The majority of anglophones living in Quebec are dead set against
separatism. For my part, although I do come down on the side of
remaining within Canada, it is not with any great enthusiasm. I am an
anglophone by chance, but I am a libertarian by choice, and as a
libertarian, I have no great love for the bloated Canadian government as
it is now constituted. If I thought a separate Quebec would be any
better, I might actually support a peaceful secession. As I outline
below, however, I rather think a separate Quebec would be even less
respectful of individual liberty than it is now. As an alternative to
separation, I borrow a page from the environmentalists' book (whether
they like it or not) and briefly sketch a proposal for what I'd like to
call "sustainable government."
Should We Stay or Should We Go?
I can think of several good theoretical reasons for libertarians to
support separatist movements, all other things being equal. For one
thing, if the people living under the heel of the communists in the
former Soviet Union had the right to secede, why shouldn't others have
the same right? Of course, things are not quite as bad in Canada as they
were in the former USSR yet but is that a good argument? If "things"
have to reach a certain threshold of "bad" before a group of people can
decide to separate, who gets to stipulate what that threshold is? As
ambivalent as I am about democracy, I believe the only safe repository
for this right to decide is the people themselves though if someone
can think of a safer repository, by all means, let's use that!
based on how bad things actually are, of course, is only one strategy.
Another is simply to argue that if we separate, things would become
significantly better than they are right now. It might be that the more
countries there are, the more those countries would have to compete
amongst themselves to attract the most productive members of society. If
those members value and demand liberty, then the more numerous states
would be under increased pressure to supply that demand. Indeed, I have
heard it argued that this is precisely what happened in Europe following
the Enlightenment, and that had there been fewer states in existence at
the time, there would have been less of an increase in liberty.
Now, it is true, states
can compete in less beneficial ways. Open warfare comes to mind. War is
extremely costly for all participants, both in terms of lives lost and
in terms of wealth either destroyed or diverted from more productive
uses. More insidiously, states can compete with barriers to trade, which
is also costly for all participants. Despite mountains of evidence
demonstrating the harmful effects of these kinds of competition, though,
states around the world continue to engage in warfare and protectionism.
It would seem the demand for liberty is not yet widespread enough, or
loud enough, to drown out the hawks and the isolationists.
Neither Quebec nor Canada
is very hawkish (what with our two battleships and five fighter jets), so the
concern in our case is more about protectionism, and interference with
the economy more generally. There is good reason to suspect that a
separate Quebec would be even more interventionist than Canada is. With
the notable recent exception of health care (in which Quebec has adhered
to the statist model somewhat less rigidly than the rest of the
country), Quebec usually errs more on the side of interventionism.
Compared to the rest of Canada, we in la Belle Province pay
higher taxes, give more coercive power to our unions, and interfere more
in education, and we also led the pack in moving to "nationalize"
childcare. In short, I do not foresee myself enjoying more individual
freedom under a separate Quebec than I enjoy now. For the significant
cost in terms of upheaval of people's lives, we would not in fact derive
much benefit, if any, by separating from the rest of Canada.
A Better Option: The 3 'R's
Ultimately, separatism is a question of who shall hold the power to
rule, and as such, it can only be a secondary concern. The primary
concern is not who shall hold the power, but rather how much
power those people shall be allowed to hold. A libertarian is
someone who answers: as little as possible.
It may be that the
separatist desire for self-rule has quite a bit in common with the
libertarian desire for individual freedom, at least for some
separatists. At the very least, both groups feel that the Canadian
government has too much power. If separatism is not the answer, then
what is? The environmentalists have had the answer all along: