problem. Change is the key to finding a solution. By repeating the same
actions Canadians cannot expect to get different results. As the
millenium approaches, Canadians can only hope that by offering and
trying new methods, the conditions needed for a solution to be found,
will present themselves!
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