Fear not a discussion on sovereignty.

4 Sep

“If you look at Québec solidaire, they’re a hard left political party that believes in the separation of our country” –unhelpful rhetoric from Ian Capstick, former NDP staffer, this morning on The Current.

Tonight, eyes across Canada will be on Québec. It’s nice to have everyone pay attention. I didn’t feel like during the last Ontario election the outcome mattered all that much and so no one was watching. It was clear that the PCs had fumbled and the NDP would pick up a few protest votes cast to spite the Liberals more than support the NDP. In retrospect, there probably would have been no difference between a McGuinty ultra majority, or a Conservative majority, so Québec’s election is a good reminder that sometimes, yes, elections matter.

There’s been a lot of scary writing by people about how we’re all doomed if (when) the PQ wins.

In the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election, the best insult Liberals could hurl at Mulcair is that he’s a separatist (which, to argue this must ignore nearly all of his political past).

Inspired by what I’ve seen online this past week, I’m writing to assure you, dear Canadian, that there’s no reason to be worried about the future of Canada as it may or may not hinge on tonight’s results. No, you should worry about the future of Canada for other reasons.

Some people use Québec to scare non-Québec Canadians to whip up nationalistic feelings of patriotism so that we simply fall in line. Just like Marois has done to avoid talking about real policies, commentators in the ROC are doing the same thing. It’s easy to scare people with the belief that Canada is about to collapse because of Québec than to allow Canadians to see which public policies are possible, like 7$/day daycare. If Canadians knew about Québec’s approach to social programs they might just start demanding them in Nova Scotia or Ontario. They might start taking to the streets in the hundreds of thousands.

Instead: fear separation. Fear the separatists who hate Canada like terrorists hate freedom.

I can’t bring myself to the level of nationalistic, Canadian fervor to become concerned with the protection and maintenance of Canada’s borders. Despite being an Anglophone living in Québec, studying in Saskatchewan and with all my family in Ontario, I don’t understand the fear that it seems folks have with having this discussion.

Our borders are invented. They run through national lines that had evolved through war, cooperation, familial lines and trade. We had no part in shaping them. They were imposed upon this land by a few people in England and a few people in Canada. Like the myths that surround Pierre Trudeau, our borders have taken on a place in our consciousness that builds them up to be something that they aren’t really.

Québecers have a history of being hyper aware of their place, or non-place, in the Canadian confederation, so it’s no surprise to me that the conversation has traditionally been of sovereignty or federalism. But this dichotomy isn’t good enough. It’s clear to me that we have to evolve this discussion beyond “will I need a passport to visit Québec?”

Québec isn’t going to change the make-up of this Canada. New models of self-governance emerging from First Nations communities are the biggest “threat” to Canadian federalism, and I support these struggles. If First Nations communities can succeed in winning their autonomy from local authorities, and if they can enter into new kinds of relationships with existing provinces or municipalities, well then, we will have a new model on our hands. And it may work for the rest of us too. It would change the face of the Canadian federation for the better.

When I hear about sovereignty, I hear people who are legitimately frustrated and angry with a federal government that they, by in large, did not elect. I hear people outraged that their money is being spent on war rather than education or pharmacare. I hear people who are scared that the relentless drive toward English that exists around the world through the movement of global capital will also wash out the French from this province.

I hear similar frustrations in Ontario and Saskatchewan too. The difference is that the answer isn’t to have a full-scale reexamination of our borders. Instead, there is no answer. It’s normally just sighing, disenfranchisement and anger washed down by a beer.

Our people make up Canada: WE are Canada and people are hurting, bad. When can we talk about the hurt that our borders and our political system have inflicted upon us? And, for the ROC, when can we/you ask the question, what must change to make it better for our communities?

I’ve avoided dissecting the problems with the PQ version of sovereignty so far, of which there are many, just because it’s another post altogether. But the PQ’s wants the easiest path to a free Québec: have a vote, win, declare independence. This isn’t sufficient. It takes on the same nationalistic xenophobia that exists in the rest of Canada, translates it, and uses it to create a mini, French version of what Québec just ceded from. Parizeau’s “money and the ethnic vote” comment in 1995 was a good indication of the problems with how the last push for sovereignty was formulated. I wrote an essay on it in Grade 10 history.

