Sunday, June 12, 2005

Separatist-ish - The Tale of André Boisclair

The leadership race for the Parti Quebecois is getting curiouser and curiouser. First, Landry shocks the party by stepping down. Then Francois Legault, considered one of the likely internal candidates, announces that he is not interested in the job. Scuttlebutt on the CBC and Globe & Mail would have us believe that Gilles Duceppe is not, in fact, going to run for the leadership - which if it is true may have been a factor allowing the PQ to choose November 15 for the convention.

Faced with an absence of challengers to Pauline Maurois, the only declared candidate, there appears to be a move to draft André Boisclair, the former Environment Minister and MNA for Gouin. The 39-year old Boisclair is thinking seriously about this, according to La Presse.

Reading this brief bio of Boisclair (and I will admit that I don't know much more about him than this), I am struck once more by the mass of contradictions that seems to typify the sovereigntist movement. A recent masters' graduate of Harvard University, Boisclair's current job options seem to be: a) candidate for leader of the PQ, or b) working for Mckenzie consultants in Toronto. How someone who is considering the leadership of a party dedicated to prying Quebec out of Canada can justify working in Ontario is beyond me. It falls into the same category as the hypocrites who call themselves sovereigntists, and yet work for the federal government or other federal institutions.

Of course, maybe I should take comfort from the fact that if he did win the leadership, he'd likely take the same approach as so many Pequiste leaders before him, which is to talk a good game about sovereignty, but not actually hold a referendum. Sure, the federal government would be hamstrung by provincial whining and threats under his leadership (assuming Charest loses in 2007/08), but at least outright separatism would be off the table for a while longer.

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At 10:01 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lack of sophistication of your arguments in this text is beyond me. The fact that these arguments are coming from a Canadian intellectual - and a specialist of Canadian history! - is simply appalling. I see it as another confirmation that this country cannot be reformed to meet the expectations of Québec. The fact that a future Anglo-Canadian scholar like you cannot even grasp the basic issues and get facts right, and resorts to insults in place of rational arguments to make his point reinforces my conviction that sovereignty is the only viable option remaining.

By the way, I hope that you realize that to state that the 40 to 50% of Quebeckers supporting sovereignty are ‘hypocrites’, just falls short of being a racist stance.

From a very puzzled Concordia University “colleague”

P. Gauthier

At 11:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should have read Matthew Hayday’s comments more carefully before letting my blood pressure blowing up. On frist reading, I jumped to the conclusion that he called all sovereignists “hypocrites” in his comment. He argument was subtler than that: he called hypocrites only the sovereignists working in other provinces or for the federal Government.

But the fact remains, that, as a Canadian citizen – for the moment, a sovereignist has the same responsibilities than other Canadian citizens - such as paying his or her income tax and complying to Canadian laws, but also the same rights than any other citizen in this country, and that includes working in another province or working for the federal government if she wishes so. We would probably all agree that there is noting ‘hypocritical’ about paying one’s taxes to a country in which one does not believe anymore…

To question the legitimacy for a sovereignist of exerting a right recognized to all Canadian citizens is a pretty inelegant stance, to say the least. It puts one in the good company of Stephen Harper, who questioned to legitimacy of the same-sex marriage bill on the grounds that it was passed because of the vote of sovereignists MPs.

I’m growing more and more annoyed to read or hear comments from members of the Anglo-Canadian intelligentsia (Jeffrey Simpson, Stephen Harper, Matthew Hayday and other intellectuals met at conferences), who devilize the sovereignists and portray their ideas and behavior as either illegitimate or irrational. There is a term for the procedure, which consists in dismissing in such a way the thought of a large proportion of the population of a minority group: prejudice.

P. Gauthier

At 7:55 am, Blogger Matt said...

P. Gauthier, to respond to your two posts.

You're certainly correct on some points. As Canadian citizens, sovereigntists have the responsibility of paying taxes, the right to seek employment with the federal government or in other provinces, and the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, etc. I am not questioning that.

The main point that I am questioning is whether it is intellectually consistent for someone who is opposed to the existence of the federal government to choose to work for that same institution. Does a person who thinks that abortion is a sin have the legal right to work for an abortion clinic in Canada. Yes. Is it morally and intellectually consistent with their belief system to do so? No. Likewise, I believe that someone who thinks that Quebec should secede from the Canadian federation is being intellectually inconsistent by choosing to work for the federal government when there are other alternatives available to them. It is putting their wallet above their principles.

I also question the logic of those who support sovereignty, yet make the choice to live and work in another province. Yes, they have a right to do so. The question is why they would opt to live and work in a predominantly anglophone community, completely cut off from the jurisdiction of the Quebec government (which has demonstrated over the past 45 years that there is much room within the Canadian federal system to protect the French language and culture), when there are employment opportunities in Quebec?

