Quebec sovereignty movement
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Quebec sovereignty movement


The Quebec sovereignty movement is a
political movement as well as an ideology of values, concepts and ideas
that advocates sovereignty for the Canadian province of Quebec.
Several diverse political groups coalesced in the late 1960s in the
formation of the Parti Québécois, a provincial political party. Since 1968
the party has appealed for constitutional negotiations on the
matter of provincial sovereignty, in addition to holding two provincial
referendums on the matter. The first, which occurred in 1980, asked whether
Quebecers wished to open constitutional negotiations with the federal government
for the intended purpose of establishing a “sovereignty-association” pact between
the province of Quebec and the rest of Canada. Approximately 60% of Quebec’s
voting public rejected the idea put forth by Parti Québécois leader René
Lévesque. The matter was dropped by the party for most of the 1980s, especially
after the patriation of the Canadian constitution without the consent of the
Parti Québécois government, and the creation of the federal Charter of
Rights and Freedoms, which enshrined the protection of the French language and
French-Canadian culture in Canada. In 1995, after two failed attempts by the
Mulroney government to secure Quebec’s ratification of amendments to the
constitution, the Parti Québécois held a second referendum, though on this
occasion the question was, albeit obliquely asked, whether one wished for
the independence of the province of Quebec from the rest of Canada. On this
more precise question, the response was again in the negative, though this time
by a far closer margin, with only 51% against the proposal.
Though the Parti Québécois has long spearheaded the sovereignty movement,
they are not alone. Other minority provincial political parties, such as
Option nationale and Québec Solidaire, also support sovereignty, but are not
always supportive of the Parti Québécois. The Quebec Liberal Party,
Québec’s other primary political party, is opposed to increasing political
sovereignty for the province, but has also been historically at odds, on
occasion, with various Canadian federal governments. Thus, Quebec politics is
effectively divided into two camps, principally opposed over the sovereignty
issue. Quebec sovereignty is politically opposed to the competing ideology of
Canadian federalism. Most groups within this movement seek to
gain independence through peaceful means, using negotiation-based
diplomatic intervention, although fringe groups have advocated and used violent
means. The overwhelming number of casualties were murdered at the hands of
the FLQ, a terrorist organization which perpetrated a bombing and armed robbery
campaign from 1963 to 1970, culminating in the October Crisis and the death of
senior government minister Pierre Laporte. Since this time all mainstream
sovereignist groups have sworn off violence, while extremist nationalist
groups, though in the minority, support violent actions in the name of
liberating Quebec from Canadian sovereignty.
The primary mainstream political vehicle for the movement is the Parti Québécois,
which has governed Quebec on multiple occasions. In 2012 it was elected to a
minority government, in which its leader, Pauline Marois, became the first
female Premier of Quebec. However, only 18 months later, the PQ was defeated by
the Liberal Party of Quebec in the 2014 elections.
Terminology In practice, “separatist” and
“sovereignist” are terms used to describe individuals wanting the
province of Quebec to separate from Canada to become a country of its own;
supporters of the movement generally prefer the latter term. The term
“independentist” is preferred by some of these supporters.
Reasons for sovereignty Justifications for Quebec’s sovereignty
are historically ethno-nationalistic in tendency, claiming that the unique
culture and French-speaking majority are threatened with assimilation by either
the rest of Canada or, as in Metropolitan France, by Anglophone
culture more generally, and that the best way to preserve language, identity
and culture is via the creation of an independent political entity. Other
distinguishing factors, such as religious differences, are also used to
justify either separation or ethno-nationalist social policies
advocated by the Parti Québécois. The historical justification is that
Quebec should be independent by virtue of New France having been conquered by
the British in 1763 and subsequently relinquished to the British in exchange
for Haiti. It argues that the people of Quebec are the descendants of a
conquered people who are due their national sovereignty. This perspective
was popular in the 1950s and 1960s when European countries were giving up their
colonies in the name of independence throughout much of Africa, the Middle
East and South Asia. Eight of the other Canadian provinces
are overwhelmingly English-speaking, while New Brunswick is officially
bilingual and about one-third Francophone. Another rationale is based
on resentment of anti-Quebec sentiment. With regard to the creation of the
sovereignist movement, language issues were but a sub-stratum of larger
cultural, social and political differences. Many scholars point to
historical events as framing the cause for ongoing support for sovereignty in
Quebec, while more contemporary politicians may point to the aftermath
of more recent developments like the Canada Act of 1982, the Meech Lake
Accord or the Charlottetown Accord. Many supporters of Quebec sovereignty often
compare their situation with Catalonia in regards to Spain and Tibet in regards
to the People’s Republic of China. Overview
=Background=Tension between the francophone,
Catholic population of Quebec and the largely anglophone, Protestant
population of the rest of Canada has been a central theme of Canadian
history, shaping the early territorial and cultural divisions of the country
that persist to this day. Supporters of sovereignty for Quebec believe that the
current relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada does not reflect
Quebec’s best social, political and economic development interests.
Moreover, many subscribe to the notion that without appropriately recognizing
that the people of Quebec are culturally distinct, Quebec will remain chronically
disadvantaged in favour of the English-Canadian majority. There is also
the question of whether the French language can survive within the
geographic boundaries of Quebec and where French-Canadian society and
culture fits into what is an increasingly multicultural country.