But the current rhetoric from Marois is just real politik. She’s trying to get elected. Her polls are saying that this rhetoric will work in target ridings and she’s going for it. That’s how our democracy works. She’s playing by the same rulebook as all the other mainstream parties. Taking issue with Marois’ approach is to take issue with the manifestation of Canadian democracy itself.

This is why new discussions emerging from Québec solidaire, for example, are so important. Their’s is a new way to approach this issue. It’s inclusive. It offers the rest of Canada a potential model for the reenfranchisement of people everywhere.

Why are partisan political commentators so concerned when we talk about changing those borders?

These debates are dangerous because they threaten the only thing that gives our federal government its legitimacy. Partisans know that if Québec has this discussion, confederation is threatened. Alberta will go next. Then Newfoundland. Then Northwestern Ontario. Political parties could no longer fight each other for total control of the world’s second-largest land mass, the home to 20% of the world’s fresh water.

As you’ve probably heard from an ex…this isn’t about you. It’s about them.

Handwringing over sovereignty is a game of political elites. Don’t get caught up in this debate on their terms. Redefine the terms of the debate and ask yourself critical questions: is there a better way to organize ourselves? How does it look? What would it take to move us there?

As a progressive person, I have to believe that the local decision-making of engaged and involved communities is the most important node of power. I have to believe that community empowerment is the first line of defense in the struggle to take back our democracy and I have to believe that this may result in a rejection of the borders that were imposed on all of us by people we didn’t elect.

I also have to believe that people are near-universally awesome and solidarity means that we create experiences for us to travel, live among communities that we’re unfamiliar with, explore landscapes where we’ve never been and honour the traditions that have come from these lands regardless of the political structure that exists around us.

Controlling borders, granting access to some to enter and imprisoning others is all about power. I don’t want to be part of a system that treats people this way and I’m prepared for the challenge and the work it will take to change this.

To end, I want to acknowledge how painful a process of going through a discussion like this is. I imagine that for many Québecers, the thought of enduring a referendum process is worse than the possible outcomes and the anticipation of this pain (and the memory of it from 1995 and 1980) is enough to not want to touch this question ever again. The question of sovereignty divided people here: neighbours, families and communities. It wasn’t the process that I advocate above. Québecers who endured these campaigns are right to be nervous, frustrated and angry with the PQ’s rhetoric.

But all ye in the rest of Canada do not have a similar right. It’s like feeling like you earned a gold medal when you’re watching someone on the TV flip back and forth on a trampoline. You didn’t earn it. You can’t even flip once on a trampoline.

Don’t fear conversations about sovereignty. Instead, use this discussion to open a space in your community have your own discussions: does the political system we have, accompanied by the borders created to control our movement, our identities and commerce, serve us or oppress us?

And what about for people who aren’t “us”?

13 Responses to “Fear not a discussion on sovereignty.”

  1. Janis Magnuson at 12:58 am #

    Thank you for your very thoughtful analysis. I, too, strongly believe that we must switch to an informed, consensus-based, community decision-making process. Policy is far too important to leave in the hands of politicians. The very nature of the political process puts them in a continual conflict of interest position.

  2. Cath at 2:17 pm #

    Je suis bien contente d’entendre une voix anglophone sur ce sujet. Je me disais bien, aussi, qu’il devait y avoir des gens insatisfaits dans le reste du pays, et une réflexion sur la nation canadienne qui devait s’amorcer. Merci pour ce texte!

  3. Johan Boyden at 3:34 pm #

    Dear Nora,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the election and raising the platform of Québec Solidaire.

    I\’ve written more specifically about the QS platform and their proposal for a constituent assembly here: http://rebelyouth-magazine.blogspot.ca/2012/08/quebec-heads-to-crucial-vote.html

    There is a very brief contrast with a third route to resolve the national question with an equal partnership in the form of a confederal republic — unlike two other main strategies proposed today of (1) twiddling with the status-quo via autonomy (ie. cooperative federalism or the NDP\’s asymmetrical federalism) or (2) independence in some form.

    Your readers may also be interested in the full platform of QS here in English: http://www.quebecsolidaire.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/QS-Plateforme-2012-anglais-.pdf

    I share your sense of urgency and importance about aboriginal people\’s self-determination, the need to \’pay the rent\’ and deal with the crisis of First Nations and Metis living conditions, abolish the racist, sexist and even genocidal oppression, etc. I\’m not convinced, however, that these issues are the trigger about to break open the Constitution.

    The Constitution is still basically a document written by big railway capitalists in London, which creates a prison-style framework for any nation other than the dominant English-speaking nation. It was the \’Fathers of Confederation\’ who enshrined inequality, division and antagonism into the unequal union creating Canada — not the Quebec people as you suggest, who were already living this \’divisiveness\’ when they began to find a solution to the Constitution\’s fundamental flaws. Consider equality in marriage — could it exist without the right to divorce? And when progressives and feminists fought for the right to divorce, were they advocating everyone divorce? To be truly equal, any constitution must recognize Quebec\’s right to self-determination, up to and including separation. Such a new relationship of an equal partnership (which is also supported by many labour and progressive movements in English-speaking Canada) could allow for the kind of unity that is needed to defeat our common class opponent — starting with the Harper Tories.

    I agree that participatory and community-level democracy must be at the core of such a struggle — and I think it is essentially we also include economic democracy, where the working people themselves run the economy, as well as peace and disarmament, and a programme of curbing corporate power. That could even be a step towards socialism in Canada, and ultimately communism. But until we win such a state-less society, I think we will still have boarders. Let`s not forget that today\’s boarders, while not democratically defined, are also a product of struggle like revolutions of 1837 or the \’Riel Rebellion\’. Probably a re-drawing of boarders (especially for Aboriginal communities but also perhaps Quebec) would be necessary with a total re-conception of the Constitution by a constituent assembly. But I think the main challenge remains building that unity of people\’s forces, breaking with federalism and making an equal partnership.

  4. Liberal at 8:56 pm #

    To say that Canadians outside of Quebec do not have “the right to be nervous, frustrated and angry with PQ’s rhetoric” makes absolutely no sense to me. Why not? Why does one have to live in a specific place in order to earn the right to criticize policies of its political party? I live in Quebec, but I deeply care about international politics and often find myself frustrated, excited or otherwise emotional about events that take place or are projected to transpire in different parts across the globe. The fear of another referendum is absolutely relevant to the rest of the country and goes much deeper than political games or community building.

    I am also not a big believer in conspiracy theories. Not sure which of Quebec’s social programs you believe other provinces might envy so much. You were certainly not serious about the 7$/day daycares with insane waiting lists and corrupt administrators that manage them? Maybe you meant our fantastic medical system that usually places last out of all the provinces? Lack of access to family doctors or pediatricians? Or perhaps QS’s proposals to impose more taxes on companies and on individuals with higher incomes? All envy-inducing, for sure.

    Personally I don’t fear the actual referendum as I would simply leave the glorious country of Quebec and move elsewhere. What I loathe are the flawed policies that both QS and PQ share, aimed at preserving the French language (ie: turning non-Francophones off learning or improving their French skills completely). What I both loathe and fear is a new wave of “us versus them” discussions that segregate us all even further.

    PS: @ Johan Boyden: The word is ‘borders’.

    • Nora Loreto at 9:05 pm #

      The ROC doesn’t have a right to feel the intense bitterness that many Québecers feel from enduring two previous referenda because it’s different “experiencing” the campaign from outside than from within. I didn’t say that Canadians don’t have a right to an opinion on the matter, or to their feelings, but they cannot claim to know what it’s like to endure the referendum process (that was the context of what you have quoted above).

      I’m glad you at least wore your politics on your post. As I argue, it’s partisans who have the most to lose in this discussion, and so, as a Liberal in Québec, you’ve illustrated my point perfectly. Thanks!

