Le Québécois Libre, September 15, 2012, No 303
The recent provincial election in Quebec resulted in the secessionist Parti Québécois achieving the status of minority government. There was a time in Quebec when secessionist sentiment was widespread. English-owned industries employed French Canadians as labourers who were treated as if they were second-class citizens and were regularly overlooked for promotion at their workplaces.
The dream of a future independent Quebec promised dignity and respect for a French workforce that worked at higher levels of responsibility, a dream that has actually become reality. A series of seemingly unconnected advances occurred in distant locations in non-traditional industries such as telecommunications and information processing. A “convergence of technologies” resulted in new product and service ideas along with the establishment of new industries in Quebec that replaced an older generation of smokestack industries.
The new industries introduced new job descriptions and new job titles and accepted applications from the growing band of educated French people who lived mainly in the Greater Montreal area. A younger generation of French Canadians gained access to levels of responsibility in the workplace that had been off limits to the older generation. The changes allowed an increasing number of more highly educated French Canadians to experience the workplace dream of an earlier generation of secessionists, but in a Quebec that was still part of a united Canada.
Secessionist sentiment reached an all-time low across Quebec during the weeks just prior to the recent provincial election. However, there may be potential for a resurgence of such sentiment should Ottawa commit a policy blunder that is unpopular with the Quebec population. There was very little support in Quebec for the presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, but the withdrawal of those troops back to Canada nicely coincided with the end of the term of Quebec's previous government.
While Canada's federal government may seek to play a larger role in international political affairs, support for such an initiative will be minimal inside Quebec, especially if it involves committing Canadian troops overseas. The prolonged presence of Canadian troops in such an involvement could prove as unpopular across Quebec as the Afghanistan assignment. If the federal government is willing to risk such loss of support in Quebec during the tenure of a PQ government, it could tempt the PQ government to go to the polls to seek a majority government.
Across the USA, their federal government is assigning more staff to monitor and check security at airports, bus terminals, train stations, along highways and across many municipal mass transportation systems. During the tenure of a PQ government, Canadian federal officials administering security checks of passengers who travel within Quebec could become a contentious issue. The combination of federal authority over intra-provincial passenger transportation inside Quebec and troops being engaged overseas could likely erode federal support in Quebec.
Under such conditions, a majority PQ government could very well seek a referendum for possible independence. Then again, the presence of a potentially powerful PQ government in Quebec might restrain federal officials from administering programs and policies that could otherwise be unpopular in Quebec. The result may be fewer Canadian troops being assigned overseas and perhaps easier intercity passenger transportation within Quebec.
Federal forces could compensate for a possible policy blunder by transferring additional political power to all provinces, including the PQ in Quebec. Without federal forces committing a major policy blunder that would be unpopular in Quebec, support for Quebec secession will likely remain low. While the policies of a PQ government will encroach on the rights and freedoms of a segment of Quebec's population, the presence of that government may assure some other freedoms for citizens living in Quebec and perhaps across Canada.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.