Separatists and Independentists are generally opposed to some aspects of the
federal system in Canada and do not believe it can be reformed in a way that
could satisfy the needs of Quebec’s French-speaking majority. A key
component in the argument in favour of overt political independence is that new
legislation and a new system of governance could best secure the future
development of modern Québécois culture. Additionally, there is wide-ranging
debate about defence, monetary policy, currency, international-trade and
relations after independence and whether a renewed federalism would give
political recognition to the Quebec nation could satisfy the historic
disparities between these cultural “nations” and create a more cohesive and
egalitarian Canada. Several attempts at reforming the
federal system in Canada have thus far failed because of, particularly, the
conflicting interests between Quebec’s representatives and the other provincial
governments’ representatives. There is also a degree of resistance throughout
Quebec and the rest of Canada to re-opening a constitutional debate, in
part because of the nature of these failures—not all of which were the
result simply of sovereignists and federalists not getting along. To cite
one case, in a recent round of constitutional reform, Elijah Harper, an
aboriginal leader from Manitoba, was able to prevent ratification of the
agreement in the provincial legislature, arguing that the accord did not address
the interests of Canada’s aboriginal population. This was a move to recognize
that other provinces represent distinct cultural entities, such as the
aboriginal population in Canada’s Prairies or the people of Newfoundland.
=Contemporary politics=Perhaps the most significant basis of
support for Quebec’s sovereignty movement lies in more recent political
events. For practical purposes, many political pundits use the political
career and efforts of René Lévesque as a marker for the beginnings of what is now
considered the contemporary movement, although more broadly accepted consensus
appears on the contemporary movement finding its origins in a period called
the Quiet Revolution. René Lévesque, architect of the first
referendum on sovereignty, claimed a willingness to work for change in the
Canadian framework after the federalist victory in the referendum of 1980. This
approach was dubbed le beau risque, and it led to many ministers of the
Lévesque’s government to resign in protest. The 1982 patriation of the
Canadian constitution did not solve the issue in the point of view of the
majority of sovereignists. The constitutional amendment of 1982 was
agreed to by representatives from 9 of the 10 provinces. Nonetheless, the
constitution is integral to the political and legal systems used in
Quebec. There are numerous possible reasons the
‘Yes’ campaign went down to defeat: The economy of Quebec suffered measurably
following the election of the sovereignist Parti Québécois and
continued to during the course of the campaign. The Canadian dollar lost much
of its value and, during coverage of the dollar’s recovery against US currency,
there were repeated citations of the referendum and political instability
caused by it cited as cause for the fall. Some suggest there were promises
of constitutional reform to address outstanding political issues between the
province and the federal government, both before and since, without any sign
of particularly greater expectation those promises would be filled to any
greater or lesser degree. There remains no conclusive evidence that the
sovereignty movement derives significant support today because of anything that
was promised back in the 1970s. Proponents of the sovereignty movement
sometimes suggest that many people in Quebec feel “bad” for believing the
constitutional promises that the federal government and Pierre Trudeau made just
before the 1980 Quebec referendum. Those were not delivered on paper or agreed
upon in principle by the federal government or the other provincial
governments. But, one conclusion that appears to be universal is that one
event in particular—dubbed “the night of long knives”—energized the sovereignist
movement during the 1980s. This event involved a “back-room” deal struck
between Trudeau, representing the federal government, and all of the other
provinces, save Quebec. It was here that Trudeau was able to gain agreement on
the content of the constitutional amendment, while the separatist Premier
René Lévesque was left out. And it may well be that a certain number of
Quebecers did and may even now feel “bad” both about the nature of that deal
and how Trudeau went about reaching it. Regardless of Quebec government’s
refusal to approve the 1982 constitutional amendment because the
promised reforms were not implemented, the amendment went into effect. To many
in Quebec, the 1982 constitutional amendment without Quebec’s approval is
still viewed as a historic political wound. The debate still occasionally
rages within the province about the best way to heal the rift and the sovereignty
movement derives some degree of support from a belief that healing should take
the form of separation from Canada. “I also criticized the unilateral
repatriation [sic] of 1982, concluding that ‘even in their moments of greatest
mistrust, the Québécois never imagined that the pact of 1867 could ever be
changed without their consent. Hence the impression they had in 1982 of a breach
of trust, of a violation of the national bond’s integrity. The descendants of
George-Étienne Cartier did not expect this from the descendants of John A.
Macdonald. Perceived as trickery in Quebec, the repatriation [sic] of 1982
has placed a time bomb in the political dynamics of this country”.
The failure of the Meech Lake Accord—an abortive attempt to redress the above
issues—strengthened the conviction of most sovereignist politicians and led
many federalist ones to place little hope in the prospect of a federal
constitutional reform that would satisfy Quebec’s purported historical demands.
These include a constitutional recognition that Quebecers constitute a
distinct society, as well as a larger degree of independence of the province
towards federal policy. “In Montreal, June 25, I walked along
rue Sherbrooke to Olympic Stadium, submerged in the immense river of white
and blue that seemed unstoppable on its march to sovereignty. Three days
earlier, Bourassa, former minister of federalism, had hurriedly changed his
tune: ‘English Canada must understand that… Quebec is, today and forever, a
distinct society, free and able to assume its destiny and its
development.'” The contemporary sovereignty movement is
thought to have originated from the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, although
the desire for an independent or autonomous French-Canadian state has
periodically arisen throughout Quebec’s history, notably during the 1837 Lower
Canada Rebellion. Part of Quebec’s continued historical desire for
sovereignty is caused by Quebecers’ perception of a singular
English-speaking voice and identity that is dominant within the parameters of
Canadian identity. For a majority of Quebec politicians,
whether sovereignist or not, the problem of Quebec’s political status is
considered unresolved to this day. Although Quebec independence is a
political question, cultural concerns are also at the root of the desire for
independence. The central cultural argument of the sovereignists is that
only sovereignty can adequately ensure the survival of the French language in
North America, allowing Quebecers to establish their nationality, preserve
their cultural identity, and keep their collective memory alive.
“At the same time, a brutal gesture by the Saskatchewan legislature brought the
first language crises to my doorstep. The legislature precipitously abrogated
the only law guaranteeing linguistic rights to the French population. It was
revenge for a recent Supreme Court decision that had confirmed the
constraining power of the law requiring all provincial laws to be available in
French. To avoid having to translate all their laws, Grant Devine’s government
moved to repeal the act. The French community reacted with indignation and
asked for federal intervention”.=Legal and constitutional issues=
It has been argued by Jeremy Webber and Robert Andrew Young that, as the office
is the core of authority in the province, the secession of Quebec from
Confederation would first require the abolition or transformation of the post
of Lieutenant Governor of Quebec; such an amendment to the constitution of
Canada could not be achieved without, according to Section 41 of the
Constitution Act, 1982, the approval of the federal parliament and all other
provincial legislatures in Canada. Others, such as J. Woehrling, however,
have claimed that the legislative process towards Quebec’s independence
would not require any prior change to the viceregal post. Young also concluded
that the lieutenant governor could refuse Royal Assent to a bill that
proposed to put an unclear question on sovereignty to referendum or was based
on the results of a referendum that asked such a question.
Arguments against sovereignty In a series of letters throughout the
1990s, Stéphane Dion laid out an argument against sovereignty.
It has also been argued by prominent Quebecers that sovereignty politics has
distracted Quebecers from the real economic problems of Quebec, and that
sovereignty by itself cannot solve those problems. In 2005 they published their
position statement, “Pour un Québec lucide”, which details the problems
facing Quebec. Many federalists oppose the Quebec
sovereignty movement for economic and political reasons but many also oppose
sovereignty on other grounds. For example, since the 1995 referendum, in
regards to the declaration of Jacques Parizeau who blamed the loss on “money
and the ethnic vote”, many federalists considered the sovereignty movement as
an expression of ethnic nationalism. Some arguments against sovereignty claim
that the movement is illegitimate because of its Eurocentrism which
alienates many among Canada’s First Nations, as well as the Inuit, and Métis
peoples and their sympathizers. The sentiment is summed up by a quotation
from a Mohawk from Akwsasne: “How can Quebec, with no economic base and no
land base, ask to become sovereign? How can Quebec be a nation when they have no
constitution? We have had a constitution since before the American revolution.”
Here the argument expresses the claim that the Mohawk nation has a more
legitimate claim to distinct nationhood on the basis of traditional lands and a
constitution predating confederation and thus should be afforded the right of
self-determination. Similarly, the Cree have also asserted
for many years that they are a separate people with the right to
self-determination recognized under international law. They argue that no
annexation of them or their territory to an independent Quebec should take place
without their consent, and that if Quebec has the right to leave Canada
then the Cree people have the right to choose to keep their territory in
Canada. Cree arguments generally do not claim the right to secede from Canada;
rather, the Cree see themselves as a people bound to Canada by treaty, and as
citizens of Canada. The Cree have stated that a unilateral declaration of
independence by Quebec would be a violation of fundamental principles of
human rights, democracy and consent. If secession were to proceed, the Cree
argue that they would seek protection through the Canadian courts as well as
asserting Cree jurisdiction over its people and lands.
Professor Peter Russell has said of Aboriginal peoples in Canada: “(they)
are not nations that can be yanked out of Canada against their will by a
provincial majority…. With few exceptions wish to enjoy their right to
self-government within Canada, not within a sovereign Quebec.”
International human rights expert Erica-Irene Daes says the change “will
leave the most marginalized and excluded of all the world’s peoples without a
legal, peaceful weapon to press for genuine democracy….” This concern is
connected to the claim that if Quebec were to be considered its own autonomous
nation-state then it need not honour the treaties and agreements that were formed
between Aboriginal peoples and the British and French monarchies and is now
maintained by the federal Canadian government. Concern for this may stem
from perception of neo-colonial or eurocentric attitudes in the leadership
of former premiers, such as Robert Bourassa and self-proclaimed “Conqueror
of the North”. Additionally, those in favour Canadian
federalism denounce Quebec separation as a ‘Balkanization’ of Canada, a country
principally created by French-Canadians living in present-day Quebec.
Sovereignty-association The history of the relations between
French and British descendants in Canada is one filled with a lot of rocky
moments. After discovering Canada and establishing some outposts and cities,
France lost it to Great Britain. After the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763,
France abandoned claims on Canada and Great Britain gave the West Indies
islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and some others back to France in the Treaty
of Paris, at which time France limited its activities to parts of North America
south of present-day Canada. From that point on, at different moments
in Canada’s history, some leaders and groups have risen to claim authority.
The use of the word “sovereignty” and many of the ideas of this movement
originated in the 1967 Mouvement Souveraineté-Association of René
Lévesque. This movement ultimately gave birth to the Parti Québécois in 1968.
Sovereignty-association is the combination of two concepts:
The achievement of sovereignty for the Quebec state.
The creation of a political and economic association between this new independent
state and Canada. It was first presented in Lévesque’s
political manifesto, Option Québec. The Parti Québécois defines sovereignty
as the power for a state to levy all its taxes, vote on all its laws, and sign
all its treaties. The type of association between an
independent Quebec and the rest of Canada was described as a monetary and
customs union as well as joint political institutions to administer the relations
between the two countries. The main inspiration for this project was the
then-emerging European Community. In Option Québec Lévesque expressly
identified the EC as his model for forming a new relationship between
sovereign Quebec and the rest of Canada, one that would loosen the political ties
while preserving the economic links. The analogy, however, is counterproductive,
suggesting Lévesque did not understand the nature and purpose of the European
Community nor the relationship between economics and politics that continue to
underpin it. Advocates of European integration had, from the outset, seen
political union as a desirable and natural consequence of economic
integration. The hyphen between the words
“sovereignty” and “association” was often stressed by Lévesque and other PQ
members, to make it clear that both were inseparable. The reason stated was that
if Canada decided to boycott Quebec exports after voting for independence,
the new country would have to go through difficult economic times, as the
barriers to trade between Canada and the United States were then very high.
Quebec would have been a nation of 7 million people stuck between two
impenetrable protectionist countries. In the event of having to compete against
Quebec, rather than support it, Canada could easily maintain its
well-established links with the United States to prosper in foreign trade.
Sovereignty-association as originally proposed would have meant that Quebec
would become a politically independent state, but would maintain a formal
association with Canada — especially regarding economic affairs. It was part
of the 1976 sovereignist platform which swept the Parti Québécois into power in
that year’s provincial elections – and included a promise to hold a referendum
on sovereignty-association. René Lévesque developed the idea of
sovereignty-association to reduce the fear that an independent Quebec would
face tough economic times. In fact, this proposal did result in an increase in
support for a sovereign Quebec: polls at the time showed that people were more
likely to support independence if Quebec maintained an economic partnership with
Canada. This line of politics led the out-spoken Yvon Deschamps to proclaim
that what Quebecers want is an independent Quebec inside a strong
Canada, thereby comparing the sovereignist movement to a spoiled child
that has everything it could desire and still wants more.
In 1979 the PQ began an aggressive effort to promote
sovereignty-association by providing details of how the economic relations
with the rest of Canada would include free trade between Canada and Quebec,
common tariffs against imports, and a common currency. In addition, joint
political institutions would be established to administer these economic
arrangements. But the sovereignist cause was hurt as many politicians publicly
refused to negotiate an economic association with an independent Quebec,
contributing to the Yes side losing by a vote of 60 percent to 40 percent.
This loss laid the groundwork for the 1995 referendum, which stated that
Quebec should offer a new economic and political partnership to Canada before
declaring independence. An English translation of part of the Sovereignty
Bill reads, “We, the people of Quebec, declare it our own will to be in full
possession of all the powers of a state; to levy all our taxes, to vote on all
our laws, to sign all our treaties and to exercise the highest power of all,
conceiving, and controlling, by ourselves, our fundamental law.”
This time, the sovereignists lost in a very close vote: 50.6 percent to 49.4
percent, or only 53,498 votes out of more than 4,700,000 votes cast. However,
after the vote many within the sovereignist camp were very upset that
the vote broke down heavily along language lines. Approximately 90 percent
of English speakers and allophones Quebecers voted against the referendum,
while almost 60 percent of Francophones voted Yes, and 82 percent of Quebecers
are French-speaking. Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau, whose government
supported sovereignty, attributed the defeat of the resolution to money and
the ethnic vote. His opinion caused an outcry among English speaking Quebecers,
since it exposed the ethnocentric perspective of the leader, who focused
blame for the defeat on minority communities as if to discount the
influence of 40% of Francophones who voted no.
An inquiry by the director-general of elections concluded in 2007 that at
least $500,000 was spent by the federalist camp in violation of Quebec’s
election laws. This law imposes a limit on campaign spending by both option
camps. Parizeau’s statement was also an admission of failure by the Yes camp in
getting the newly arrived Quebecers to adhere to their political option.
Accusations of an orchestrated effort of ‘election engineering’ in several
polling stations located in areas with large numbers of non-francophone voters,
which resulted in unusually large proportions of rejected ballots, were
raised following the 1995 referendum. Afterward, testimony by PQ-appointed
polling clerks indicated that they were ordered by PQ-appointed overseers to
reject ballots in these polling stations for frivolous reasons that were not
covered in the election laws. While opponents of sovereignty were
pleased with the defeat of the referendum, most recognized that there
were still deep divides within Quebec and problems with the relationship
between Quebec and the rest of the country.
History=Precursor ideas and events=
Sovereigntism and sovereignty are terms that refer to the modern movement in
favour of the political independence of Quebec. However, the roots of Quebec’s
desire for self-determination can be traced back as far as the Patriotes
Rebellion, the Alliance Laurentienne of 1957, the writings of Lionel Groulx in
the 1920s, the Francoeur Motion of 1917, and Honoré Mercier’s flirtation with
this idea=Emergence=
The Quiet Revolution in Quebec brought widespread change in the 1960s. Among
other changes, support for Quebec independence began to form and grow in
some circles. The first organization dedicated to the independence of Quebec
was the Alliance Laurentienne, founded by Raymond Barbeau on January 25, 1957.
On September 10, 1960, the Rassemblement pour l’indépendance nationale was
founded, with Pierre Bourgault quickly becoming its leader. On August 9 of the
same year, the Action socialiste pour l’indépendance du Québec was formed by
Raoul Roy. The “independence + socialism” project of the ASIQ was a
source of political ideas for the Front de libération du Québec.
On October 31, 1962, the Comité de libération nationale and, in November of
the same year, the Réseau de résistance were set up. These two groups were
formed by RIN members to organize non-violent but illegal actions, such as
vandalism and civil disobedience. The most extremist individuals of these
groups left to form the FLQ, which, unlike all the other groups, had made
the decision to resort to violence in order to reach its goal of independence
for Quebec. Shortly after the November 14, 1962, Quebec general election, RIN
member Marcel Chaput founded the short-lived Parti républicain du Québec.
In February 1963, the Front de libération du Québec was founded by
three Rassemblement pour l’indépendance nationale members who had met each other
as part of the Réseau de résistance. They were Georges Schoeters, Raymond
Villeneuve, and Gabriel Hudon. In 1964, the RIN became a provincial
political party. In 1965, the more conservative Ralliement national also
became a party. The historical context of the time was a
period when many former European colonies, such as Cameroon, Congo,
Senegal, Algeria, and Jamaica, were becoming independent. Some advocates of
Quebec independence saw Quebec’s situation in a similar light; numerous
activists were influenced by the writings of Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi,
and Karl Marx. In June 1967, French president Charles
de Gaulle, who had granted independence to Algeria, shouted “Vive le Québec
libre!” during a speech from the balcony of Montreal’s city hall during a state
visit to Canada. In doing so, he deeply offended the federal government, and
English Canadians felt he had demonstrated contempt for the sacrifice
of Canadian soldiers who died on the battlefields of France in two world
wars. The visit was cut short and de Gaulle left the country.
Finally, in October 1967, former Liberal cabinet minister René Lévesque left that
party when it refused to discuss sovereignty at a party convention.
Lévesque formed the Mouvement souveraineté-association and set about
uniting pro-sovereignty forces. He achieved that goal in October 1968
when the MSA held its only national congress in Quebec City. The RN and MSA
agreed to merge to form the Parti Québécois, and later that month Pierre
Bourgault, leader of the RIN, dissolved his party and invited its members to
join the PQ. Meanwhile, in 1969 the FLQ stepped up
its campaign of violence, which would culminate in what would become known as
the October Crisis. The group claimed responsibility for the bombing of the
Montreal Stock Exchange, and in 1970 the FLQ kidnapped British Trade Commissioner
James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte; Laporte was later found
murdered.=The early years of the Parti
Québécois=Jacques Parizeau joined the party on
September 19, 1969, and Jérôme Proulx of the Union Nationale joined on November
11 of the same year. In the 1970 provincial election, the PQ
won its first seven seats in the National Assembly. René Lévesque was
defeated in Mont-Royal by the Liberal André Marchand.
=The referendum of 1980=In the 1976 election, the PQ won 71
seats — a majority in the National Assembly. With voting turnouts high,
41.4 percent of the electorate voted for the PQ. Prior to the election, the PQ
renounced its intention to implement sovereignty-association if it won power.
On August 26, 1977, the PQ passed two main laws: first, the law on the
financing of political parties, which prohibits contributions by corporations
and unions and set a limit on individual donations, and second, the Charter of
the French Language. On May 17 PQ Member of the National
Assembly Robert Burns resigned, telling the press he was convinced that the PQ
was going to lose its referendum and fail to be re-elected afterwards.
At its seventh national convention from June 1 to 3, 1979, the sovereignist
adopted their strategy for the coming referendum. The PQ then began an
aggressive effort to promote sovereignty-association by providing
details of how the economic relations with the rest of Canada would include
free trade between Canada and Quebec, common tariffs against imports, and a
common currency. In addition, joint political institutions would be
established to administer these economic arrangements.
Sovereignty-association was proposed to the population of Quebec in the 1980
Quebec referendum. The proposal was rejected by 60 percent of the Quebec
electorate. In September, the PQ created a national
committee of Anglophones and a liaison committee with ethnic minorities.
The PQ was returned to power in the 1981 election with a stronger majority than
in 1976, obtaining 49.2 per cent of the vote and winning 80 seats. However, they
did not hold a referendum in their second term, and put sovereignty on
hold, concentrating on their stated goal of “good government”.
René Lévesque retired in 1985. In the 1985 election under his successor
Pierre-Marc Johnson, the PQ was defeated by the Liberal Party.
=The referendum of 1995=The PQ returned to power in the 1994
election under Jacques Parizeau, this time with 44.75% of the popular vote. In
the intervening years, the failures of the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown
Accord had revived support for sovereignty, which had been written off
as a dead issue for much of the 1980s. Another consequence of the failure of
the Meech Lake Accord was the formation of the Bloc Québécois, a sovereignist
federal political party, under the leadership of the charismatic former
Progressive Conservative federal cabinet minister Lucien Bouchard. Several PC and
Liberal members of the federal parliament left their parties to form
the BQ. For the first time, the PQ supported pro-sovereigntist forces
running in federal elections; during his lifetime Lévesque had always opposed
such a move. The Union Populaire had nominated
candidates in the 1979 and 1980 federal elections, and the Parti nationaliste du
Québec had nominated candidates in the 1984 election, but neither of these
parties enjoyed the official support of the PQ; nor did they enjoy significant
public support among Quebecers. In the 1993 federal election, which
featured the collapse of Progressive Conservative Party support, the BQ won
enough seats in Parliament to become Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the House
of Commons. At the Royal Commission on the Future of
Quebec in 1995, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada made a presentation in
which the party leader, Hardial Bains, recommended to the committee that Quebec
declare itself as an independent republic.
Parizeau promptly advised the Lieutenant Governor to call a new referendum. The
1995 referendum question differed from the 1980 question in that the
negotiation of an association with Canada was now optional. The open-ended
wording of the question resulted in significant confusion, particularly
amongst the ‘Yes’ side, as to what exactly they were voting for. This was a
primary motivator for the creation of the ‘Clarity Act’.
The “No” campaign won, but only by a very small margin — 50.6% to 49.4%. As
in the previous referendum, the English-speaking minority in Quebec
overwhelmingly rejected sovereignty, support for sovereignty was also weak
among allophones in immigrant communities and first-generation
descendants. The lowest support for Yes side came from Mohawk, Cree and Inuit
voters in Quebec, some first Nations chiefs asserted their right to
self-determination with the Cree being particularly vocal in their right to
stay territories within Canada. More than 96% of the Inuit and Cree voted No
in the referendum. However, The Innu, Attikamek, Algonquin and Abenaki nations
did partially support Quebec sovereignty. In 1985, 59 per cent of
Quebec’s Inuit population, 56 per cent of the Attikamek population and 49 per
cent of the Montagnais population voted in favour of the Sovereignist Parti
Québécois party. That year, three out of every four native reservations gave a
majority to the Parti Québécois party. By contrast almost 60 percent of
francophones of all origins voted “Yes”. Later inquiries into irregularities
determined that abuses had occurred on both sides: some argue that some “No”
ballots had been rejected without valid reasons, and the October 27 “No” rally
had evaded spending limitations because of out-of-province participation. An
inquiry by “Le Directeur général des élections” concluded in 2007 that the
“No” camp had exceeded the campaign spending limits by $500,000.
At the end of the 20th century=Quebec general election, 1998=
The Parti Québécois won re-election in the 1998 election despite losing the
popular vote to Jean Charest and the Quebec Liberals. In the number of seats
won by both sides, the election was almost a clone of the previous 1994
election. However, public support for sovereignty remained too low for the PQ
to consider holding a second referendum during their second term. Meanwhile, the
federal government passed the Clarity Act to govern the wording of any future
referendum questions and the conditions under which a vote for sovereignty would
be recognized as legitimate. Federal liberal politicians stated that the
ambiguous wording of the 1995 referendum question was the primary impetus in the
bill’s drafting. While opponents of sovereignty were
pleased with their referendum victories, most recognized that there are still
deep divides within Quebec and problems with the relationship between Quebec and
the rest of Canada.=Clarity Act, 1999=
In 1999, the Parliament of Canada, at the urging of Prime Minister Jean
Chrétien, passed the Clarity Act, a law that, amongst other things, set out the
conditions under which the Crown-in-Council would recognize a vote
by any province to leave Canada. It required a majority of eligible voters
for a vote to trigger secession talks, not merely a plurality of votes. In
addition the act requires a clear question of secession to initiate
secession talks. Controversially, the act gave the House of Commons the power
to decide whether a proposed referendum question was considered clear, and
allowed it to decide whether a clear majority has expressed itself in any
referendum. It is widely considered by sovereignists as an illegitimate piece
of legislation, who asserted that Quebec alone had the right to determine its
terms of secession. However the Supreme Court of Canada disagreed when the
matter was referred to that body, ruling that the Act is constitutional and, just
as Canada is divisible, so is Quebec, a ruling that has significant implications
for linguistic and ethnic minorities within Quebec, the bulk of whom have
traditionally opposed secession. Chrétien considered the legislation
among his most significant accomplishments.
Present=Modernization=
“Sovereignty-Association” is nowadays more often referred to simply as
“sovereignty”. However, in the 1995 Quebec referendum, in which the
sovereignty option was narrowly rejected, the notion of some form of
economic association with the rest of Canada was still envisaged and was
referred to as “Sovereignty-Partnership”. It remains a
part of the PQ program and is tied to national independence in the minds of
most Quebecers. This part of the PQ program has always been controversial,
especially since Canadian federal politicians usually refuse the concept.
In 2003, the PQ launched the Saison des idées which is a public consultation
aiming to gather the opinions of Quebecers on its sovereignty project.
The new program and the revised sovereignty project was adopted at the
2005 Congress. In the 2003 election, the PQ lost power
to the Liberal Party. However, in early 2004, the Liberal government of Paul
Martin had proved to be unpopular, and that, combined with the federal Liberal
Party sponsorship scandal, contributed to a resurgence of the BQ. In the 2004
federal elections, the Bloc Québécois won 54 of Quebec’s 75 seats in the House
of Commons, compared to 33 previously. However, in the 2006 federal elections
the BQ lost three seats and in the 2008 federal elections lost an additional
seat, bringing their total down to 49, but was still the most popular federal
party in Quebec up until the 2011 Canadian federal election, when the BQ
was devastated by the federalist NDP, with a total of 4 seats and loss of
official party status in the Commons, compared to the NDP’s 59, Conservative’s
5 and the Liberal’s 7. Polling data by Angus Reid in June 2009
showed the support for Quebec separation was very weak at the time and separatism
unlikely to occur in the near future. Polling data showed that 32% of
Quebecers believe that Quebec had enough sovereignty and should remain part of
Canada, 28% thought they should separate, and 30% say they believe that
Quebec does need greater sovereignty but should remain part of Canada. However
the poll did reveal that a majority of Quebecers still desired to achieve more
autonomy. The number one area of autonomy that those polled had hoped for
was with regard to culture at 34%, the next highest areas of autonomy cherished
were the economy at 32%, taxation at 26%, and immigration and the environment
at 15% each. The 2009 Angus Reid poll also revealed
some effects of the Clarity Act in which they asked two questions, one a
straightforward question for a separate nation, and the other a more muddled
version on separation similar to the one posed in the 1995 referendum. The data
on the questions revealed as follows to the first hard line question of “Do you
believe that Quebec should become a country separate from Canada?” 34%
replied yes, 54% said no, and 13% were unsure. To the less clear question of
“Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal
offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within a scope of
the bill respecting the future of Quebec?” support for separation
increased to 40% yes, the no vote still led with 41%, and the unsure increased
to 19%. The most startling revelation of the poll was in the fact that only 20%
or 1 in 5 polled believed that Quebec would ever separate from Canada.
2011 was considered a watershed year for the sovereignist movement. In the
aftermath of the 2011 federal election, Léger Marketing and pro-sovereignist
newspaper Le Devoir conducted a poll on the question. When asked whether they
would vote Yes or No in the event of a referendum, 41% of the respondents said
they would vote Yes. In 2011, the sovereignist movement splintered, with
several new parties being formed by disaffected politicians, with some
politicians dissatisfied with slow progress towards independence, and
others hoping to put the sovereignty question on the backburner. Leadership
by PQ leader Pauline Marois was divisive.
Allies and opponents=Provincial=
The separatist movement draws above the left and right spectrum, a sizeable
minority of more conservative Quebecers supporting the PQ’s political agenda
because of the sovereignty issue, despite reservations about its social
democratic political agenda. Right and Left must be interpreted
within the provincial context; Liberal Party politics generally coincide with
those of other liberal parties, while PQ politics are more social democratic in
orientation. There is no mass conservative movement in Quebec’s
political culture on the provincial level, due notably to strong government
interventionism and Keynesianism shared by all parties since the 1960s, and the
province’s Catholic heritage. There are, of course, quite a few
exceptions. Notable examples include: the conservative but nationalist Action
Démocratique du Québec supporting the Yes side in the 1995 Quebec referendum.
They now support Quebec Autonomism: a decentralized view of the Canadian
Confederation, and accept the 1995 “No” verdict;
the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada building links with the
sovereignist in the 1980s; Sovereignty has very little support
among Quebec Anglophones, immigrant communities, and aboriginal First
Nations. About 60% of Francophones voted “Yes” in 1995, and with the exception of
weak “Yes” support from Haitian, Arab and Latin American communities, most
non-Francophones massively voted “No”. The opponents of the sovereignty
movement view the project as ethnically exclusive, based on its rejection by
non-Francophones. This position is sometimes disputed by the PQ, which
claims its goal is all-embracing and essentially civic in nature.
Partitionism There is an undercurrent of feeling
amongst “ethnic” and “anglo” voters that sometimes surfaces as a desire to
separate from Quebec. This would create a new province of Canada, from the
southwestern and southern portions of the province.
This feeling is exemplified by the statement — “If Canada is divisible,
then so is Quebec” made by federalists in 1995 or “If Quebec can separate from
Canada, then we can separate from Quebec”. In contemporary times most
mainstream political parties in Quebec deny or refuse to comment on the idea
that Quebec can be divided up. During the 2007 Quebec election, federalist and
Liberal Party of Quebec leader Jean Charest said that “All of these things
are hypothetical questions…I do not think that Quebec is divisible. And if
ever we were to go there, and end up in that situation, I know the question
would be asked.” However the Supreme Court of Canada has
ruled in favour of the legality in partitioning Quebec, determining that
Quebec is in fact divisible according to the same logic, legalities, and
democratic tests that render Canada divisible. A panel of Quebec civil
servants, at the request of the ruling Parti Québécois at the time, wrote a
report arguing that International law guarantees the territorial integrity of
Quebec should Quebec become an independent state.
Cree separation There was a feeling amongst the Cree of
Northern Quebec, that should the province separate, they would remain
part of Canada, and would force the province to return to its pre-1912
boundaries, and re-establish the Ungava district of the Northwest Territories,
or a new territory or province created in its place .
=Rest of Canada=The other nine provinces of Canada have
generally been opposed to Quebec sovereignty. Aside from marginal
movements, the only major secessionist movement in English Canada has been the
Maritimes Anti-Confederation movement immediately after Confederation
occurred. In general, francophones outside Quebec
oppose sovereignty or any form of national recognition for Quebec, while
non-francophones, particularly the anglophone minority in Montreal, also
have remained opposed. After polling heavily on the subject, marketing firm
president Mark Leger concluded: “These numbers surprise me, they’re so clear
across the country…. You look at Francophones outside Quebec, it’s the
same result…. Overall, outside the French in Quebec, all the other groups
across the country are against this notion.” The exact question of the
November 2006 poll was, “Currently, there is a political debate on
recognizing Quebec as a nation. Do you personally consider that Quebecers form
a nation or not?” Canadians from every region outside Quebec, non-Francophone
Quebecers, Francophone Canadians outside Quebec all rejected the idea.
=France=In France, although openness and support
is found on both sides of the political spectrum, the French political right has
traditionally been warmer to sovereignists than the French left.
This used to be a paradoxical phenomenon because of the Parti Québécois and most
sovereignists being to the political left and supporters of Quebec being as a
province tend to be politically on the right. Michel Rocard has been one of the
French Socialists that broke that so-called rule the most, maintaining a
close and warm relationship with Quebec sovereignists. More recently, Ségolène
Royal, a leader of the French Socialist Party, indicated support for “Quebec
sovereignty” but it was seemingly a reflexive answer to an “out of the blue”
question from a Quebec journalist in Paris. On a later visit to Quebec City
she gave a more nuanced position, mentioning a Parliamentary motion
recognizing the Québécois as a “nation”, but also describing 400 years of
“oppression” and resistance of francophones in Canada.
The French Foreign Office motto concerning Quebec “national question” is
“non-ingérence et non-indifférence”, which epitomizes the official position
of the French State. In other words, while the Quebec people vote to stay
within Canada, France will officially support the Canadian Confederation the
way it is. That is why bilateral relations between both governments have
been so strong for many years . Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy
has stated on the record that he opposes the separation of Quebec from Canada.
Sovereignist organizations=Political parties=
Parti Québécois SPQ Libre
Bloc Québécois Québec solidaire
Option nationale Parti indépendantiste
Parti marxiste-léniniste du Québec=Non-partisan organizations=
Mouvement pour une Élection sur la Souveraineté
Mouvement de libération nationale du Québec
Conseil de la Souveraineté du Québec Réseau de Résistance du Québécois
=Defunct organizations=Rassemblement pour l’indépendance
nationale Front de libération du Québec
Parti nationaliste du Québec Parti indépendantiste
Union Populaire Nouvelle Alliance Québec-Canada
=Sympathetic organizations=Confédération des syndicats nationaux
Centrale des syndicats du Québec Fédération des travailleurs et
travailleuses du Québec Union des artistes
Mouvement national des Québécois et des Québécoises
Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society Sovereignist media
Le Devoir L’Action nationale
AmériQuébec L’aut’journal
Le Couac Souverainete la solution
La Gauche Le Jour
Le Mouton noir Le Québécois
Québec-Radio Vigile
Quebec sovereignty movement in fiction Richard Rohmer’s novel Separation was
turned into a TV-movie for CTV Television in 1977. In the movie, the
Parti Québécois has formed the government of Quebec but Premier Gaston
Belisle has repeatedly put off its promise to hold a referendum.
International politics forces Belisle’s hand.
In the mid-1980s, a second movie, Quebec-Canada 1995, depicts a meeting
between the president of Quebec and the prime minister of Canada to discuss a
crisis involving Quebec military occupations of parts of Ontario and New
Brunswick. Canada’s armed forces are stretched thin with peacekeepers in such
varied places as the Falkland Islands. William Weintraub’s satirical 1979 novel
The Underdogs provoked controversy by imagining a future Quebec in which
English-speakers were an oppressed minority, complete with a violent
resistance movement. One planned stage version was cancelled before its
premiere. Clive Cussler’s 1984 novel Night Probe!
is set against a fictional attempt at secession in the late 1980s. Rights to
newly discovered oil resources in Ungava Bay, discovered as Quebec moves to
secede, clash with the ramifications of a rediscovered secret treaty negotiated
between the U.K. and U.S. governments during World War I.
David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest includes both real and fictional
Québécois separatist movements as integral to the plot. In the story, the
United States has merged with Canada and Mexico to form the Organization of North
American Nations. Wheelchair-bound Quebec separatists use a video so
entertaining it leads to death to accomplish their goals of both Quebec
independence and the end of the ONAN. In the Southern Victory Series of
alternate history novels by Harry Turtledove, Quebec becomes a separate
nation during the Great War, in which the United States defeats Canada, the UK
and her allies. Since the United States organized this separation to weaken the
rest of Anglophone Canada, the Republic of Quebec operated as a client state of
the United States, rather than being truly independent. This is later
demonstrated in the series when Dr. Leonard O’Doull is pressured by the
United States and Quebec governments to serve as a surgeon in the U.S. Army,
despite being a Quebec citizen. O’Doull joins both under this duress, but also
as a result of his loyalty to his birth country.
In DC Comics, the villain Plastique is initially a Québécois freedom fighter,
who resorts to acts of terrorism. In Marvel Comics, the superhero
Northstar was part of the Front de libération du Québec in his youth.
Margaret Atwood’s 1979 novel Life Before Man is set in Toronto in the late 1970s
and several characters watch and sometimes comment upon the elections and
sovereignist movement in Quebec. The sovereignist movement and its struggles
are metaphorically linked to the difficulties the characters in the novel
have with separating their own personal relationships.
In the roleplaying game Trinity there are references made to a separatist
Quebec nation who in return for independence helped the then formed
‘Confederated States of America’ take control of Canada.
In the novel Babylon Babies by the French-born Canadian cyberpunk writer
Maurice Dantec, loosely adapted as the film Babylon A.D., Quebec is independent
and referred to as the “Free Province of Quebec”.
In the roleplaying game Shadowrun, Quebec exists as a sovereign nation
alongside the United Canadian American States and the Confederated American
States. In the film Die Hard, the terrorist
leader demands, as a ruse, the release of imprisoned members of the fictional
group Liberté du Québec. In Peter Watts’ science fiction series,
starting with Starfish, Quebec has attained sovereignty and is an
energetic/economic superpower within North America.
See also Alberta separatism
Cascadia Lists of active separatist movements
List of subjects related to the Quebec independence movement
October Crisis Politics of Canada
Politics of Quebec Quebec federalist ideology
Quebec nationalism Secessionist movements of Canada
References External links
UNESCO article on the evolution of Quebec nationalism
Parti Québécois website Québec Solidaire
Parti Communiste du Québec Bloc Québécois website
Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society website The Question of Separatism: Quebec and
the Struggle over Sovereignty by Jane Jacobs .

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