      • Liberal at 11:44 pm #

        In the first sentence of your reply you say ‘the ROC doesn’t have the right to feel the intense bitterness’ and in the second sentence you say ‘I didn’t say that Canadians don’t have a right to their feelings’. I’m still confused as to why we need to police other people’s feelings and decide to what degree one is allowed to feel something. Weird.

        On the other hand, members of QS often present their ideas in a contradictory manner and avoid answering simple direct questions. You’ve illustrated that point perfectly – thanks!

      • Nora Loreto at 2:04 am #

        How did you splice my comment at the word “because” and then try to make an argument that is supposed to be valid? You’re making intellectual leaps. And, as an apparent Québecer (which I actually doubt, anonymous Liberal), you’re manifesting feelings that are directed toward people who aren’t you. This isn’t about policing anyone’s emotions. It’s about calling out nationalistic rhetoric that has damaged this conversation to the benefit of your political party and to the detriment of open and fair debate. I’d say, thanks for trying, but the attempt was weak. So you get a ‘thanks for coming out.’

  5. Liberal at 2:44 am #

    Ah, got it! You want to have an open and fair debate with people that agree with you. When someone disagrees, it’s challenging for you to respond to any direct questions and not resort to demagogy. I also find it curious that you decided to question the validity of my identity. What would I have to gain by being dishonest about it? Oops, that was a question again. Forgot for a moment that you did not like those. I guess I will just leave you to debate with yourself on the emotional rights of others.

    • Nora Loreto at 2:52 am #

      You’re using a pseudonym. Not me. I challenged your argument by identifying how you took half a sentence out of context. Clearly, this post demonstrates my desire to debate. But not all people are worthy debators. This was a call out for some intelligence, some nuance, some discussion that transcends what is currently out there. You then claim that I’m just unable to argue with people who disagree with me? Try taking something I said in context as a starting point and I’ll respectfully engage. Otherwise, you’re going to be called out for what you appear to be. That’s the rule when you post anonymously.

      • Liberal at 3:11 am #

        You have a strange obsession with rules and rights.

        I apologize for my reluctance to post my name on a random site. How would knowing it prove where I live anyway? You can always look at my IP and see that it originates from Montreal, if you have such a burning need to have ‘proof’.

        I also apologize I ignored the second half of your key sentence. It seems to be bothering you. Yes, I agree that experiencing an event and observing it are two fundamentally different things. What I disagree with is your suggestion that one does not have the right to experience the intense feeling (beginning of your first sentence). I did not live through the Nazi regime, for example, yet visiting Germany evoked profound emotions from me. I do not claim to have the slightest idea of what one felt in Nazi Germany but neither have I heard anyone from ROC claim to know exactly how it feels to live through referenda. Have you?

        (I am in no way drawing parallels between Nazism and Quebec. This is simply an example of experiencing intense feelings. I also apologize for preferring to be direct whereas you clearly prefer a more convoluted – full of nuance? – argument)

    • lagatta à montréal at 5:52 pm #

      Liberal, usually our adversaries accuse us of being if anything, too direct. When have representatives and spokespersons of my party (Québec solidaire) ever refused to answer direct questions?

      Many people in the RoC are very envious of our CPE (subsidised daycare) system, despite its shortcomings and underfunding. It is still unequalled in North America!

      • Liberal at 4:40 am #

        Those who are envious of the CPEs are often not familiar with how unfair and often corrupt they are. Here’s my personal example. I live in old montreal, in a building that actually has a CPE on the first floor. However, when I had my child, I found out that my chances of getting a space at this daycare are null. Why? Because the priority went to the government workers from the city hall. Second on the list were the employees of palais de justice. Third – all the lawyers that work in the area. I have many stories of a long ordeal of trying to get a spot at a CPE in other areas of the city & dealing with bureaucracy, rudeness and run arounds. How about not even being able to get a tour of a daycare before putting your child on the list? The system is flawed to the core and hardly something to envy.


  1. The Province of Northern Ontario « Dulce et Decorum -

    […] A few weeks ago, I encouraged people to not fear discussions about Québec independence. In that same vein, I think that it’s clear: Northern Ontario needs to become its own province. Not a country, yet, but at least a province. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: