Monday, July 14, 2014

July 1st: Why is the occasion so sad?

For any foreigner living in Quebec, the surprise is annual. Quebec’s national holiday, June 24th, is a major event.

Canada day, the first of July, is largely ignored. How did this situation come about, unthinkable in any normally constituted nation (and I am choosing my words carefully)?

It’s because there is a fundamental flaw. The first of July 1867, date of Canada’s founding, was a holiday and the authorities organized several events. The high clergy was very favorable towards confederation, knowing itself masters of the powers delegated to the new province, notably education, the means of its self-perpetuation.

The Québécois, then called the Canayens – the others were Les Anglais – were particularly concerned. In the intense debate at the time, the project’s leaders, such as the conservative George-Étienne Cartier, even promised to hold a referendum on the subject. But having tested that method in New-Brunswick, and having been told no, they went back on their word.

Elections were held from August to September 1867, and served as unofficial referenda. The Red party (of whom the Quebec Liberal Party is a distant descendant) opposed confederation and preferred instead that Quebec remain an autonomous province within the British Empire, a sovereignty-association before its time. 

That election was one of the most colorful in political history. First of all, as was normal at the time, the vote was not secret: the voters signed their name in a big open book. Only men 21 years and older possessing a minimal amount of wealth could vote, which reduced the electorate to a fraction of the adult population.

In addition, the clergy announced that voting for the Red party would be a “mortal sin” which would lead, for all eternity, to the flames of Hell. Mgr.Ouellet’s predecessors warned that the priests would even refuse absolution to the guilty, thus ensuring their damnation. (The historian Marcel Bellavance showed that in effect half as many absolutions were granted the following Easter than the previous one.)  As a preventative measure, the curates also refused absolution, in the confessional, to the faithful who admitted having read opposition newspapers.

The result: 40% of the voters didn't show up, refusing to commit that sin and thereby reducing the electoral population. Other techniques were used:

Kidnapping: In order to be a candidate, you had to be present on the prescribed day and hour for a “nominal call” of the candidatures. Why not kidnap the opposing candidate – they would say retract – during the time of the procedure?  This happened in three ridings, to the benefit of the conservatives.

The buy-off: Elsewhere, the conservative candidate, sometimes with the help of the parish priest, offered a sum of money or a nomination (nominations had to be approved by the clergy).  In exchange, the liberal would withdraw his candidature during the nominal call, which would instantly elect the conservative. This happened in two ridings.

The disenfranchisement: The officers in charge of the nominal call, often conservatives, had the power to “disenfranchise” a parish, which is to say to annul an election, on various pretexts. The liberal part of the riding of L’Islet – half of the voters – was thus “disenfranchised”, as in three liberal parishes of Kamouraska, giving a narrow victory in both cases to the conservatives.

In that election, the most fraudulent in Quebec’s history and even by the standards of the day, 45% of the voters (thereby a majority of Francophones, since the Anglos voted conservative) nevertheless defied the bans and voted against the federation. Quebec’s membership to Canada was thus decided by less than 10% of the adult population, less than 20% of adult males. The Canayens of the time knew and historians today know that had it been a free vote, the electorate would have predominantly refused membership in Canada.

These facts are obviously lost to the collective memory. But they help to explain why the first of July 1867 never constituted for the Francophones of Quebec an occasion worth celebrating. That is why we never transmitted, from generation to generation, the urge to celebrate … a fraud.

And yet …

Certain people accuse the “separatists” of wanting to hinder Canada by making the first of July the legal date for the end of leases, instead of the first of May as was the case previously. In fact, the change was decided by the Liberal justice minister, Jérôme Choquette, great scourge of the separatists in 1971. The reason: so as to not perturb the school year of children affected by the relocations.

By Jean-François Lisée, June 30, 2010

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Are you suffering from Dutch disease?

The Alberta tar sands (visual approximation)
Is your economy tired and listless? Are you losing jobs but don’t know why? Did your trade surplus turn into a deficit? Did you elect a bunch of corrupt Liberal lackeys who promised to cut everything under the sun, and yet the neoliberal heaven on earth hasn't materialized? Well, you may be suffering from Dutch disease. No, this has nothing to do with legalized prostitution. Dutch disease refers to a decline in the manufacturing sector of an economy as a result of an increase of the exploitation of a natural resource. The term was coined in the 1970’s to describe the effect of the discovery of a large natural gas field by the Netherlands in 1959. When the price of a raw material increases, exporters of this raw material receive more and more money from importing countries. Inevitably, the value of its currency increases proportionally to the price of the commodity, making their production in other sectors, especially the manufacturing sector, much less competitive. This is what happened in the Netherlands in the 1960’s and this is what is currently happening in Canada, especially since 2003.

Diagnosis: The oily source of the problem

The source of the ailment in our case is in a distant and foreboding land where an evil, black and sticky substance festers underneath the ground. Efforts to extract this substance have resulted in a devastated and toxic landscape. No, it's not Mordor. Rather, it’s a pestilential land called Alberta, where beer-bellied rednecks terrorize the countryside with their SUV’s and ten-gallon hats. And the toxic substance in question comes from a large and growing hole in the ground in northern Alberta. It's a particularly polluting form of oil that is affectionately called tar sands.  

Just as confinement in an oxygen depleted environment can foster harmful bacteria, prolonged exposure to conservative governments and the right-wing Canadian media produces harmful short-sighted conservative greed-weasels for whom money is more important than people and the environment. Ottawa has become the natural habitat of the Canadian greed-weasel. Their single-minded obsession with turning Canada into a global energy superpower, combined with the vast amounts of tar-laden sand in Alberta, has produced a noxious industry that exports oil throughout the world... well, 86% to the US, with most of the remainder going to Asia.

The effect of which is to drive up the value of the Canadian dollar relative to other currencies, which hurts the economies of provinces that depend on the export of manufactured goods. In Canada, the regions that benefit from rising commodity prices are not the same as the regions suffering the negative effects of the increase in the value of the currency and the loss of competitiveness in the manufacturing sector. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland are the big winners, Quebec and Ontario, the big losers. If Alberta and Quebec had distinct currencies, Alberta’s would be valued much more that Quebec’s. This would help Quebec’s exports but turn Alberta into a petrostate like Kuwait and Bahrain that exports oil and not much else. As it is, since both states share a currency, Alberta benefits from a Canadian dollar that is lower than what it should be (from its perspective), and Quebec is penalized by a Canadian dollar that is higher than what it should be.

Prognosis: The ever declining economy of Quebec

Without a drastic cure the future is bleak. According to a study by the CIBC there is a very strong link between rising oil prices and the rise in the Canadian dollar. It even says that the correlation between the increase in commodity prices, mainly oil, and the value of the dollar is approaching 100% (page 5)!

And this not very leftist bank, also mentions Dutch disease ...
"The impact of the Dutch disease on Canada’s factory sector has meant that what were once trade surpluses in auto parts, rail equipment and other manufactured goods are now deficits, leaving commodities as the sole source of Canada’s trade surplus by the end of the last expansion, and making the currency even more tied to commodities."
In fact, the trade balance of Quebec went from a surplus of $6 billion in 2002 to a deficit of more than $27 billion in 2010. In Ontario, it went from a surplus of $22 billion in 2002 to a deficit of $31 billion in 2010. In short, the trade balance deteriorated by $33 billion in Quebec between 2002 and 2010 and $53 billion in Ontario! Dutch disease is a disease that costs quite a bit of money for some people while enriching others. This, in turn, cost Quebec an estimated 55,000 manufacturing jobs in only five years which, of course, leads to other negative consequences for the economy. The value of the Canadian dollar is expected to increase in time (Jeff Rubin, former chief economist at the CIBC bank, believes that the Canadian dollar will eventually exceed the American dollar by as much as 20%), so things will only get worse for Quebec.

Prescription: Independence with a separate currency

Some claim that Quebec benefits from being in the Canadian federation because of the equalization payments it receives ($3.8 billion in 2003-2004 to $8.55 billion in 2010-2011). After all, even if the monetary policies or the investments in economic development of the federal government favors other provinces, you still get a wad of cash, right? Isn't that great? No, not if you consider that for at least ten years, one of the biggest problems of the Quebec economy has been the strong Canadian dollar. While the value of the Canadian dollar versus the US dollar rose from less than $0.63 in 2002 to parity in 2012, an increase of 37%, the international trade balance of Quebec went from a surplus of more than $6 billion to a deficit of nearly $29 billion (I know I'm repeating myself but it bears repeating). In percentage of GDP, this deteriorating international trade balance corresponds to a shift from a 2.4% surplus to a deficit of 8.1%! Does equalization really cover that? I don't think so. In any case, we are endlessly depicted in the Canadian media as transfer payment junkies or even beggars living off the largesse of Alberta. This is even parroted by clueless buffoons from Quebec like Conservative minister Maxime Bernier and Alain Bouchard, CEO of Couche-Tard.

By adopting a Quebec dollar, Quebec could greatly reduce this deficit, because it would be able to devalue its currency by at least 20% relative to the Canadian dollar which would make products from Quebec much more competitive and imports more costly. In addition, Quebec would gain an essential tool for getting out of a recession. It is also noteworthy that Iceland, which has its own currency, even though it only has slightly more than 300,000 inhabitants, was able to get itself out of the European recession while countries with much stronger economies are still undergoing austerity measures and unemployment rates above 25% in Southern Europe because they have adopted the euro... 

I'm not claiming that switching from the Canadian dollar to a Quebec dollar would happen without any hitches. There are dangers which is why the PQ prefers not to talk about it (even though they should). For example, the currency of a small country is always more vulnerable to currency speculation than that of ​​a large country. That said, this did not prevent speculators from attacking the British pound in 1992 ... In addition, the cost of imports, including those of petroleum, would increase significantly. But wouldn't this be an incentive to end our dependence on oil and perhaps switch to a greener, more hydroelectricity based economy? 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Montreal and Toronto

Montreal in the 1960s

To understand why sovereignty emerged as a serious issue in Quebec when it did, we must look at two cities, Montreal and Toronto. They are responsible for what has been happening in Quebec since World War II. Between them, they have converted Quebec into something resembling a new nation, provincial political status notwithstanding. Nobody planned this outcome. Nobody even recognized what was happening at the time it happened. The events that worked this transformation do not go back very far. We can date them statistically as having begun in 1941, but that is because 1941 was a census year. I suspect they began in 1939 with the outbreak of World War II and the beginnings of the Canadian war economy.

Let us begin with Montreal. Between 1941 and 1971, Montreal grew enormously. In those thirty years the city more than doubled its population, increasing to more than two million. Immigrants from other countries contributed to Montreal's growth; as did people from other parts of Canada. Of course, some of the growth was natural increase, accounted for by births in the population Montreal already had. But the major influx was from rural and small-town Quebec.

Before, rural Quebecois had migrated to Montreal, just as they migrated to Quebec City and to New England, but this new migration dwarfed previous rural-to-city movements within the provinces. The rapidity with which the movement happened and the absolute numbers of people involved were unprecedented.

The French-speaking migrants to Montreal spent the 1940s and 1950s finding one another. The "Quiet Revolution" arose from their networks of new interests and relationships: from new communities of interest and interaction in the city; in the arts, in politics, working life and education. French culture in Montreal was in a quiet ferment as people built these relationships and put together ambitions and ideas they could not have developed even in a smaller city like the capital, Quebec City.

Until the late 1960s, Montreal still seemed to be what it had been for almost two centuries; an English city containing many French-speaking workers and inhabitants. But, in fact, by 1960 Montreal had become a French city with many English-speaking inhabitants. By the time people in Montreal, let alone the rest of Canada, recognized what was happening, it had already happened.

Now we need to bring Toronto into the story. Montreal used to be the chief metropolis, the national economic center of all of Canada. It is an older city than Toronto, and until about the mid-1970's, it was larger. At the beginning of the 20th century, Toronto was only two-thirds the size of Montreal, and Montreal was much the more important center of finance, publishing, wholesaling, retailing, manufacturing, and entertainment -everything that goes into making a city economy.

The first small and tentative shifts of finance from Montreal to Toronto began in the 1920s when Montreal banks, enamored of the blue-chip investments of the time, overlooked the financing of new mining opportunities which were then opening up in Ontario. That neglect created an opportunity for Toronto banks. The stock exchange which was set up in Toronto for trading mining shares merged with the old generalized Toronto stock exchange in 1934, and by the 1940s the volume of stocks traded in Toronto had come to exceed the volume traded in Montreal.

During the great growth surge of Montreal, from 1941 to 1971, Toronto grew at a rate that was even faster. In the first of those decades, when Montreal was growing by about 20 per cent, Toronto was growing by a rate closer to 25 percent. In the next decade, when Montreal was adding a bit over 35 percent to its population, Toronto was adding about 45 percent. And from 1961 to 1971, while Montreal was growing by less than 20 percent, Toronto was growing by 30 percent. The result was that Toronto finally overtook Montreal in the late 1970s.

But even these measurements do not fully suggest what was happening economically. As an economic unit or economic force, Toronto has really been larger than Montreal for many years. This is because Toronto forms the center of a collection of satellite cities and towns, in addition to its suburbs. Those satellites contain a great range of economic activities, from steel mills to art galleries. Like many of the world's large metropolises, Toronto had been spilling out enterprises into its nearby region, causing many old and formerly small towns and little cities to grow because of the increase in jobs. In addition to that, many branch plants and other enterprises that needed a metropolitan market and a reservoir of metropolitan skills and other producers to draw upon have established themselves in Toronto's orbit, but in places where costs are lower or space more easily available.

The English call a constellation of cities and towns with this kind of integration a "conurbation," a term now widely adopted. Toronto's conurbation, curving around the western end of Lake Ontario, has been nicknamed the Golden Horseshoe. Hamilton, which is in the horseshoe, is larger than Calgary, a major metropolis of western Canada. Georgetown, north of Toronto, qualifies as only a small southern Ontario town, one of many in the conurbation. In New Brunswick it would be a major economic settlement.

Montreal's economic growth, on the other hand, was not enough to create a conurbation. It was contained within the city and its suburbs. That is why it is deceptive to compare population sizes of the two cities and jump to the conclusion that not until the 1970s had they become more or less equal in economic terms. Toronto supplanted Montreal as Canada's chief economic center considerably before that, probably before 1960. Whenever it happened, it was another of those things that most of us never realized had happened until much later.

Toronto in the 1960s

Because Toronto was growing more rapidly than Montreal in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and because so many of its institutions and enterprises now served the entire country, Toronto drew people not only from many other countries but from across Canada as well. The first two weeks I lived in Toronto back in the late 1960s, it seemed to me that almost everyone I encountered was a migrant from Winnipeg or New Brunswick. Had Montreal remained Canada's pre-eminent metropolis and national center, many of these Canadians would have been migrating to Montreal instead. In that case, not only would Montreal be even larger than it is today, but -and this is important- it would have remained an English Canadian metropolis. Instead it had become more and more distinctively Quebecois.

In sum, then, these two things were occurring at once: on the one hand, Montreal was growing rapidly enough and enormously enough in the decades 1941-1971 to shake up much of rural Quebec and to transform Quebec's culture too. On the other hand, Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe were growing even more rapidly. Montreal, in spite of its growth, was losing its character as the economic center of an English speaking Canada and was simultaneously taking on its character as a regional, French-speaking metropolis.

These events, I think, are at the core of Quebec's charged and changing relationship with the rest of Canada. Things can never go back to way they were when an English-speaking Montreal was the chief economic center of all of Canadian and when life elsewhere in the province of Quebec was isolated and traditional. These changes are not merely in people's heads. They cannot be reasoned away or even voted away.

A culture can persist without its own metropolitan capital, as Quebec's did for so long. It can persist as a museum piece. But is cannot flower and thrive without a metropolis. French Quebec has its own cultural metropolis now. But to continue thriving as a culture capital, Montreal must also thrive economically. There's the rub. As a regional Canadian city, which is what Montreal has now become, its economic future is unpromising.

To understand why this is so, we must be aware of Canada's customary view of economic life and its traditional approach to economic development. Canada exploits and exports resources, to the neglect of developing industries and services based on manufacturing or inventions requiring manufacturing. This is a profoundly colonial approach to economic life, but in Canada's case economic colonialism is not something forced upon the country. Canada prefers colonialism.

The experience of Canada has been that the largest and most quickly obtained fortunes, whether public or private, come from resources: furs, timber, apples, coal, iron, nickel, gold, copper, silver, wheat, cobalt, fish, uranium, hydroelectric power, aluminum, potash, oil, natural gas -to name some of the most influential. Societies, like individuals, are shaped by their experiences. Canada's get-rich-quick experience with resources has shaped all the country's major institutions: the national government, the provincial government, the banks and all other financial establishments. It has shaped the way venture capital and subsidies are used, the types of development schemes contrived, and the assumptions of almost everyone in authority. These are not easy things to change.

When a single dominant approach to economic life and wealth has been pursued as consistently and as long as it has been here, the experience gets thoroughly built into how things work. It especially gets built into the uses of capital. Dazzling sums of money are available for resource exploitation and for vast construction projects associated with them, such as dams, pipelines, refineries, bulk storage and depots. When the attention of government does stray to manufacturing or innovation, as it does from time to time, the scale of effort does not adjust. Dazzling sums of money sunk into grandiose technological schemes. To put if figuratively, if the Canadian economy were a zoo, nothing would be purchased for it except elephants.

To be sure, Canada does not lack manufacturing altogether. But of such manufacturing as the country does have, almost half is undertaken in American-owned branch plants, and –increasingly– some of the rest in other foreign-owned branch plants.

Most branch plants have been established, however, because of Canadian tariffs on manufactured goods. Canadian tariffs are imposed not to encourage indigenous economic development, but to force foreign exporters of manufactured goods to set up branch plants within Canada. This profoundly parasitic approach to "development" was largely responsible for Toronto's and Montreal's economic growth during the 1950s and 1960s; that was largely branch-plant economic growth. 

Canada's regional cities also have their traditional role. They work primarily as service centers for the exploitation of resources from their hinterland. To be sure, all have some manufacturing, even the small ones like Halifax, Thunder Bay and Saskatoon and the larger ones like Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, as well as the largest, Vancouver. But large or small, the regional cities of Canada do not serve as creative economic centers in their own right. They boom when the exploitation of their hinterland booms. They stagnate when the resource exploitation reaches a plateau. They decline when it declines.

This is devastating to Canadian regions where resources stop yielding more and more wealth. The passive regional cities, generating no innovations, replacing so few kinds of imports, creating so little new work, so few factories for transplanting, so few new markets themselves, cannot serve as substitute resources. Halifax, which boomed long ago when exploitation or resources in the Maritime Provinces boomed, cannot perform such services for the now impoverished Maritimes (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island). Winnipeg, although it boomed when the wheat lands of the prairies boomed and was celebrated as the locus of the largest grain exchange in the entire world, promptly stagnated when the tasks of settling the prairie wheat lands and constructing the vast grain transportation and storage facilities had been more or less completed. Probably the currently booming Alberta oil cities of Edmonton and Calgary will stagnate in their turn -for the pattern is a consequence of Canada's curiously lopsided use of capital and its profoundly colonial approach to economic life.

If Montreal had not happened to be the national economic center of Canada in the past -if Halifax, say, had occupied that role or if Toronto had fallen into it much earlier than it did- Montreal would surely have been merely a passive regional city, stagnant long since. At any rate, there is little in French Canada's experience, assumptions or expectations of economic life to suggest otherwise.

Now, however, Quebec is presented with a difficulty not only unprecedented there, but unprecedented in Canada. The country has never before had a national city which lost that position and became a regional city. As a typical Canadian regional city, Montreal cannot begin to sustain the economy or the many unusual assets it has now. As it gradually subsides into its regional role, it will decline and decay, grow poor and obsolescent. No boom in resource exploitation can save it because -as a national center- it had already surpassed what even the most prosperous Canadian regional cities are capable of supporting. None of the traditional Canadian approaches can contend with this new problem.

A third of Quebec's population is concentrated in Montreal. Not only will a declining Montreal have directly depressing effect upon that large share of the province's populations, it will have a depressing effect of the province generally. The city will become a poorer market for producers in the hinterland who now depend on it. It will be a declining source of city jobs for the population at large. Its all-important cultural function in the province's life will suffer.

Montreal needs an independent Quebec

In sum, Montreal cannot afford to behave like other Canadian regional cities without doing great damage to the economic well-being of the Quebecois. It must instead become a creative economic center in its own right. That means it must cast up streams of new enterprises which, among them, take to producing wide ranges of goods now imported from other places, including other places in Canada, and which will generate new, city-made products and services that can be marketed outside of Montreal and Quebec as well as within; and it must become the kind of place where such enterprises can find the capital they require, and in turn generate more capital.

Yet there is probably no chance of this happening if Quebec remains a province. Canadian bankers, politicians and civil servants, captivated as they are by the sirens songs of resource exploitation, ready-made branch plants, and technological grandiosities, can hardly be expected to respond to Montreal's quite different economic claims upon their attention. Beliefs and practices common to all of Canada are not apt to change simply because one city, Montreal, and one province, Quebec, so urgently need them to change.

The Quebecois themselves seem unaware of the nature of the problem which looms in their future, and given the prevailing assumptions, they may not come to understand it. But they will understand this: things are not going well.

That is why the issue of sovereignty for Quebec, now that it has been raised anew as a possibility, is not going to evaporate. Inevitably, whether or not they could do better on their own, the Quebecois are going to think they could, and many of them are going to want to try. We may expect the question of separation to be raised again and again in coming years until it is finally settled either when Canada accedes to some form of sovereignty for Quebec or when the Quebecois accept the decline of Montreal and become resigned to it and to its repercussions.

The latter seem to me unlikely. Quebec is not like the poor Maritime Provinces, which have been tied ever more tightly into Confederation by adversity and the federal government's redistribution of tax money to alleviate it. The Quebecois have a special fear: that if they themselves cannot make a success of Quebec, their long struggle will prove to have been "a sad tale told by a minority on the road to oblivion." 

While it is quite possible that Quebec would do no better on its own than as a province of Canada, there is little reason to suppose it would do worse, and there are even some practical reasons for supposing it might do better. Furthermore, as we all understand, dependence is stultifying, and sometimes the obverse is also true. That is, sometimes independence releases new kinds of effort, opens up formerly untapped funds of energy, initiative, originality and self-confidence. That has been the experience, for instance, of Norway when it broke away from Sweden at the beginning of the 20th century.

An abridged version of chapter two of The Question of Separatism by Jane Jacobs.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Canada’s feel-good racism

Recently, a chemistry professor at McGill University, Joe Schwarcz, posted a faked, denigrating photo of Pauline Marois on his Facebook page. Apparently, Marois omitted congratulating two members of the Canada’s Olympic hockey team and Prof. Schwarcz took offense at this. The posting touched off an outpouring of disrespectful, hateful and denigrating comments from supposedly "enlightened" Anglos. A torrent of “bitch”, “cow” and the obligatory references to the Nazis was unleashed on Facebook.

The good professor was dismayed by the virulence and intensity of the hatred and felt compelled to remove the post. However, Ariel Fenster, one of Schwarcz’s colleagues, said that the comments were a sign of the “social context” created by the PQ and its charter. He also assured us that Schwarcz was not a Francophobe. If Schwarcz was surprised by the reaction, as opposed to ashamed or embarrassed, then he clearly wasn’t paying attention to the chronic Francophobic drone in the Anglo media. As for Prof. Fenster’s assertion that his friend is not a Francophobe, he meant, probably without realizing it, that he is not particularly Francophobic by Anglo standards. But rest assured, among Anglos in Quebec and in Canada, Francophobia is the default operating system.

Yes, I know, it’s not francophones that you hate; it’s just the evil separatists. It’s not racism, it’s just politics. After all, you voted for Chrétien, Charest and Couillard, how can you be a Francophobe? You’ll often hear a similar thing from right-wing Americans like Rush Limbaugh in regards to Black people. Whenever an attack against Obama or any other Black liberal goes too far, we’re told that it’s not about race; it’s just politics. After all, Rush doesn't go after Black Republicans, does he? No, Blacks who defend the interests of privileged white guys like Rush Limbaugh do get a pass but a Black person who defends the interest of Black people, well that’s a different story.

You see, conservative race-baiters like Limbaugh set their clocks by the dog whistle. Nobody illustrated this principle better than former Reagan and Bush I strategist and Republican National Committee chairman Lee Atwater, in a kind of "Come to Jesus" moment shortly before his death:

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger"—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

Similarly, Canadians today are also very good at hiding the stench of their racism in order to give it deniability. This is what I like to call Canada’s feel-good racism because it is generally coated in a thick layer of high-mindedness... from which to look down on Quebecers, of course. Unlike regular racism, which at least openly professes its hatred by burning crosses on people’s front yards and the like, feel-good racism tries to preserve the racist’s purity and self-esteem through the generous use of hypocrisy and double standards.

Nasty Quebec!

In 2010, Maclean's magazine published an article called Quebec: The most corrupt province. In it, the author lists a series of corruption scandals, most of which implicate Liberals and those that don't, implicate other Quebec federalists. We are never presented with any evidence that there is any less corruption in other provinces. We do, however, hear about how the PQ tried to clean things up. Why is the title: "Quebec: The most corrupt province"? Why not: "Liberals: The most corrupt party"? OK, it mentions Mulroney, so why not: "Federalists: The most corrupt people in Quebec"? Perhaps Quebec is just stricter on corruption and people get busted for things that are legal in the rest of Canada. 

In any case, a quick Google search for "Canadian political scandals" and we find a page full of them. Look at that! British Columbia has got twenty different scandals listed while Quebec has only two. Hmmm... But of course, Quebec can't just have a corruption scandal. It has to be the most corrupt. It can't have a big debt, it has to be just like Greece. And so on, you get the point. The boundaries that would normally exists if we were talking about British Columbia or any other province disappear and any exaggeration is permitted. What the dog whistle is saying with this type of yellow journalism and with all the other exaggerations and distortions that we constantly hear about Quebec and its economy is that Quebecers are a lesser people who would starve without the benevolence of English Canadians. The articles don't say it directly but the reader understands it and they repeat it ad nauseum to people like me.

Another good example of the grotesque distortions that we find in the Canadian media is an article that appeared in Saturday Night magazine in 2000 called Colder and Whiter: In Vieux Quebec, ethnic cleansing occurs by attrition by Daniel Sanger. In it the author bemoans the fact that Quebec City is not as ethnically diverse as it once was. He imagines nefarious reasons without giving any evidence, it's always just insinuated. He talks about the Chinese community that seems to have moved on but does not mention the Vietnamese community that has replaced it. Quebec was the gateway to Canada for a long time. Most immigrants passed through Quebec before moving west. Economic centers like Toronto and now Alberta lure people from other regions including Quebec. Sanger takes these innocuous demographic shifts and calls them ethnic cleansing. It's an abuse of language, to be sure, but it is also a racist attack against Quebecers. Just the image used for this article speaks volumes. The dog whistle is saying loud and clear that Quebecers are a bunch of nasty, racist untermenschen.

And of course there was Jan Wong's utter lunacy of an article called Get under the desk. In it she claims a school shooting at Dawson College in 2006 was the result of Quebec's language laws and our "obsession with racial purity". Even federalist lap-dog André Pratte stood up for that one. Yes, even tragedies can be exploited in order to malign Quebecers. All you need is a misunderstanding of an antiquated expression and an ounce of malice. Not so much a dog whistle here, more like a bullhorn.

More recently, the PQ's proposed secularism charter has been the focus of much hysteria. This charter, which is clearly inspired by France's secularism charter, had a controversial component which would have restricted the wearing of religious symbols by employees of the state in order to affirm the state's religious neutrality. Among francophones, the debate was over the necessity of this blanket ban. Many people, including prominent sovereignists like Jacques Parizeau, argued that it went too far. Among most Anglos, however, there was no debate only shrill accusations of racism.

The whole controversy was very similar to the controversy surrounding France's ban on religious symbols in public schools in 2004. Comparisons to France or even comparing Pauline Marois to Jacques Chirac would have been justified but instead the Canadian media went straight to equating the PQ with le Front National, a party that once advocated the mass deportation of immigrants, and... yes, you guessed it, the Nazis. The irony is that only a few years earlier, when André Boisclair, Gilles Duceppe and Amir Khadir took part in a demonstration denouncing Israel's attack on Lebanon, the always hysterical Barbara Kay asked in The rise of Quebecistan if an independent Quebec would be a friend to Islamic terrorists. Do we hate Muslims or do we love them? Both... neither... it doesn't really matter when you're just throwing your feces around as Barbara does when on the topic of Quebec.

The charter debate brought out the old accusation that Quebec nationalism is an "ethnic" nationalism. Anglos are obsessed with Quebec’s allegedly “ethnic” nationalism. The truth is that it’s only Quebec’s modern, post Quiet Revolution form of nationalism that bothers Anglos because it aspires to independence. Quebec’s pre Quiet Revolution form of nationalism on the other hand, with its conservative Catholicism and its emphasis on mere survival with no other ambitions, suited Anglos much better even though it was arguably much more “ethnic”.  

The "ethnic" nationalism accusation is especially hypocritical because it is Canadians themselves who insist on seeing us as nothing more than an ethnic group, so obviously our nationalism must be "ethnic" in their eyes. It is their refusal to recognize us as anything more than that which lead to the constitutional impasse that we find ourselves in today. Certain members of the Canadian elites at the time (Bob Rae first and foremost) denounced the Meech lake accord as being “ethnic” in its concessions to Quebec, even though it applied to the province, the territory, of Quebec as a whole and not to any ethnic group. And yet they would later approve of the treaty with the Nisga'a, which contained explicitly ethnic clauses.

Canada is a prison

So why do they do it? What motivates all of this hypocrisy, these double standards and the racist slander? What fuels the need Canadians have to feel superior to Quebecers? Obviously, there are practical reasons for why Canada would want to smear Quebec's independence movement but I think there are deeper psychological reasons as well. I believe science, or more precisely a certain psychological experiment conducted in the early 1970's, can provide us with an answer. I'm referring to the Stanford prison experiment. This experiment illustrates perfectly why Canadians behave the way the do towards Quebec and it also explains why it is so difficult to get a majority of Quebecers to support independence.

You racist Quebecers aren't going anywhere!
The Stanford prison experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted at Stanford University by a team of researchers led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo. Twenty-four male students were selected to take on randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison situated in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond Zimbardo's expectations, as the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

You see, our involvement with English Canada stems from a military conquest and occupation that started in 1759. The decisions that we were allowed to make from that point on were quite limited. When we tried to break free in 1837, we were brutally beaten down into submission. For Quebec, Canada was very much a prison. At some point, we are told, it all became consensual and in 1867 we become a willing member of this federation. Of course, independence for Quebec was not an option in 1867 and Canada remained in many ways our prison. Just as in the Stanford experiment, our prison guards became accustomed to being the dominators, to giving orders and getting whatever they wanted. And just as in the Stanford experiment some of the prisoners passively accepted the psychological abuse and became subservient to the prison guards. Together, these two groups make up the bulk of the Quebec Liberal Party. Fortunately, there is a way out of this mindfuck which would be beneficial for all involved: an independent Quebec!

* First image borrowed from Angry French Guy

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Three Conquests of Quebec

There are three events in Quebec’s history that have marked our collective consciousness as a nation more than any others: the Conquest of 1760; the Annexation of Lower Canada in 1840 following the defeat of the Patriotes in 1837-38 and the passage of the Act of Union by the Westminster Parliament in 1840, which combined Upper and Lower Canada into a united Province with a single legislature; and, finally, the Constitutional reform of 1982 to the exclusion of Quebec.

These, we may say, represent three major “defeats” in the history of a people whose name gradually changed from Canadiens to Canadiens français and most recently to Québécois. Moreover, these three defeats are defining events in our history — our political history of course but, clearly with regard to 1760 and 1840, in other dimensions as well: economic, social, and cultural. Today, the quest for the survival of a French identity in a majority English-speaking country and continent remains central to Quebecers’ identity and a reality inseparable from the Conquest. 

The first major defeat: 1759

After 1760, Canadiens not only lost their commercial empire in the West but most of their access to executive positions, to the detriment of individual socio-economic success and the capacity to shape their destiny as a people. Before 1760, Canadiens had access to most of the most important business, military, and political positions in the colony, as illustrated (toward the end of the regime) by Philippe de Rigaud Vaudreuil (1698-1778), the last governor general of New France, a Canadien born and raised in Canada.

After the Conquest, not only did the population lose some of their elites, who moved on to pursue their careers elsewhere in the French Empire, but those who remained in New France lost their handle on government, administration, big business, and the military. The Canadien gentry entered into decline. Gradually, the colony’s elites were overwhelmingly composed of the WASP minority, power residing in the hands of London and of men nominated by Britain. Later that overarching power shifted to Ottawa, an almost entirely English-speaking government before the 1970s, and one that from Quebec’s perspective remains today the expression of an English-Canadian majority, even if at times with strong Quebec contingents.

If the upper class and executive levels of Quebec society were, for the most part, inaccessible to French Canadians, the Quebec Act of 1774, resolving the status of French civil law and setting up a legislature, did leave a space for a French Canadian middle class to consolidate its position and eventually to lead a movement contesting inequalities in the colony, especially using the Legislature founded with the Constitutional Act of 1791 (for which some members of this class had petitioned in the 1780s). So much so that, having become overly optimistic, the leaders of what was first called the Parti canadien, later termed Parti patriote and led by Papineau, were for decades confident that self-determination would be obtained gradually without great difficulty, and at first within the Empire. They saw this as the natural course. If the American and French Revolutions were more radical, they believed Britain, with its liberal constitution, simply espoused the same ideals with a more moderate approach, and thus would accept the gradual and friendly emancipation of its colonies. They believed long before that they could obtain for Lower Canada the same things that in time the English-Canadian majority achieved for the Dominion in 1867.

Indeed, the North American colonial context had proven favourable toward alleviating the oppression of French Canadians. The legal exclusion of Catholics in 1763 with the Proclamation Act was reversed in 1774 with the Quebec Act. In 1791 the Constitutional Act went one step further with the creation of a Legislature to which the colony’s Catholics could be elected. Monsignor Plessis, in 1799, thanked Providence that the Conquest had saved Canada — French Canada — from the French Revolution (as well as the American one). 

The leaders of the Catholic Church were not the only ones to develop a positive outlook on the Conquest or on British rule. Even though the constitution of 1791 was gained at the expense of the loss of considerable fertile land to Upper Canada, the Canadiens’ new political leaders, after 1791, were generally optimistic. They believed British imperial policy would evolve positively, that democracy and self-determination, through gradual autonomy, were achievable for Lower Canada. London could even be an ally, they believed, against the more rabid representatives of British imperialism within the colony, hardline elements that had clashed with governors Murray and Carleton in the early days of the British regime. This proved to be wrong: the emancipation of Lower Canada garnered a strong and vehement opposition from British colonists. Lower Canadian independence, they argued, was not in Britain’s interest. Lord Durham would state this explicitly in his report in 1839, proposing  a plan that would ensure French-speakers were a minority in a merged province. Based on his report, the Union Act of 1840 placed the French in a minority. 

What had brought about Durham’s report and the Union Act? In the 1830s, after decades of political struggle with few substantial gains, the dominant leaders of the Patriote party, following Papineau, had begun to lose confidence in the peaceful path to democracy and self-determination. Increasingly, they believed London had to be challenged — especially given that the Governor’s powers remained little changed since 1791, while the colonization of new lands was being monopolized by the government to the exclusion of the Canadiens. The firm rebuttal they received in 1837 with the Russell Resolutions and the violent repression that ensued in the Rebellions of 1837-38 under General Colbourne, put an abrupt end to naive optimism. Canadiens would no longer envisage their independence as part of an easy and gradual evolution, in the natural course of things. As an immediate consequence of the failure of the Patriotes to overthrow British rule in 1837-38, Lower Canada was subordinated to the United Province. 

Ever since the Union Act, which took effect in 1841, Quebec has remained part of a larger jurisdiction in which the English-speaking element is a majority  in fact a majority that has increased along the way. This is largely due to the rapid pace of population growth through immigration when new Canadians integrate, culturally, to the English-Canadian majority in much greater numbers than to Quebec’s francophone majority.

For decades, most French Canadian leaders would either partake in pan-Canadian politics, adapting to the English majority’s vehicles, the federal Liberal or Conservative parties, or reverting to cultural nationalism and resistance to assimilation. The latter, the nationalists, attempted to find long-term solutions to their economic exclusion that came to fruition in the 1960s and 1970s.

The ‘second conquest’: 1840

The renewed “conquest” of 1840 was a defining event in Quebec history. It sealed, for more than a century, the destiny of the French-speaking nation, reducing it to minority status in a manner that shaped its national consciousness. French Canadians henceforth conceived of themselves as a national minority, developing complexes about disadvantages and the economic and political leadership set over them, to the extent that they became afraid to make claims for themselves. The governing elite pronounced them to be inferior, and French Canadians adapted to a world in which their exclusion from certain circles and executive positions was almost a given, to the point of interiorizing some of these complexes. This inferiority complex had not yet crystallized before the failure of the Rebellions and the ensuing annexation of 1840, which may therefore be regarded as a turning point. 

It might seem surprising, but confederation only furthered the sense of inferiority because even though a provincial “nation state” of Quebec was reinstated in 1867 with a capital and legislature at Quebec City, French Canadians continued to participate in its governance as if they were a “minority” in a British-dominated province. This is best illustrated by the fact that their political formations, Liberal and Conservative, were in every way incorporated and subordinate to the federal, Canada-wide party structures. In a province with 75% or 80% Catholic francophones since 1867, finance ministers were usually anglophone and Protestant, up to Maurice Duplessis’s return to power in 1944.

The only real exception before the advent of the Union Nationale movement was Honoré Mercier’s parti national coalition after the hanging of Riel in 1885. Mercier was elected in 1886 but the passing of the reins of power was delayed by the lieutenant-governor, who toppled the newly re-elected government in 1891. Indeed, Mercier’s government, which actively pursued national assertion and provincial autonomy, had already met with serious federal opposition. Apart from Mercier, most Quebec politicians did not rock the boat. After all, economic power still eluded the majority of Quebecers. 

Instead, nationalism found expression mainly in intellectual movements such as those founded by admirers of Henri Bourassa in the early twentieth century or in the influential network of movements around the priest-historian Fr. Lionel Groulx. His latter movement found a political expression in the Action Libérale Nationale whose reformist programme was popular in the 1935 and 1936 Quebec elections. They wanted to overthrow the “colonial order” in Quebec and make French Canadians “masters in our own house” through provincial legislation, such as by nationalizing hydro-electricity. Their alliance with Duplessis conservatives, though, which bore fruit in the Union Nationale under his leadership, resulted in the abandonment of all the more radical changes proposed in their programme after the 1936 election victory, in favour of a more restrained defense of provincial autonomy.

It is only with the Quiet Revolution that governments renewed a more aggressive programme, including the nationalization of hydro in 1962. This new dawn launched a fast-paced “emancipation” movement that had been advancing slowly, almost subterraneously, in the preceding decades, but which had for the most part been stalled or sidelined politically since confederation. 

Where was all this leading? The provincial Liberals under Jean Lesage and the more conservative Union Nationale under Daniel Johnson both believed that not only were they competing for a “national” government, but that Quebec’s status required a wide-ranging modification of the Canadian constitutional order which Johnson summarized in the slogan “Equality or Independence.” 

In its own way, René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois, established in 1968 and advocating “sovereignty-association,” proposed another version of this remodelling of the constitutional order. Short of outright independence, they seemed to espouse a form of national self-determination of Quebecers without breaking altogether from Canada, much like the status gradually achieved by the Dominion of Canada within the British Empire. 

A third ‘defeat’: 1980-82

At first, there even seemed to be openness to this in Ottawa. It is not impossible to imagine negotiations between Daniel Johnson and Robert Stanfield had they held power simultaneously in Quebec City and Ottawa — in contrast to the brick wall presented by Pierre Trudeau. For a brief moment, Quebec appeared to be confidently on the path toward freeing itself from two hundred years of subordination.

Instead Trudeau, ensconced as Prime Minister, emerged as the herald of those who staunchly opposed devolution. French Canadians voted both for Trudeau and Lévesque, seeming to believe that both could be their champions. Trudeau promised a “renewed” Canada. Rather than a negotiated association between two nations, he advocated one Canada, bilingual and multicultural, that would break away from its two national traditions (British and French) in favour of a new identity. 

The advent of Trudeau would lead Ottawa and Quebec City to clash, and Ottawa to enter into a long-lasting organizational mould of blocking as far as possible any devolution while at the same time always expanding the role of the federal government. Faced with the opposition of a French Canadian Prime Minister opposed to negotiation, and aptly pushing all the buttons of Quebec’s inferiority complexes since 1837, Lévesque’s strategy failed in the 1980 referendum. The prerequisite of Lévesque’s strategy was reciprocal English-Canadian goodwill, open to negotiation, which meant that the 1980 referendum was doomed to fail once Trudeau returned to power.  

This sealed the defeat of national affirmation, with Trudeau imposing a new constitution on Quebec that saw his vision triumph: bilingual (for individuals and services, but not truly bicultural or binational), multicultural, and centered on the federal government. In practice, this new constitution has been made very difficult to reform, blocked first by Trudeauists’ influence on public opinion during the Meech Lake fiasco, then by various laws limiting the possibility of constitutional reform under Chrétien, according to principles of regional veto that hadn’t been respected in 1981-82. 

Quebec now seems stuck, half-in, half-out in national terms, without any clear view of feasible solutions to this renewed subordination in an order that it does not really accept. As was the case after 1840, Quebecers seem resigned to having to evolve as an unwilling national minority. The persistence of a sovereigntist or separatist movement in Quebec leaves open the possibility of new movements in the future — but at present Quebecers seem not only divided but very hesitant as to what path to follow. 

Perhaps what is most striking though, in 2012, more than the election of the PQ with a small plurality of seats, is the overly aggressive reaction to the Quebec campaign and the PQ’s nationalist programme in much of the English-speaking media. Measures that are commonplace in many Western democracies are suddenly presented in serious editorials as the most viciously racist policies in the West. This surely is a indication that old colonial complexes and relationships between English and French Canada linger on.

In the 1950s, historian Maurice Séguin used to say that French Canada (or Quebec) was too strong to assimilate, but too feeble to break away. In the 1960s and 1970s, with the Quiet Revolution, increasing numbers of Quebecers — and even foreigners, notably De Gaulle of France — believed this to be no longer the case. Most strikingly, René Lévesque himself, in his 1967-68 essay Option Québec, claimed that sovereignty would be achieved easily and soon, as a natural process. The rise to power of Trudeau proved him wrong and, since the imposition of a new constitutional order in 1982, together with two referendum defeats and the electoral collapse of the Bloc Quebecois, Séguin’s conclusion would seem to enjoy a renewed resonance.

An excerpt from Three Conquests of Quebec by Charles-Philippe Courtois published in the Dorchester Review December 20, 2012

Sunday, April 13, 2014

On elections and wishful thinking

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated

Mark Twain

On May 10, 1976, Pierre Elliott Trudeau proclaimed “the end of separatism.” Six months later, the Parti Québécois came to power for the first time. The death of Quebec’s independence movement has been declared many times over the years. By the mid 1980’s the beast of separatism was clearly dead. Lévesque’s sovereignty association referendum had failed. His decision to take what is called the "beau risque" which was basically a deal with Brian Mulroney, the leader of the Progressive Conservatives, to accept an amended version of the 1982 Constitution and give Canadian federalism another chance led to the unraveling of the PQ. Clear skies were ahead for a united Canada… A decade later, we had another referendum which came within an inch of victory.

The recent defeat of the Parti Québécois at the polls after only 19 months in power has led to new proclamations of “the end of separatism.” This time it’s true, it is said, because it’s talk of independence that sank the PQ’s campaign. All the pundits agree that when media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau (aka PKP) joined the PQ as a candidate and raised his fist in the air saying that he wanted to make Quebec a country, the PQ’s poll numbers began to drop. The reason: no one wants another referendum.

A closer look at the poll numbers show that support for the PQ began dropping before PKP’s sovereignist coming out and did not really plunge until about a week after the incident. Why is that? Well, one reason could be that one of Pauline Marois’ campaign promises in 2012 was to introduce fixed election dates. This was to stop governments from calling elections at an opportune moment favorable to the ruling party and basically riding the election out on a single issue. Jean Charest did this in 2008 and 2012. In 2012, Charest was hoping to ride the student protests to another victory but the issue of Liberal corruption could not be buried.

In fact, Marois’ government did manage to pass a bill in June of last year that establishes fixed election dates to be held on the first Monday in October of the fourth calendar year following the dissolution of the National Assembly. Of course a minority government can be taken down by the opposition in a no-confidence vote before that but that's not what happened here. Marois called this election. She claimed she needed a majority government in order to pass her controversial secularism charter.  In reality, she could have gotten over 90 percent of it passed with the support of the CAQ but she insisted on keeping the most controversial parts of this charter intact. Violating her own “fixed election date” law hurt Marois’ credibility.

Polls showed that a majority of Quebecers supported her charter so she decided to ride this issue to a majority government. It didn't work. PKP’s arrival changed the subject and Pauline Marois allowed herself to start musing over the borders and currency of an independent Quebec. Gilles Duceppe added a few thoughts on passports. These statements were ridiculed in the media and Marois’ credibility was further eroded.  The drop in support for the PQ in the polls began to increase. Marois quickly went back to the topic of the charter which probably just reminded people of how cynical it was for her to call an election on this in the first place.

There were other factors like a news story about an anonymous affidavit several days before the election alleging that Marois’ husband may have illegally raised tens of thousands of dollars in political donations for his wife and a last minute promise to cut taxes that was probably believed by no one and simply further eroded her credibility. All of these details are being ignored and we are being sold by the media the narrative that the PQ lost because no one wants another referendum.

Obviously federalists don’t want another referendum but sovereignists don’t want another losing referendum and to be honest a referendum with Pauline Marois as the head of the Yes side would make me extremely nervous. Bringing about the independence of Quebec is a big task and so the people who are proposing to do it and asking Quebecers to join them have to be credible. On this point, Pauline Marois failed. The rejection of the PQ on April 7th was the rejection of a government and that’s all. You would think that after being wrong so many times before, the prophets of doom for Quebec’s independence movement would be a little more cautious with their predictions.

Patriots, Loyalists and fence-sitters

Addressed to future English Canadians
It’s estimated that at the time of the American Revolution the population of the American colonies was divided into three camps. There were the Patriots who were committed to independence, the Loyalists who were loyal to Great Britain and would later become English Canadians and there were the fence-sitters. For years it was widely believed that each camp represented one third of the population. This stems from an estimate made by John Adams in his personal writings in 1815. Historians have since concluded that Adams was referring to American attitudes toward the French Revolution. The current thought is that about 20 percent of the colonists were Loyalists. However, the Patriots, people for whom there was no alternative to independence, were probably no more numerous than the Loyalists. It's the fence-sitters who made up the largest group.

The Americans settled the question on the battlefield in a revolutionary war but had there been a referendum at the time, accompanied with a British campaign of fear with predictions of economic collapse and threats against American territorial integrity, which side would have won? It’s hard to say. Quebec society is split is a similar way. There are the Patriots (sovereignists), Loyalists (federalists) and the fence-sitters. The sovereignists have a far more difficult task on their hands as what they are proposing is something new and uncertain. Federalists have inertia on their side and can simply use fear to keep the fence-sitters in their place. It’s for this reason that credibility is all important for the sovereignist side. Pauline Marois and her approach to sovereignty lacked credibility. That is the real lesson of April 7th. We are still a nation of Patriots, Loyalists and fence-sitters on the independence question and that has not changed. For sovereignists, the struggle continues, as it must, but we've grown accustomed to hearing predictions about our demise.