I am not "devilizing" the ideas of the Quebec sovereignty movemenet, although I do disagree with them. My position is that there is room within the framework of Canadian federalism for the aspirations of francophone Quebeckers (and French-Canadian and Acadian minority communities elsewhere) to be met.

While I appreciate being labelled part of the "intelligentsia", a closer look at my actual scholarship on Quebec and French Canada would show you that my research and publications have focussed on ways in which French-Canadians have worked to secure language rights within the Canadian framework, a goal that I find laudable. I am not dismissive of the intellectual underpinnings of the sovereigntist movement - I choose instead to meet it head on and propose alternatives to it.

At 1:52 am, Anonymous P Gauthier said...

I do not want this written exchange to go on forever, since we will have to conclude that we agree to disagree anyway, but I still wish to add few comments.

With respect to the intellectually inconsistent position of a sovereignist working for the federal government: I would go even farther than you do, by arguing that in some (rare) circumstances, it would be intellectually dishonest and unethical for a sovereignist to work for the federal governement if the job implies policy making affecting federal-provincial relations for instance. But the vast majority of jobs in the federal government do not imply work of this nature. I would not personally consider intellectually inconsistent for someone who believes that abortion is a sin to work in a hospital were such procedures are conducted, but I would perfectly understand that this person refuses to be personally involved in it.

Between you and I, I personally know a few very compromised Marxists contributing to the social reproduction of bourgeoisie by their university teaching. Disgusting!

But more seriously, as far as the more common situation that would see a sovereignist working in another province is concerned (and frankly to hear or read someone questioning the legitimacy of it is far more perplexing to me – I will explain myself on that matter in the following paragraph): I see no more inherent contradiction in the behavior of a sovereignist, who wishes to live and work in Ontario or BC (or in Italy or France for that matter) for a few years, than there is for a Canadian nationalist to chooses to live and work in the US, ‘completely cut off from the jurisdiction of Canada’ and its social policy network – to paraphrase you (I hear that some of them might even end up living there 30 years, and become Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, but that might be just a rumor).

Questioning the logic of the choice for a sovereignist to live and work in a predominantly English environment in the rest of Canada (ROC) is based on the reasoning or the belief that sovereignists, by definition, reject or dislike Canadian values, culture or language. One could perfectly respect a society, its culture and language without espousing the said culture or developing a sense of belonging to it (the American example comes in mind again). It’s been decades since the theme of historical resentment of the “defeated” French Canadians has been marginal in the sovereignty narrative. Such a shift occured in the late 1960s, early 1970s). Today, the Parti Québécois’ predominant narrative is devoid of such resentful arguments (not to confound with the resentment towards some federal government’s specific policies, which operates at another level), and argues rather that the “natural” political arrangement for Québec as a nation, is to have its own state, as with any other nation-states, such as France, Italy or the United States. The corollary discourse is to the effect that sovereignty would confer to Québec the complete control over its destiny and the total ability to develop itself according to its own political, social and cultural personality, its particular economic model and its specific history.

Many younger generation sovereignists, especially amongst former federalists like myself, buy the second argument but not the argument that the ‘natural’ and inevitable fate of a nation is, sooner of later, to “find” its state, so to speak. Rather, we came to the conclusion that, considering recent history (the abandonment of the bi-national, two founding people paradigm and its replacement by the multiculturalism paradigm; Meech Lake; Charlottown, etc.) it became impossible to reform Canada in order for its institutional framework to truly reflect its bi-national+ character (the “plus” being the native nations – recognized, by the way, as nations of their own for the first time in Canadian history since 1867, by a 1985 PQ motion in Québec National Assembly, as you know). In other words, the fact that Québec is as different from the rest of Canada than, say, Norway is different from Sweden, does not imply that Québec should separate. Québec should separate because there is no way in a foreseeable future to reach to a new satisfying political agreement with the ROC, due to ever-diverging conceptions pertaining to each ones respective nature and common future.

I would argue that a majority of Quebeckers has not reached this conclusion yet, but that it is probably just a matter of a few years now. And when Jeffrey Simpson, for instance, faced with ambiguous surveys results, portrays Quebeckers as morons, full of contradictions, who basically do not understand what sovereignty implies, he fails to understand that the apparent contradictions and ambiguities in the results to various questions of a survey stem from the fact that, for a majority of Quebeckers, sovereignty is still a solution of last resort, and that they would prefer Québec to stay in a significantly decentralized new Canada than to go. Since the vast majority of Canadian seems to agree with the centralizing efforts of the federal government and to favor its constant intrusion in provincial areas of constitutional competences, and since a form of asymmetrical federalism would never fly in English Canada, some conclusions seem inevitable.


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