Encore une fois
The saga of Quebec language and powers seems to have been debated for most of my adult life. Quebec has always been on the verge of eruption or separation. Following the 1976 election of Rene Levesque, Anglophone Quebecers no longer felt they had a home. Companies left the province and relocated all or part of their head offices elsewhere. The value of the C$ skidded from US$1.03 to US$0.70 during the next decade.
Referenda in 1980 and 1995 tested the appetite for separation. During the 1995 vote, many Canadians rallied in Montreal to keep Quebec in Confederation. The outcome was a narrow rejection of sovereignty by 50.6% to 49.4% Prime Minister Brian Mulroney tried valiantly to find consensus through the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords but could not reach accommodation with Quebec. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognized Quebec as a “distinct society” within Canada.
The recent round of announcements from Quebec has really aroused my ire. First, Quebec will no longer allow religious symbols such as the kippa, head scarf, and turban to be worn by teachers, police and public servants. Second, all immigrants must be able to communicate with the government in French within six months of their arrival. Third, French is to be the common language of Quebec.
To do this, the Quebec government is pressing into service the “notwithstanding” clause in the Canadian Constitution. My recollection of that clause was that it was to be employed only in the most exceptional of circumstances. Now it is being used willy-nilly to deny rights and freedoms for multiple groups within Quebec. This is not what the premiers and Pierre Trudeau intended in 1982. Justin Trudeau knows that fact full well but has fallen strangely silent on the topic as have the other party leaders.
There used to be a time when concord was not only desirable but earnestly sought. Every effort was was made to maintain Quebec’s place in Canada. Such activity no longer seems either possible or palatable. Some of what Quebec is now proposing is simply racist; the rest is surely ruinous. As Pierre Trudeau used to say: “Who speaks for Canada?”