Excerpt of The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty by Jane Jacobs
This is an excerpt of the first three chapters of the book, which was first published at Random House, New York. The excerpt of the book was digitized and put on line by a blogger from Moncton in New Brunswick at Altavistagoogle. We recopied it here, fixed a few typos and wikified it a great deal. UPDATE: In 2011, Baraka Books reprinted the book with a 2005 interview of Jane Jacobs and a new preface. More than ever, a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED reading.
AcknowledgementsMassey Lectures commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, given under the title, "Canadian Cities and Sovereignty-Association." I am indebted to Diane Rostein for research and editorial assistance, to Max Allen, producer of the lectures, and to Geraldine Sherman, executive producer of CBC Radio Ideas, for advice, taste, assistance and the enjoyment of working with them. My greatest gratitude is for a fact: that even though the subject was as contentious as the one I chose, it was possible for Canada's government-owned broadcasting corporation to serve free speech without hint or taint of censorship.
For advice and assistance on this expansion of the lectures I am deeply indebted to my publisher and editor, Jason Epstein. I thank Decker Butzner, Stephen Clarkson, Kari Dehli, Robert, James and Burgin Jacobs, Douglas Manzer, Doris Mehegan, Alan Powell and the staffs of the Norwegian Trade Commission, the Swedish Trade Commission, the Ontario Ministry of Industry and Tourism, Statistics Canada (counterpart of the U.S. Census Bureau) and the Toronto Public Library for various contributions of data and other information, comments, criticism and general assistance. I am especially grateful of those who found and pointed out factual errors; if any remain and I devoutly hope they don't, I am of course responsible, as I also am for the opinions expressed.
Chapter One: Emotion
These emotions are felt deeply by separatists, and they are felt equally deeply by those who ardently oppose separatists. The conflicts are not between different kinds of emotions. Rather, they are conflicts between different ways of identifying the nation, different choices as to what the nation is.
For separatists in the Canadian province of Quebec, the nation is Quebec. For their opponents, either inside the province or outside it, the nation is Canada-including-Quebec. Canadians who are indifferent to the question of Quebec separatism are likely either to identify primarily with their own province, such as Newfoundland or British Colombia, or else to identify with a Canada which -for all they care emotionally- may or may not include Quebec. That is how I feel about the question. I will not try to justify it as rational, because the fact is that on some level of sheer feeling, not of reason, Quebec seems to me to be already separate and different from what I understand as my own national community. Not that Quebec seems to me inferior, or threateningly strange, or the wrong way for a place to be, or anything of that sort. It's just not my community.
Trying to argue about these feelings is as fruitless as trying to argue that people in love ought not to be in love, or that it they must be, then they should be cold and hard-headed about choosing their attachment. It doesn't work that way. We feel; our feelings are their own argument.
The irrationality of all this shows up in universal patterns of inconsistency. De Gaulle, who said, "Vive le Québec Libre!," never said "Vive la Provence Libre!," nor "Long live a free Brittany!" He could feel for separatists abroad but not for separatists at home.
That pattern is usual and ordinary, perhaps always has been. The same Englishmen who ardently favored Greek independence from Turkish rule in the nineteenth century did not therefore also campaign for Irish independence from English rule. Rationally, the one would certainly follow from the other; emotionally, not. British support of Pakistani separatists at the time when India became independent did not imply any comfort or support for Scottish nationalists. Just so, many a Canadian who opposes Quebec separatism was sympathetic to the unsuccessful Biafran secessionist movement in Nigeria. I know some of those people. The same Canadians who can argue eloquently that justice and good sense, both, are on the side of Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Basque, Croatian, Walloon, Kurdish or Palestinian separatists can maintain that Quebec separatists must be out of their minds to want something unnecessary and impractical.
Separatists are quite as rationally inconsistent themselves. If and when they win their way, they always promptly forget their championship of self-determination and oppose any further separation at home. The colonies that became the United States declared their independence on the grounds that their grievances made it "necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Power to the Earth the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them." It has often been remarked how inconsistent that ringing declaration is with the war waged by the Union against the secessionist Confederate States some four score and seven years later.
Today's newly independent nations are one and all against their own separatists or potential separatists. As one student of government* has put it, "Leaders of these new regimes are desperately concerned to argue that self-determinations can be employed once in the process of securing independence... but that is cannot be resorted to subsequently." Finland after having achieved independence from Russia in 1918, promptly refused the right of self-determination to Aland, a cluster of islands between Sweden and Finland populated by ethnic Swedes who sought to join their homeland. Pakistan, having won its own separation, went on to fight the separation of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. And so on. We may be sure that if Quebec eventually does negotiate a separation, it will appose adamantly, whether then or thereafter, any separations from Quebec. That is the way all nations behave, no matter how old or young, how powerful or weak, how developed or underdeveloped, or how they themselves came into being. But this behaviour appears inconsistent only in the light of reason. The consistency is emotional and unreasonable.
These emotions are of course always being presented as reasoned and reasonable, but that does not always stand up to inspection. Take, for instance, the word "Balkanization". Spoken with the ring of authority, "Balkanization" can be made to sound like a compressed history lesson providing the folly of small sovereignties. But what about the Balkans, really?
Before they became small and separate sovereignties, the Balkans had been portions of very large sovereignties indeed, the Turkish and Austro-Hungarian empires. As portions of great sovereignties they had lain poor, backward and stagnant for centuries, so that was their conditions when at last they became independent. If a fate called Balkanization has any meaning at all, it must mean that the Balkans were somehow made to be poor, backward and generally unfortunate by having been cut up small, but this is simply untrue. Or else it has to mean that if Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania had been joined together in one sovereignty after World War I, or perhaps had been united with Greece to form a still larger sovereignty, they would be better off now. Who knows? In the nature of the thing there is not shred of evidence either to support such a conclusion or to contradict it.
Consider Canada if Quebec should separate. "Deprived of real authority or purpose, the federal state would simply disintegrate, like the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918." This statement appears in a new work by a professor of political science at the University of Alberta. The trouble with his analogy the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not disintegrate as a result of a successful secession. The empire had its separatists, especially in the Balkans, some of whom were violent, but the central authority managed to keep the movements in check. The empire was defeated in a great war, and as it lay prostrate is was deliberately dismembered by the conquerors. The analogy to Canada is so far-fetched historically and so specious factually that we can only understand it rationally as a cry of anguish -not a true account of how things are in Canada, but probably a true account of the depth and desperation of the professor's emotions.
Similar, or even identical, as their underlying themes may be, all separatist movements have their own stories ans their own circumstances. In Quebec, separatist sentiment has its old and its new story. The old story began in 1759 when the imperial Britain defeated imperial France on the heights above Quebec City during the Seven Year's War, and by right of conquest, ratified by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, took over some 65,000 French colonists who came with the territory.
