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article imageOp-Ed: Canada-Quebec: 'two solitudes' forever unhappy together

By Michael Werbowski     Sep 30, 2010 in Politics
Quebec - An essay which examines Quebec's political scene, its ties to the federation, and its future in the context of a growing row over corruption charges made in a nationally circulated magazine.
The province of Quebec is a bit like a perpetually petulant adolescent. It's now going through one of its periodical identity crises or nervous fits. Twenty years after the first referendum on independence of 1980, (crafted by a brilliant, intellectual and politician, René Lévesque) and fifteen years after the second (which took place in 1995), unsuccessful attempt to achieve independence (orchestrated by an uncharismatic technocrat-plutocrat, Jacques Parizeau), Quebec feels misbegotten and frustrated... once again. What's still left of the once glorious "sovereignty movement" of yesteryear is graying and dying out faster than you can say, "Vive le Quebec libre!". Many erstwhile radical baby boomers have gotten older, and thus mellowed out or maybe even reluctantly, reconciled themselves to an eternal future under the yolk of dreaded federalism.
Demography is unkind to the separatists in other ways too. There's the non "pur -laine" (pure wool) crowd , crowding- out the older establishment, as the "native born" population's birthrate declines. New immigrants are far more preoccupied with finding work or making a living today, than being fixated with lofty dreams of sovereignty and flag-waving at rallies and pick-nicks. They have populated the province in substantial numbers over the decades. If you calculate 45,000 immigrants each year coming to the province in just 15 years, well that's about 675,000 neo-Quebecers (the province's current population is about 7,8 million people), who have other things on their mind, then winning a seat at the U.N. for their adopted homeland. There's also more to this timing thing, as fall moves in, the memories of the notorious "October Crisis" sets in, which spurred the independence movement back in 1970, and today still haunts "hard-core" nationalists.
The federalist legacy of former prime minister and Canadian statesman, Pierre Trudeau (also on an anniversary of his death) comes to mind, among members of the old guard in Quebec city, who remain uncomfortable with this great man's achievements. Meanwhile, the provincial political scene is mired in endless scandals revolving around this, that or other issue of influence peddling. On other occasions media reports center on various other so far unproven, inferences of wrong-doing or relate details of unsavory ties of less than legitimate organisations operating in the province to the elected leadership. To what appears to be the dismay of many in power, the media is making too much noise about all this.
Amid this crisis in confidence, attributed to Quebec's nomenklatura or ruling elite, politicians have lashed -out against the still free, but under attack press. Prime minister Jean Charest was this week particularly peeved over the conclusions made in "Maclean's", suggesting the province (permit me to paraphrase a bit here,) if it were an independent state, would more than likely, do very poorly in a "Transparency International" ranking on good-governance and stewardship of the public purse . Like an irate African potentate, he publicly demanded an apology from the magazine's publishers and got one this Thursday, or barely a week after the blasphemous article appeared on the newsstands.*
Quebec's faded glory?
"La Belle Province," physically speaking is not looking so lovely either these days. 40 years after the "Quiet Revolution" there's a sense of irreversible decline. As its population gets ever older , the province's infrastructure such as roads, highways, bridges and overpasses, urban transportation networks, waterworks etc. are also showing their advanced age. Montreal, the laboratory for social change in the province, is also regrettably showing signs of becoming a faded beauty of yesteryear and exemplifies the shabby state of affairs . But let's get back to the political scene. Why are Liberals (the provincial-federalist ) and Parti Quebecois (separatist) in Quebec City and Bloc Quebecois (federal-separatist) in Ottawa, so riled about the media exposing or contextualizing some of the underlying rot which seems to be so pervasive and entrenched, among the governing circles?
All three parties have formed an alliance, a trinity of sorts, to bewail and denounce allegations made in the "Maclean's" article. Quebec's politicians have all reacted in unison, as if all their mothers' pride was personally insulted . Have any of these apparently outraged and deeply umbraged men and women in public life, bothered to contemplate the possibility that perhaps there may be a problem here? Or that there may even be a speck of truth to the unflattering media reports? No, they have not it seems. One possible reason for the seemingly co-ordinated and feigned outrage, is the ruling elite has nothing new to offer the electorate anymore; they offer us more politics of the same divide and conquer variety, to keep the people supine (lulled into a state of complacency) and thus, safely contained in their appropriate "comfort zone."
In the "Maclean's" case the full frontal attack is really a counter- attack on the ever perfidious R.O.C.- ("Rest of Canada") or nasty "Anglos," living outside the province. Quebec's politicians of all spots, stripes and colours, this time around, are not targeting their favorite punching- bag ( i.e: the federal government); maybe because they love the current P.M. too much? But have chosen an easy target to vent their frustrations and deflect popular discontent; a nationally circulated news-magazine or a publication which seems to embody (for now) all that is evil or unholy about Canada as they know it . And so the saga continues.
New round in Canada's never ending Anglo-Franco wars
The article in question, (published by a magazine in Toronto) has re-launched the perpetual ( ad nauseum) bickering between the two old founding nations of Canada , that is, the French and English majority (soon to be minorities in the coming decades it seems.) The timing is not great as the entire country ( including-sacrosanct, Quebec) is faced with very difficult challenges, such as dealing with the on-going deepening economic crisis, and issues related to immigration ( rising influence of non- European cultures) and a lack of competitiveness, as it's being out -performed and fast overtaken by "BRIC" nations such as Brazil, India and China in hi-tech industries and resources production and extraction industries. The question of language, another contentious issue which in the past dominated the national agenda for decades, is now a secondary if not an already marginal issue.
Yet the allegations and accusations of corruption in Quebec, have revived old resentments and deep-seated hostilities . Whether they are true or not is not irrelevant, but must be addressed if the provincial government wishes to maintain any semblance of credibility among the populace; politicians in both Ottawa and Quebec City seem reluctant to even address issues related to the dirty c-word . Instead, they prefer to blame the media or Anglo-Canadians or whoever dares to disagree with their ways of doing things, while perpetuating the same old historical divisions which nearly broke up the federation twice in the long- ago but not yet so forgotten past.
* In the latest news development, the Canadian -federal Parliament has also harshly reprimanded Maclean's magazine for last week's cover story entitled: "The Most Corrupt Province In Canada."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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