The conquered Quebecois were not mistreated or notably oppressed in comparison with what has happened to many of history's losers. For instance, unlike the Acadians (French colonists in what has become New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) and PEI they were not booted off their lands and driven away. Compared with what happened in Ireland or Scotland, the history of Quebec is a gentle story indeed. Only once, in 1837, did Quebec rebellion or British repression flare into the open. By and large, each partner yielded to the other, even though grudgingly, when it felt compelled to. The English repeatedly made accommodations to French demands for local and provincial self-government, while at the same time hedging against French political power, as it grew provincially, by tying Quebec into a larger government -first into a joint government over Quebec and Ontario, then into the wider Confederation extending finally from sea to sea. For their part, the French repeatedly made their accommodations to English economic schemes, to the use of English language in industry, commerce and secular higher education, and to the gradually eroding Quebec influence within the national government as English-speaking Canada outstripped Quebec in population and territory.
But even though it was hardly the stuff of high tragedy, the shotgun union of the two Canadas, French and English, proved neither happy nor fruitful. Each partner kept hoping, in vain, to reform the other into something closer to its heart's desire. The English were disappointed by the obstinate refusal of the French to give up their language and customs and assimilate into the society of their conquerors, then became exasperated with the French as priest-ridden, tradition-bound, backward, clannish and occasionally sullen or riotous. The French resented English assumptions of superiority and English mastery over commerce and industry; they felt they were dominated, kept dependent, cheated of equality, threatened with loss of identity. While the mutual accommodations put a reasonably good face on the pain and unhappiness, the accommodations themselves, forced on each partner and begrudged by each partner, tended to become sources of new grievances and to feel resentments.
That was the old story. The new story began about 1960 with what is called the "quiet revolution". One of the partners actually did make itself over. After all those years of sulking and muttering, French Quebec suddenly became outgoing, educated, liberated, and went in for consciousness-raising. Dazzled and alarmed, the other partner tried to make itself over too -took some French lessons, paid compliments and vowed to remove any remaining impediments to harmony.
But curiously, enough, in view of so much change for the better, the thought of a separation was not laid to rest. Quebec took to discussing the possibility loudly and openly, right in public. The rest of Canada, by turns irritated and frightened, tried to remember most of the time that least said is soonest mended and told itself that with a little firm treatment, the passage of time, and some no-nonsense talk about economic realities, Quebec would get over its emotional jag or neurosis or instability or whatever this folly was, and surely come to its senses. With so much feeling in the air, nobody was doing much thinking or wondering about whether a logic of events might possibly underlie the new story and might tell more about the new separatism than recitals of the old grievances, the old disdains, the old prides.
- The quotation beginning "Leaders of these new regimes..." is from Nationalism, Self-Determination, and the Quebec Question, by David Cameron (Canadian Controversy Series; Toronto, Macmillan of Canada, 1974).
- The anguished comparison of Canada with the Austro-Hungarian Empire is from Unfulfilled Union, by Garth Stevenson (Canadian Controversy Series; Toronto, Macmillan of Canada, 1979)
Chapter Two: Montreal and Toronto
To understand why sovereignty has emerged as a serious issue in Quebec at this time, we must look at two cities, Montreal and Toronto. They are responsible for what has been happening in Quebec. 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.
In the 1960s the evidence of this ferment burst forth in French theater, music, films and television. Talent and audiences had found one another. There was a new and rapidly growing readership for Quebecois books and periodicals; writers and readers had also found one another. At about the same time, for a combinations of reasons, new kinds of opportunities finally began opening up to Quebecois in city professions and commerce. The most important of those reasons was the sheer economic growth of Montreal, stimulated first by war manufacturing and services, then by an influx of branch plants attracted by the pent-up demands after the war, and by growing trade with other parts of a generally prospering Canada and United States. Montreal maintained a rapid rate of economic growth well into the 1960s, and then kept the exuberant expansion -or a reasonable facsimile of it- going a little longer with special stimulants such as Expo, the Olympics and a variety of ambitious public construction programs.
Until the late 1960s, Montreal still seemed to be what it had been for almost two centuries; and 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.
Out in rural Quebec, the old stronghold of French culture and customs, another kind of quiet revolution had been taking place. From farming villages, market towns and mill towns, hundreds of thousands of people, especially young people, were trickling and then pouring into Montreal. As the stream swelled it had its effects on French educations and aspirations. If one's destinations was to be Montreal, there was much to be said for seeking an education and for nourishing ambitions that would have been pointless for one's parents and grand-parents.
Life also changed for people who stayed put in rural parishes and villages. The Montreal market for rural goods expanded rapidly. A million extra city people eat a lot and feeding all these former country folk meant increased rural-city trade; much more city money was being infused into the rural economy than before. Not all the food, building materials, country holiday accommodations and other rural goods and services that swelled to supply the expanding Montreal market were produced in Quebec, but a lot were. What with the growing market for rural goods, and so many young people leaving the villages too, it made sense for rural people to spend some to their increased cash on labor-saving devices. Equipment to improve rural productivity -tractors, trucks, piped water, electrical appliances- they began showing up in parishes where, in the past, there would have been neither income to buy them nor need them. Some of the new cash also went for city-made consumer goods that in the past had been out of the question. Some went into bank deposits.
These changes has a profound effect on religious life in Quebec. Contrary to what most people believe, the Quebec religious revolution -the loss of authority of the Catholic Church- was not a cause of the city and rural changes I have mentioned, but as a result of them. The local priest's word about the world and its ways was no longer the last word in settlements where almost everyone was now at least distantly acquainted with somebody who had been off to a Montreal university for a secular education; or in settlements where migrants came back from Montreal to attend weddings, funerals and family reunions; or in settlements where people now went to movies when they got into town and at home listened to the radio, even began watching television; or in settlements where changes in the everyday economy and everyday working methods had burst the bonds of traditional ways of doing things.
One and the same force -the great growth surge of Montreal- was simultaneously undermining an old culture in the countryside and developing it into something new in the metropolis, and sending this new city-shaped culture back into the countryside.
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 and older city than Toronto, and until only a few years ago, it was larger. At the beginning of this century Toronto was only two-thirds the size of Montreal, and Montreal was much the more important center of finance, publishing, wholesaling, retailing, manufacturing, 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-chop 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 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 withing 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.
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 Canada 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.
For various reasons, many of the essays at innovations come to nothing. Some prove unworkable, like the chemical cellulose plant in the northern Quebec wilderness on which ITT lost $600 million before closing it down virtually unused, and into which the Quebec and federal governments also poured $40 million for forest equipment, roads and other support systems. Some are economically unsuccessful, like the abandoned heavy-water plant in Laprade*, Quebec, which cost the two governments, federal and provincial, about $485 million. Some are plagued by bad luck and unanticipated competition, like the nuclear power system called Candu, for which the federal government has paid out $2 billions, but for which it has not been able to find the export markets that were expected to justify the investment. Sometimes endeavors that actually do appear to be succeeding are abandoned because the government's bureaucracies and political leaders become nonplussed at the intelligence and patience they require, as happened when Avro aviation design and manufacturing company was written off after $400 million had gone into it. Not only grandiose innovations but grandiose imitations sometimes fail as well, like the oil refinery in Come-by-Chance, Newfoundland, bankrupt with $600 million in debts; the Newfoundland government holds a second mortgage of $45 million. (The holder of the first mortgage, who is proposing that the almost unused refinery be sold for scrap , is a London bank whose investment was guaranteed by the British government's Export Credits Guarantee Department.) The money that goes down the drain with each grand failure becomes a nine days' wonder.
In contrast, pitifully little capital, and even that confined mainly to Ontario, goes into initially modest innovative work. A company capable of producing and improved solenoid valve for a chemical reactor plumbing systems or an efficient new type of windburning stove is not the kind of company likely to find the modest risk capital required for such ventures. And there is almost no capital for the many small producers of bits, pieces, tools and devices that the practical and economically successful development of an innovative and diverse economy requires.
All this has many consequences. One was summed up by J.J. Brown, the historian of Canadian technology, in 1967:
Canadians have made contributions to world science and technology out of all proportion to their small numbers. Some Canadian inventions made possible world industries, but we have ended up importing from England, Belgium, Italy and the United Stated billion of dollars worth of equipment invented here. This is our basic problem as a nation... If not corrected soon, it will leave us unable to compete as an industrialized nation in the modern world.
Canada is a heavy importer of humdrum and very simple consumer goods, things like hatchets, canoe paddles and waterproof match containers, and also of almost all kinds of basic industrial tools. "Orders Up, Backlogs Twice Normal for Machine Tool Industry," proclaims a December 1979 news headline in a Toronto paper. The print below proceeds to tell that the information that "this is more or less a boom year" comes from the Canadian Machine Tool Distributors Association. "Since there are only a few Canadian machine tool manufactures," the report explains, "it is the distributors who dominated the Canadian market."
To be sure, Canada does not lack manufacturing altogether. There are uses for those imported machine tools. 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.
When a Canadian manufacturer does manage to get started and become successful, capital can seldom be raised for expansion of the work. This impasse is typically solved by the company's selling out to a foreign corporation. It becomes a subsidiary or a branch plant.
Most branch plants have been established, however, because of Canadian tariffs on manufactured goods. With its scanty development of producer's goods and services, Canada is in poor position to replace wide ranges of imported goods and services with its own production, as developed economies do. 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. Branch plants in Canada must be extremely profitable because the prices charged for their goods tend to equal the price of the equivalent imports plus the high tariffs; there are few or no Canadian producers to compete. The branch plants justify their high prices by setting their own book values on components they import from other subsidiaries. And, of course, a large share of profits leaves the country.
Since there are few indigenous Canadian manufacturing enterprises available to be transplanted -as they expand- out into towns and villages where work and wages are desperately needed, the federal and provincial governments offer dazzling sums of money to foreign branch plants for that purpose too.
Naturally, all this drives Canadian economic nationalists into a fury, but even they are so unfamiliar with the fact that many modestly started enterprises go into creations of a diverse and innovative economy that they define economic colonialism narrowly and superficially. They think of it mainly as matter of ownership, to be corrected by changes in ownership -rather than as something that can only be corrected when the economy undertakes things it now fails to do.
In this traditional scheme of things, 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.
In Quebec, other cultural differences notwithstanding, the economic culture is now the same as that of English Canada. Perhaps this is because English Canada dominated Quebec economically in the past, or perhaps that fact made no difference. Whatever the reason, Quebec political leaders think, economically, exactly like most of their English-speaking counterparts. The present premier of the province, René Lévesque, an ardent Quebec nationalist and the chief proponent of sovereignty-association for Quebec, makes it clear in his writings and speeches that Quebec's economic future, as he sees it, depends on assiduous exploitation of exportable resources -and when possible, semi processing them before export. Claude Ryan, leader of the provincial Liberal Party and Lévesque's chief political opponent, sums up Canada's economic past, present and future in these words:
For a long time, the settlement and the cultivation of Canadian land was concentrated on a narrow band about one hundred miles wide along the United States border. But today, we are much more aware of the extraordinary wealth hidden beneath the sea on our coasts and in the vast regions of the north. Rich in minerals of all kinds, in petroleum and natural gas, in fresh-water lakes and in rivers, and in forests, these areas are already the basis for a number of immense projects such as the one at James Bay, the Syncrude installations in Northern Alberta and the petroleum drilling program in the Atlantic Ocean. And this is only a beginning. These vast territories provide us with the promise of almost unlimited developments in future years and make us the envy of other countries.
The mayor of Montreal, who like Lévesque and Ryan is ardently French, has announced that the economic future of the city is rosy because it is in a good position to entice branch offices and branch plants from Europe.
I have singled out these three because of their positions, not because their faith in economic colonialism and their lack of interest in either human inventiveness or the economic possibilities of cities are unusual or extraordinary. They are very Canadian. 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 here, 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 populations 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.
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 is 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." That is how the old story of separatist sentiment in Quebec ties the new story.
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, which I will touch in due course, for supposing it might to better. Furthermore, as we all understand, dependence is stultifying, and sometimes the obverse is also true. That is, sometimes independence releases new kind 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 this century.
- Population growth comparisons are derived from census figures of Statistics Canada.
- The quotation on Canadian inventions is from Ideas in Exile, by J.J. Brown (Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1967). This is a basic work for light on the Canadian economy.
- The economy's reliance on branch plants, which I have summarized, and the attitudes behind it are exhibited in the press almost daily. A commonplace example from the Nelson (B.C.) Daily News (January 22, 1980) quotes one of British Columbia's senior civil servants, the Deputy Minister of Forests: "If we export this inexpensive (hydroelectric) power, we make it attractive for firms to locate in Washington and Oregon. If we kept the cheap power here, perhaps companies would move to B.C. and create employment here."
- Two important recent books illuminating the subject of Canadian economic attitudes are: The Arrow, by James Dow (Toronto, James Lorimer, 1980), and C.D. Howe, a Biography, by Robert Bothwell and William Kilbourn (Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1979).
- Figures on the losses entailed in grandiose failures are from: "How ITT Got Lost in a Big Bad Forest", by Carol Loomis, Fortune (December 17, 1979).
- Personal communication, Atomic Energy of Canada, Ottawa.
- Personal communication, Ontario provincial reasearch staff, New Democratic Party, Toronto, and Atomic Energy of Canada. Dow, op. cit.
- The Globe and Mail, Toronto (February 8 and 12, 1980). The quoted phrase "a sad tale..." is from René, a Canadian in Search of a Country, by Peter Desbarats, rev. ed. (Steal Books; Toronto, McClelland and Stewart-Bantam Ltd., 1977).
Chapter 3, The Secession of Norway from Sweden
We know little from actual experience about peaceable secessions. To be sure, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Iceland all became independent peacefully, as did a few of the still newer nations that formerly were colonies. But those were overseas possessions of empire. With only one exception -the secession of Norway from Sweden- new nations that were former provinces or regions of another country have come to birth in violence. They have either won independence after armed insurrection, highly disruptive terrorism or civil war, or else, like the Balkans or East and West Germany, emerged as a sequel to military defeat, prostration and dismemberment by conquerors. It is difficult, if not impossible, to sort out the repercussions of such disasters from the practical consequences of the separations themselves. This is only one of many reasons that the singular case of Norway's peaceful separation is interesting.
Although the separation occurred in this country, in 1905, it seems to be little remembered, perhaps precisely because the tale lacks blood and thunder. But it does not lack conflict and struggle. The kinds of emotions that apply in the case of Quebec, or for that matter in the cases of many violent separatist movements, were present in all their force.
Offhand, it might be supposed that the independence of Norway was easily attained, that is was a special case to begin with, because once upon a time, long ago, it had been an independent kingdom. But think of Scotland, Ulster, Wales, Burgundy, Aquitania, Catalonia, Galicia, Bavaria, Saxony, Sicily, Tuscany, Venice, the Ukraine, Latvia, Hawaii, Texas... one could go on and on. Nothing has been more common than the reduction of kingdoms, powerful dukedoms or independent republics to provincial status.
Norway lost its independence early in the fourteenth century to Hanseatic merchants who first nibbled away at it piece-meal by establishing rule over its ports, and then, in about 1380, allowed Denmark to take it under protection. That status became official in 1537 when the Danish king, in response to demands by his council, declared that Norway had ceased to exist as a separate realm and was henceforth part of Denmark.
So things stood until 1814, when Norway became one of the chips lost and won in the Napoleonic Wars. Great Britain and Russia promised Norway to Sweden in return for Sweden's contributions of an army corps to the fight against Napoleon and as compensation for Russia's seizure of Finland from Sweden a few years previously. Austria and Prussia agreed to ratify Norway's transfer. Denmark was out of luck because it had sided with Napoleon against Britain.
Between 1811 and 1814, at the time when the great powers were dickering over Norway, a British naval blockade severed trade and most communication between Norway and Denmark, so Norway experienced a kind of state-of-siege period of independence, lasting some three years. Up to this time, as far as history records, the Norwegians had not organized any separatist movements, but separatist schemes germinated during this three-year interval and thereafter the heady notion of independence was never lost. One is reminded of the independence movements that Britain and France found in their South Asian colonies when they returned to reclaim them after trade and most communications with them had been cut by World War II.
In Norway in 1814 there occurred by mischance a few month's hiatus between the signing by the great powers of the Treaty of Kiel, in January, which formalized the territory's transfer, and the actual assumptions of Swedish rule. During this interval a self-constituted group of separatists, consisting largely of Norwegian civil servants who had held office under the Danes, rejected the Kiel treaty, proclaimed independence, chose as king a Danish prince named Christian Frederik, and arranged for an assembly representing a geographical and occupational cross section of the population to meet forthwith at a little town named Eidvold, a few miles north of Oslo. That assembly's work was to prove vital in Norway's subsequent struggles, but apart from this success of its deliberations, everything else failed. The Swedes, when they arrived to take over their new possession, were met by a confused military resistance under the wavering leadership of the prince. Within two weeks the prince advised his quondam subjects to surrender and submit, and left the country. Norway was now part of Sweden.
In the meantime, however, most settlements had sent delegates to the Eidsvold Assembly. They did their work with incredible speed, all the more remarkable because they were there not to ratify a prepared plan of government, but to create one from scratch. In only ten days and nights they managed to debate, write and adopt a constitution. They also authorized themselves to create a national bank and national currency. The constitution provided for a monarchy and a national legislature, or parliament, to be called the Storting, meaning Great Assembly. At the time, the constitution was the most democratic in Europe. It was also so well constructed and so workable that it still serves as the Norwegian constitution today.
But grand as all this sounds, it was pitiful too. Sweden had made its own very different plans for Norway. In Swedish eyes, Norway was in effect a province. The formal arrangement was that Sweden and Norway were two kingdoms under on crown, like Scotland and England in the United Kingdom; indeed, the form had been proposed to Sweden by the British before transfer. But the actual rule was set up this way in Stockholm, the king appointed a cabinet of Ministers for Norway composed of Norwegian career civil servants. They and their staffs lived and worked in Stockholm and served at the king's pleasure.
On matters affecting both Sweden and Norway, the Norwegian ministers joined with the Swedish ministers in one cabinet. On matters affecting only Norway, the Ministers for Norway and their staffs served as the Norwegian government. So in effect these ministerial civil servants constituted both the provincial government of Norway and a portion of the Swedish government as well. In Oslo a governor general was ensconced to represent the king and to see that the will of the king's government was executed.
In view of all this, the Storting and the Norwegian constitution would seem to have been rather in the realm of folk fantasy. Perhaps that is how the Swedish government thought of it as first: Let them have their fantasies if it amuses and occupies them. At any rate, to its great credit, Sweden neither then nor afterward banned the Storting or tried to suppress its elections, never attempted to censor its debates or interfere in its communications with the Norwegian people, and did not poison Norwegian political life with spies and secret police or corrupt it with bribed and informers.
The swift collapse of initial military resistance to Swedish rule, and the subsequent smoothness with which that rule was instituted, may account in part for Sweden's early tolerance of the Storting. But the respect which Sweden soon extended toward it and the extraordinary forbearance Sweden displayed during a later period of provocation on the part of the Storting can only be understood, I think, as an aspect of the more general non imperialistic behavior of Sweden after the Napoleonic Wars. In striking contrast to so many nations of nineteenth-century Europe, Sweden did not embark upon seizures of empire abroad; quite as strikingly, its government did not behave imperialistically at home. The behavior was all of a piece, both at home and abroad, as nation's behavior so frequently is.
When Sweden took over Norway's rule, Norway was economically very backward. Today we would say it had a Third World economy. Most people lived by means of subsistence farming in isolated villages, or on a scanty export trade in fish and timber. By the time of Norway's separation form Sweden, ninety-one years later, it had somewhat developed. It had a few railroad lines, some decent roads, telegraphs and telephone communication, and the start of a textile industry, and it was already an important ocean freight carrier and builder of ships. But it was still very poor in 1905, with little manufacturing other than that connected with the shipwyards.
Thus we must visualize the entire struggle for Norwegian independence as taking place in two small and poor provincial cities, Bergen and Oslo, a few moribund ancient towns, and the scattered villages and farmsteads where most people eked out a hard existence. The pervasive poverty forced heavy emigration during much of the nineteenth century, chiefly to the United States.
Norwegians today marvel as the succession of their great men, generation after generation -farmers, foresters, craftsmen, schoolmasters, pastors and of course lawyers- who emerged from the narrow, drudging, tradition-bound life, and built independence on almost no resources except persistence and ingenuity.
During the first two years of Swedish rule the Storting managed, by persuasion, to pry loose two little fragments of Norwegian autonomy. Sweden had made what seemed to be a generous offer and probably was: the opening of military and civil appointments in both realms to people of both on equal terms. The Storting rejected the offer, and the rejections was respected by Sweden. This closed off to Norwegians the prestigious and relatively ample opportunities for public service to be found in Sweden, but of course it also meant that Swedes could not occupy government posts within Norway, and the members of the Storting evidently though that worth the sacrifice.
The other point won was that Sweden agreed to separate its own debts from the debts incurred on behalf of Norway. In this way the Norwegians limited their own financial responsibility for Sweden, but at the same time they insisted on taking their own full share of national debt without also having the power to help determine the size of the debt, the way money was raised, what the money was to be used for, or how the taxes to support interest on the debt were to be levied.
The Norwegians were also determined to use their owns central bank and their own currency which that hasty meeting of the constitutional assembly had authorized, and amazingly enough they did so, although with the greatest difficulty. They issued bank notes on silver standard, but since they could not raise the needed amount of silver, the currency was extremely unstable until 1842. (Between then and 1875 it worked very well. Then Sweden tied it to the Swedish krona and established a mutual gold standard. After independence, Norway again adopted an independent currency, which it still has.)
Thus two persistent themes were set by the Norwegians from the very beginning of their struggle for independence, which thereafter ran through the entire effort. One theme was their fearlessness, poor though they were, in taking financial responsibility for their own affairs, indeed their positive eagerness to do so. The other was their strategy of seeking and grasping whatever bit, piece or symbol of independence they could find, no matter how irrational it might be, given their subordinate status.
They did not win another of those fragments until 1821, when they got themselves a flag. It was not the national flag which they would have liked; a national flag was denied to them on grounds that Sweden's flag was their flag too. Nevertheless, they got permission to use this flag of theirs on merchant ships as Norway's commercial emblem in norther waters. Year later they won the right to use the trade flag on all the oceans. So it went in the Storting, symbol or substance, push, push, push over the years, always for a little bit more. In 1837 they won another bit of financial responsibility: the right of local taxpayers to govern local expenditures for purely local matters.
Not all the ideas came from Storting. A young poet named Henrik Wergeland conceived the idea, in 1824, of an annual celebration of May 17, the date of the adoption of the constitution. The idea caught on and the day became, as it still remains, a great Norwegian national holiday. Wergeland's father, a clergyman, had not only been a delegate to the Eidsvold Assembly but was also the pastor of Eidsvold, where the poet was born and brought up; he had been a child of six at the time of the assembly, and what had been done there remained his pride and his passion. Wergeland was one of those improbably romantic, willful, bohemian geniuses who have so often helped give soul and fire to freedom movements. Young always in people's memory because he was short-lived, he was besides being a poet, a standard-bearer for every democratic cause he learned of, whether in Norway or anywhere else, and a tireless expositor of politics and economics, "as though Shelley had also been Cobbett", according to and English historian. On the strength of his shorter lyrical works, Norwegians consider him the greatest poet their country has produced. But perhaps his most extraordinary outpouring was a 720-page poem written when he was twenty-two, called nothing less than Creation, Man and Messiah. It is not read much today, but it evidently had an electrifying effect at the time. A later Norwegian poet said of him, "He willed a union of workman and king, law-breaker and law-maker, the wise man and the fool. And Norway's woods and mines and factories, her ploughlands, fisheries and shopping -right down to the beasts and the birds, he included them all."
A national holiday, an almost-flag, a few rather disjointed bits of financial autonomy -this was about the sum of independence Norway had won during the first half of the period when it was ruled by Sweden. After forty-five years, the career civil servants still governed aloofly in Stockholm, their orders transmitted through the governor general. The conflict, though earnest enough, had remained exceedingly tame. But beginning in 1859, all this changed when the Storting turned balky and set in motion the train of events that was to culminated, finally, in secession.
That year the Storting rejected two measures which had been adopted in Stockholm. One of the changes would have made decisions by law courts in either Sweden or Norway binding in both; the other would have established a joint customs union. At the time -although not later- the issue of a customs union had little practical meaning because the Norwegian ministers in Stockholm decided such questions as tariffs anyhow and did what Sweden wanted. Sweden acceded to the Storting's wishes on both these matters.
But at the same time that the Storting rejected the two measures for closer union and made the rejections stick, it also put forward a proposal of its own which was to have far-reaching consequences -a proposal that Sweden abolish the post of governor general. That proposal, and Sweden's refusal to accept it, signaled the end of tame and gentle conflict and inaugurated forty-six years of recurrent and ever more serious political crises and acrimony.
The question arises, of course, why the change in temper occurred at all, and, moreover, occurred abruptly and unexpectedly. No particular event of any sort precipitated the new Norwegian intransigence. It seems probable that and aggregation of economic and cultural changes, along with the development in Norway of a counterindependence movement, all of which had gradually been gathering force, ignited the Storting of combined to stiffen both its resistance and its aggressiveness.
Norway had recently discovered that in at least one economic field it not only could outdo Sweden but could compete successfully with the whole world. Ten years earlier, in 1849, the British had repealed their Navigation Acts, throwing open the trade of the whole British Empire to free competition among freight carriers. Many other countries, starting with Holland, soon imitated Britain. Traditionally, Norway's exports had been timber and fish, and traditionally, these exports had been carried in Norwegian ships. For some time, gradually and slowly as opportunities arose, Norwegian shipowners had added to this work the activity of carrying cargo for non-Norwegian shippers. Thus, at the time of the Navigation Acts repeal they were in a position to seize the new and much multiplied opportunities to be opened. They anxiously tracked the British measure as it made its way through Parliament, and a Norwegian ship was the first to inaugurate the new era; it was unloading Canadian timber at the London docks within a week after free competition was introduced. By 1859, cargo-carrying was well on its way to becoming the Norwegians' major export work and the largest source of employment for Norwegian men apart from subsistence farming.
The confidence and pride created by this first important economic success were being reinforced by cultural excitements and successes. The Norwegians had lacked, or thought they had lacked, a language of their own. The language of the pulpit, the pres, the schools, the government, the capital city, all educated people wherever they lived in Norway, and many who were uneducated too, was Danish, owing to the centuries-long Danish occupation and rule. The Norwegians pronounced the Danish in a way of their own (nowadays it is called Dano-Norwegian).
Actually there was another language, or rather, a great many different dialects of another language. Collectively the vernacular might be though of an "Norwegian," but practically speaking, there was no definitive or nationally useful Norwegian language because the dialects, although linguistically closely related, were in some cases mutually incomprehensible. Northern and southern Norwegians in particular were at a loss to understand one another's mother tongues. All the dialects were also linguistically related, although more distantly, to Danish. The situation was rather as if Norman French had persisted as the language of London and of all official and educated communication in the realm of England, while in the English countryside people spoke mutually incomprehensible dialects of "English".
Wergeland, ardent nationalist thought he was, had written his poetry, essays and polemics in Danish. There was nothing else for him to write in. The necessity had galled him, and he had wistfully thrown out the idea that Danish ought somehow to be "Norwegianized."
Not only did the Norwegians have no language of their own, they had produced hardly any literature of their own since the dim and remote times of the Old Norse sagas. So they assumed that they had no culture of their own as that word is usually understood. However, in the 1830s two young Norwegian students, Jorgen Moe and Peter Christen Asbjornesen, traveled among remote farmsteads and villages, and listened. In the 1840s they began publishing what they had heard -stories of loutish and bombastic giants, brutal and disgusting trolls, shrewd and industrious dwarfs, and wise, wily maidens. Today one cans find the favourites, usually credited to Moe and Asbjornsen, in many English anthologies of fairy and folk tales.
Publications created a sensation in Oslo. The stories themselves were a revelation. Their originality, fantasy and beauty -and their view of life- revealed a side of the national character Norwegians themselves had hardly appreciated. But the real bombshell was the language. The authors Incorporated into the Danish as much native Norwegian vocabulary and idiom as they could while at the same time keeping the work understandable to city readers. Asbjornsen, besides being co-editor, did the publishing (to earn his living he was a professional forester), and each time he brought out a new edition he and Moe enriched the language brew, rendering the indigenous elements still more numerous and prominent. By the time the definitive edition was published, in 1851, not only had a new literary style been created, based upon preference for delecting words of Norwegian origin, but also a new and practical method for deliberately developing a language. Others took up the method, and even today the intentional and conscious evolution of the language continues. Norwegian friends tell me new words and turns of speech are still being rediscovered and incorporated, and that people still find the process fun and exciting. The language that was developing in this fashion was to be recognized in the 1890s, under the name nynorsk (neo-Norwegian), as a second official language, making Norway bilingual, which is still is.
Moe, who was a poet as well as co-editor of the folk tales, was appointed Reader in Folklore at Oslo University in 1849, probably the first such appointment in the world. A few years later the first realistic Norwegian novel was published. The author, Camilla Collett, was sister of the poet Wergeland. This book, too, which was written in proper Danish, created a sensation. Called The County Governor's Daughters, it attacked the traditional upbringing of girls and paved the way for the women's emancipation movement which was to get under way in Norway in the 1870s.
Along with folklore and fiction came history. Starting in 1852, Norway's leading historian, P. A. Munch, began publishing the six volumes of his History of the Norwegian People, and at the same time led the preservationists in a battle over whether the ruins of the ancient cathedral in Trondheim should be torn down as an "improvement" or be saved. Munch used this struggle as an opportunity to educate his countrymen in the achievements and civilization of medieval Noway. The preservationists not only won but went on to start a movement for restoration of the ruins, a vast and ambitious task that even now is still in process.
Thus, in the middle of the ninetieth century, Norwegians were finding that they had a history in which it was possible for them to take pride, a language that it was possible to use and enjoy, and the beginnings of a literature of their own. The excitement all this generated was a bit exaggerated, if anything, then and later. According to an English historian of modern Norway, "anything done by a Norwegian in the arts and sciences, commerce and even sport had always to be vociferously acclaimed as the triumph of a specifically Norwegian culture..."
But alongside the cultural and nationalist ferment, another movement had been arising which ran counter to Norway's aspirations for independence. Called Scandinavianization, the object of that movement was the unification of Denmark, Norway and Sweden into a single nation.
Unifications and territorial expansions were in the air everywhere. The German principalities were uniting into the North German Federation, which became the German Empire. Russia was in the process of unifying Siberia under the rule of the czar. The United States, expanding westward to the Pacific, had engulfed territories seized in the Mexican War and was on the threshold of the Civil War, which so decisively would settle the issue of American unity. In Canada the time was approaching for Confederation under the British North America Act, and in Italy schemes for unification were beginning to germinate. Austria and Hungary were sealing the union that was to hold their empire for another half-century. In the wake of the Sepoy Mutiny, Britain was joining together under the British raj a bewildering variety of Indian states and principalities; and at the same moment French administrators of what is now Vietnam were concluding that Cambodia, too, must be united into their Indochinese holdings for protection of their position. Everywhere, at home and abroad, great powers and would-be great powers were getting their ducks in a row: readying themselves for the rivalries and slaughters of our own century.
As for Scandinavization, one of its many European enthusiasts, Louis Napoleon of France, said in 1856, "The North must become one unit, one strong power, a counterweight both to Russia and to Germany."
At the time, of course, unification was widely thought of as progress in the art of government, and aggrandizement as the way to spread civilization. In Scandinavia, as elsewhere, political unification appealed strongly to those who conceived of it as a means of transcending differences and erasing conflicts in favor of cooperation, harmony and mutual aid. The chief stronghold of the Scandinavian movement for unification was in the universities. The importance of this lay in the fact that the students, who were a tiny minority of youth at the time, could be expected in due course to make up the civil services and other educated leadership of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The Swedish king favored the movement, as did many of the larger landholders in all three countries. Throughout the 1850s and early 1860s, when the movement was at its height, its success appeared all but inevitable.
But when Germany went to war against Denmark in 1864 to seize the province of Schleswig-Holstein, the Scandinavian movement was abruptly put to the test. Those in Norway who favored it insisted that Norwegians must enlist on Denmark's side; Norwegians overwhelmingly refused to do any such thing. The whole movement collapsed, never to rise again. Among those who were outraged was Ibsen, and idealistic and dedicated proponent of Scandinavianization. Some say his disillusionment and anger at what he considered his fellow Norwegians' blindness, and his bitterness at the movement's collapse because of their provincialism, as he saw it, were among the reasons he then exiled himself from his country.
The movement, however, had long and lingering consequences in Norway after its collapse. It continued to divided the population, with those who had favored Scandinavianization tending to lean toward closer union with Sweden, against those who preferred greater Norwegian autonomy.
Now let us get back to the Storting, which was where the battle was to be waged, and which we left in 1859 when the Storting's proposal to abolish the governor general was turned down by Sweden. The Swedish government had remained placatory and patient with the cantankerous Norwegians. When the Sorting chose to make an issues of the governor-generalship, immediately after rejecting Sweden's plans for customs and legal union, the king and his advisers remained patient, even sympathetic. They were prepares to accede to the Storting's request and abolish the governor general's post.
But when word of this intention became known, an angry wave of Swedish public opinion prevented the government from proceeding. One can understand this Swedish reaction. After all, Sweden had consistently behaved decently toward Norway within the framework of the fact that Noway was a Swedish possession. Yet the Norwegians obdurately refused to take pleasure or pride in their association with Sweden. They would not even meet the Swedes halfway, and made no bones about it. Concessions, it seemed, were always being made by Sweden, never by Norway.
Instead of backing off in the face of this evidence of Swedish hostility, the Storting obstinately continued to press the issue of the governor-generalship. Session after session it passed the same resolution over and over again, and over again presented it to the king. Finally, after fourteen years of what must have come to seem to Sweden a case of monomania, Norway got its way.
In place of the governor-generalship, with its connotations of colonial rule, Sweden created a new office, Minister of State for Norway. The position was analogous to that of prime minister in the sense that the new official was the highest-ranking Norwegian minister, but unlike a prime minister under a parliamentary system he was appointed in Stockholm and was still responsible to the government there. The immediate gain for Norway was symbolical: the implication that the center of authority had moved from Stockholm to Oslo.
But this change was only the first step in a more ambitious scheme the Storting's leadership had in mind -attainment of responsible government under a true parliamentary system. Now that Norway had a quasi prime minister, the Storting passed a bill demanding that the Ministers for Norway, those aloof civil servants in Stockholm, come to Oslo and sit in the Storting as ministers would do under a parliamentary system, and become responsible to the Storting. The bill outraged Swedish public opinion again, and it was promptly vetoed in Sweden. Hostility between the two peoples mounted. These reactions were to increase to the point where, during the next thirty years, until separation, on at least three occasions it appeared that either country might take up arms against the other.
In the Storting itself a situation now existed that was tailormade for conflict and crisis. The membership had formed into two political parties. The larger, representing separatist sentiment, was led by Johan Sverdrup, a brilliantly resourceful lawyer, chief strategist of the scheme for attaining responsible government. This faction, although it constituted a majority, held no de facto power. The minority party, representing the unionists, was formally in charge because its leader was the appointed quasi prime minister in whom authority resided. In addition, the government civil service -which exerted most of the real power- was composed of unionists. In election after election the separatists were returned to the Storting with decisive majorities, yet in effect remained the minority party.
Their one effective from of strength was their ability to win issues put to a vote in the Storting, and they proceeded to use this asset with rather breath-taking boldness. What they did was vote in the Storting, and they proceeded to use this asset with rather breath-taking boldness. What they did was vote to amend the Norwegian constitution in a way specifically required the Ministers for Norway to come sit in the Storting, respond to its questions and act under its directions. Tactically, this was not a mere repetition of the previous resolution asking the same thing; it was a constitutional amendment. Naturally, the amendment was vetoed in Sweden. But the Storting then proceeded to pass it twice more, each time after elections that returned larger and larger separatist majorities, and to announce -after the third passage, in 1880- that it was now law regardless of vetoes because it fulfilled the Norwegian constitution's own provisions for amendment. Thereupon the Storting ordered the Ministers for Norway to obey the constitution and submit to the Storting. Of course they refused.
A four-year legal wrangle of stupendous complexity followed. Overruling a decision of the Rigsret (Supreme Court of Norway) and an opinion from the law faculty of the University of Oslo, the Storting then proceeded to impeach the ministers, convict them, levy fines against them and declare their offices forfeit and vacant. Through all this, tempers in Sweden rose and so did tempers in Norway. This was one of the occasions when violence appeared probable. The Norwegians feared a royal military coup, which had been rumored. Volunteer rifle began organizing in Norway to resist such a takeover.
The Swedish government and king, who throughout the crisis had continued to speak in voices of moderation and to do their best to calm down the hotheads on both sides, now were faced with only two choices: either Sweden must enforce its rule over Norway by military means, which clearly meant civil war, or else it must accede to the Storting's demand for responsible government.
Sweden chose the peaceful course. The king asked Sverdrup to form a cabinet. Government of Norway by Norway, the grand and pitiful public fantasy of Eidsvold, seventy years before, had finally become reality.
The uses to which the Storting put its new powers were exemplary from a democratic point of view. It concerned itself with such things as introducing the jury system for criminal cases, improving the school system, providing for locally elected school boards, extending suffrage. More ominously, it reorganized the Norwegian army on a more democratic basis. From this point on, the Storting could count on the army.
Things calmed down for a few years. The unionists accepted responsible government as a a fact of life and even won an election or two because of splits in the separatist party over personalities and strategies. But beginning in 1888, the conflict flared up anew, this time shifting to economic issues. Norway, in spite of its success with shipping and shipbuilding was still, on the whole, terribly poor and the 1880s were proving lean years indeed. Emigration was the only means through which many young Norwegians could find a tolerable livelihood of any sort; in some years during this decade, in which emigration reached its high tide, net population actually dropped for that reason. Norway's basic economic problems at this time was its underdeveloped domestic economy. It simply did not produce amply or diversely for its own people, and what it did not produce for itself it obviously had to import or else go without; that included most kinds of manufactured goods. Thus it was exceedingly vulnerable to the least weakening in its export trade.
At the time Sweden, too, was relatively underdeveloped economically, although it had become better equipped industrially than Norway was. To promote and encourage the development of indigenous industry, the Swedish government in 1888 adopted a policy of very high tariffs, and it directed those tariffs quite as much against Norwegian imports as against those of other nations. Perhaps there was some element of satisfaction in this move, some glee in retaliating against Norway for having once rejected customs union and for having won the great tussle over responsible government. Sweden was the chief export customer for the very few kinds of manufactured goods that Norway did produce, chiefly cloth being made by an incipient modern textile industry centering around Bergen. That market was being abruptly cut off. The Norwegians, with an economy already so close to the bone, felt as if the bone itself were being gnawed.
The only way Norway could compensate for losses of export trade with Sweden was to increase its exports elsewhere, and the only swift and practical way of doing that was to find more customers abroad for the work of the Norwegian merchant fleet. But here Sweden had Norway in a bind.
As far as foreign affairs were concerned, Norway was still a part of Sweden. Norway had no consular representation of its own; instead, it contributed toward support of a joint consular service. Norwegians had long resented the disadvantages of this arrangement, disadvantages which were symbolized by the plight of a poor Norwegian seamen in difficulties in a foreign port, given no understanding and short shrift by an aristocratic Swedish consul. Now, when Norway needed rapid and effective consular aid to find, develop and service new markets for Norwegian cargo ships, Swedish consuls were not that interested in hustling for Norway. The gap between what Norway needed and what it was getting soon became so serious economically that the Storting, in 1892, voted to withhold its consular contributions to the Stockholm government and unilaterally establish a service of its own.
The king vetoed the measure. But since he was a constitutional monarch of the two countries, his veto had to be countersigned by the ministers of the Norwegian government. In the past, that requirement had presented no problem, but now the ministers were men chosen by the Storting and responsible to it. They refused to sign. This was a new kind of impasse. The king dissolved the government and appointed a new cabinet, its members drawn from the minority unionist party. But the Storting refused to countersign this arrangement, and the new government could not govern a Storting and a people who would not be governed by it. Its attempts to rule were a shambles. In Sweden public opinion against Norway was again rising alarmingly, and again there were rumors of war.
Now it was the Norwegians' turn to realize they had only two choices; either they could pay up their contribution and try to negotiate more attention to their needs or else they could make war to try to establish complete independence. The reason complete independence was the only alternative to the status quo was that Norway had already made a tentative stab at establishing its own consuls in Germany, but Germany had refused to recognize them because its diplomatic relations were with Sweden, not Norway. The response, Norwegians knew, would be the same in all other countries.
Norway chose the peaceful course. It paid up and negotiated. But no agreement could be reached, and the talks eventually broke down entirely. Tempers in both countries grew uglier. The Norwegians embarked on a strong rearmament program and strengthened fortification along their border. Again, war looked imminent.
This time it was Sweden's turn to back off. It did so by suggesting a compromise permitting separate consular services under a single diplomatic staff. On this basis, negotiations began again, but in reality the Swedish position against Norway was hardening and the talks got nowhere. As frustration in Norway mounted, the issue of the consuls escalated in almost everyone's mind there into the issue of complete independence. Even the party of the unionists, who felt betrayed by the Swedish negotiators, was now ready to embrace secession.
The Storting organized itself into a coalition government representing both parties, and chose as prime minister Christian Michelsen, a Bergen lawyer and shipowner. Plebiscites were called in Norway, great demonstrations were mounted, the country was in an uproar, and in the spring of 1905 the Storting unanimously passed a bill demanding thoroughly separate consular services with the implication that the issue was no longer negotiable.
The form the crisis took this time was a curious legalistic deadlock, a kind of Gordian knot. When the king vetoed the Storting's bill, the ministers -as expected- refused to countersign his veto and resigned. All that was somewhat familiar. But this time the king refused to accept the resignations because that move had resulted in such a mess the previous time it was employed. In refusing, he said, "No other cabinet can now be formed."
The words of the king meant one thing in Sweden -that Norway must now knuckle under- but in Norway they were chosen to mean something different. The prime minister, Michelsen, who was much admired among his countrymen for his nimble mind and efficiency, quick-wittedly used the king's remark to mean that the king himself had dissolved the union between Norway and Sweden, and proceeded deftly to slice through the tangle in which affairs had been left. His argument was that the king could exercise his royal functions only constitutionally, which was true, and that since this meant that he could exercise them only through a cabinet, he himself -by announcing that none could be formed- had declared he could no longer rule Norway and so had dissolved the union himself. This went over as a great idea in the Storting. It promptly passed a resolution, on June 7, 1905, announcing that Norway's union with Sweden was at an end and then proceeded to act as the government of a fully sovereign state.
Of course, that did not quite end the matter. As may be supposed, a tense time followed. The Swedish Riksdag (Parliament) refused to admit that the union had been dissolved and countermanded what the Storting had done. But once again, Sweden recognized that the question was one of war or peace. Denmark, Russia and France all urged Sweden to show moderation, and Sweden proceeded to resolve matters in this fashion: if the Norwegians would agree to meet certain conditions, then Sweden would be willing to negotiate for dissolution. The chief conditions were that Norway should dismantle its border forts, that a military neutral zone should be crated along the southern frontier between Norway and Sweden, and that Norway must hold a referendum to see whether its people actually did want dissolution.
The conditions were agreeable to Norway. Indeed, the government had already arranged for a referendum to take place in August. It produced a huge outpouring of votes, overwhelmingly in favor of independence, and negotiations between the two governments were promptly started. They were complex and difficult, but now Sweden had accepted the fact that Norway had seceded; and Norway, for its part, recognized that it was being dealt with in good faith. In this anticlimactic atmosphere the arrangements moved so rapidly and were accepted in both countries so readily that before the year was out, all had been settled.
The Norwegians invited Carl, grandson of the king of Denmark and son-in-law of the king of England, to be their constitutional monarch. He took the medieval name of Haakon, and inspiration suggested by one of the poet Wergeland's apostrophes to Norway, poured out so many years before: "With what joy thy towers would shine, saw they Haakon's age again." He was crowned in Trondheim Cathedral, saved from destruction so many years before by Munich. Everybody's labor, whether for symbol or substance, was bearing fruit. "The feelings of relief and of enhanced self-respect," a historian has written, "were comparable to those which other peoples associate with the winning of a major war. It would hardly be too much to say that many Norwegians thought of the whole of their history since 1319 as a wandering in the wilderness from which they had now emerged into the Promised Land."
It is difficult to say whether the outcome did greater honor to Sweden or to Norway. Is seems to me that it did honor not only to both but also to civilization.
The separation, as it turned out, has harmed neither country. On the contrary, it probably helped them both, economically as well as politically. The conflict itself, which could only have grown uglier and more dangerous, was disposed of. Sweden was certainly better off economically in the years to follow than it would have been if it had to carry on its back a poverty-stricken province, as might well have been the case.
Norway had its ups and downs. Things seemed to start out well economically after independence, with the beginnings of the development of electric-power, chemical and metallurgical industries. But no sooner did Norway's economy begin to blossom noticeably than the government became too ambitious in its social programs, which soon outran the economy's capacity to pay for them. In an attempt to support them anyhow, the government took to printing money exuberantly and a terrible inflation followed, much intensifying the general inflation which Norway, like all Europe, experienced during World War I. The exaggerated Norwegian inflation raged form 1916 to 1920. The government then retrenched, and by 1928 the effects had been overcome. But after three brief years of prosperity and stability, the world-wide depression engulfed Norway. Norway's recovery, however, began earlier than that of most countries. By 1934 the economy was markedly improved, and Norway's economic development has been both rapid and many-sided since. In the course of developing their economy, the Norwegians have displayed an inventiveness and verve that it is hard to imaging they could have exercised had they and their government been preoccupied instead with bitter political grievances and associated economic frustrations.
Today Sweden and Norway are each other's best customers. The two cooperate as equals in many fields. They have joint customs inspections, have abolished passport requirements for each other's citizens, have coordinated their university standards and their social insurance arrangements, have established a common labour market, and they engage in various joint scientific projects and some joint industrial ventures. But when they want to differ, they do. For instance, Sweden, like Denmark, has become a member of the European Economic Community, but Norway has not. Its government favored membership, but its people turned it down in a referendum.
Here in Toronto, where I live, in two different office buildings about a mile apart, are to be found two trade commissions, on Norwegian, on Swedish. To me, the two establishments seem more than busy, competently run commercial offices, staffed by cheerful, helpful people. To me, they seem the concrete evidence of a miracle -a secession achieved without armed rebellion, without terrorism, without the military defeat of a former ruler.
In the Swedish office I recently asked one of the civil servants how Swedes really feel toward Norwegians today: "Do they harbor feelings of resentment about the secession?" He looked shocked at the idea. "Of course not, he said. "We make jokes" -and he blushed. "The same jokes you tell in Canada about Newfies (Naïve Newfoundlanders). But they are good neighbors, good customers, our best, and they have made a fine country for themselves." Then he added reflectively, "We wanted them to like being with us, but..." and he shook his head.
There are many obvious differences between Quebec and Norway and between Canada and Sweden. For instance, Quebec is much richer and better developed economically than Norway was at the time when Norwegian sovereignty hung in the balance. Quebec got responsible government earlier than Norway, and more easily. Quebec's population is larger than Norway's; and Canada's -even without Quebec- is a much larger than Sweden's.
But there are many similarities too. Quebec, for many years, has been trying to take more of its affairs into its own hands. These moves, as in Norway, jumble symbols with substance; demands for responsibility with claims to cultural equality; economic concerns with political preoccupations. An intricate, pervasive drive is at work in Quebec, as it was in Norway. The slogan of Quebec's quiet revolution, "Masters in our own house", was not invoked in Norway, as far as I know; yet that is clearly what Norwegian struggle was all about.
Canada, for its part, is similar to Sweden in its recoil against the idea of civil war or use of military force to keep Quebec in its place. Canadians are similar to Swedes in not wanting a separation, and in wanting the people of Quebec to take pride in being Canadian. They are also like Swedes in being impatient with Quebec's never-ending train of demands. But the government in Ottawa, like the government in Stockholm, is a voice of moderation in comparison with the anger and hostility against Quebec vented in such places a letters-to-the-editor columns, many newspaper editorials, or on the part of some of the provincial governments. If Quebec does continue a course of moving toward independence, I have and unshakable feeling that Canada's behavior, like Sweden's, will do honor to civilization.
The historical information on Noway and Sweden if from the following:
- A History of Modern Norway 1814-1972, by T.K. Derry (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1973).
- A Brief History of Norway, by John Midgaard (Oslo, Johan Grundt Tanum Forlag, 1969).
- A History of Norway, by Keren Larsen (Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1948).
- One Hundred Norwegians, edited by Sverre Mortensen and Per Vogt (Oslo, Johan Grundt Tanum Forlag, 1955).