A Yes for Change

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A Yes for Change
June 21, 1995

100 Quebec intellectuals signed this manifesto prepared by: Jocelyne Couture, Pierre Gendron, Guy Lachapelle, Jacques-Yvan Morin, Kai Nielson, Guy Rocher, Michel Sarra-Bournet, Mathieu-Robert Sauvé, Michel Seymour, Geneviève Sicotte, Daniel Turp, Jules Pascal Venne

Public affairs should interest all citizens of a community, but none more than its intellectuals. This is all the more true of Quebec where intellectuals have played a determining role in recent developments, a role they must not relinquish at a moment when the people of Quebec are called upon to take major decisions on their future as a collectivity. Intellectuals should not misperceive the freedom of thought that is their most precious good. To contend that they must abstain from intervening in the public debate in order to preserve their ability to be objective and critical is to neglect their responsibilities. There comes a time when doing nothing and saying nothing amounts to endorsing the status quo.

One must, as once suggested by a Quebec intellectual, sometimes take the "risky path". The spirit of conformism and the prevailing inertia must be overcome. Intellectuals have the responsibility to speak out at crucial historical moments. They can articulate, refine, and clarify the ideas that their fellow citizens feel intuitively. In the present case, they can set out original arguments in favour of sovereignty. This is why we deem it necessary to intervene in the referendum debate and to show our support for Quebec sovereignty.

Some suggest that everything has been said on the subject, and that the citizens of Quebec have only to await the fall to vote YES or NO. But reality is more complex. The question of nationhood is at this point in time at the heart of debates going on all over the world. Concrete solutions reached in different countries to resolve their problems as well as theoretical research being carried on concerning these issues in the field of law, philosophy, political science and cultural studies, can and must enrich our own understanding. It is in this light that our group brings together individuals engaged in teaching, research, and culture. Our group is organized as a network of networks, where every person works in his or her field of specialization and in his or her own name, while at the same time recognizing the need for mutual commitment and concerted action. During the referendum campaign about to begin, we will develop and set out in detail a number of arguments in favour of sovereignty. Here is a short summary of the questions that we will be tackling.


1) The identity argument

Quebeckers are a people. Not all peoples need their own sovereign state, indeed, Quebeckers have for a long-time tried to operate within the Canadian federal framework. But Canada refuses to grant to Quebec its status as a founding people and the tools it needs to develop fully. It is time to come to terms with Canada's inherent incapacity to think of itself as a multinational state. It is time to cease dreaming that a constitutional negotiation is still possible. It is time for the citizens of Quebec to create a state that reflects their reality. This state, which seeks to encompass all those wishing to be its citizens, will be based on territory and a common language, it will recognize as constituents its First Nations and anglophone minority, and will continue to offer to immigrants citizenship in a community which fully respects their contribution to it.

2) The linguistic argument

Because a charter of rights inspired by individualist principles is entrenched in it, the Canadian constitution allows the laws of the government of Quebec to be contested before the courts. Quebec's linguistic laws have been constrained by this state of affairs. Sovereignty will place in a representative government responsibility for the promotion and protection of French. We would be in a position to adopt those laws we judge necessary, all the while respecting the rights of individuals and of the francophone and anglophone communities. The survival of French in Quebec is now assured; once we have the means of managing all aspects of the linguistic issue, we will be able to enhance the capacity of all the citizens of Quebec to live together.

3) The cultural argument

Even if small in number, Quebeckers include creative people who have made their mark on the world. But it takes an appropriate climate for people to continue to dedicate their life to culture. Governments, as well as businesses, must stop regarding financially supporting culture as an act of charity. Moreover, one must never forget that culture transcends the economy: it provides vital symbolic anchors; it nourishes the imagination of a community. In order to do so, it needs the freedom provided by its own assured space. One way such space can be provided is by a community self-confident enough to take pride in the creative people who disturb its complacency.

4) The solidarity argument

By giving themselves a country, Quebeckers will be laying down the foundations of a genuine solidarity which will encourage understanding among citizens even when their interests diverge. Solidarity creates a context in which individuals can see beyond their individual interests so that they are willing to do their part. This national solidarity is not just an idealistic slogan: it has real economic and social repercussions. It is generally agreed that the most serious economic and social problems facing Quebec are unemployment, poverty among women, school drop-outs, youth employment, the maintenance of social programs, the deficit and the debt. The solutions to these problems require that the various social actors work together, and that every affected individual, enterprise, and organization accept to play their part. In this sense, the decision to become sovereign constitutes in and of itself a societal project, concretely reflecting the solidarity of the citizens, their desire to work to establish a more just society.

5) The political legitimacy argument

It is only a fully legitimate government that has the margin of maneuverability necessary to deal with difficult social and economic problems such as deficits, debts and recessions. If the federal government have been founded on real solidarity rather than on the abstract concept of a Canadian nation, it would have had sufficient legitimacy to set in motion starting in the 1970s the minimal budgetary restrictions on social programs. Instead, and because it lacked the required legitimacy, it fell into electoralism, acceding, on occasion, to unrealistic expectations of the electorate, and giving in to demands of various pressure groups, as well as the lobbies of business and foreign investors. Quebec sovereignty will confer much greater political legitimacy: political power in Quebec will be the expression of a community which has taken on a common project.

6) The decentralization argument

In recent years, decentralization has become synonymous with organizational efficiency. In the context of a sovereign Quebec, decentralization will strengthen the powers of regional units closely linked to economic activity. In the short-run, decentralization of governmental institutions will result in savings from the elimination of duplication. In the longer term, it will increase efficiency because it will bring decision points closer to markets. This decentralization must nevertheless proceed with prudence and fairness: it must not make government power more irresponsible or arbitrary; it must instead aim to place power in the hands of the citizens affected by the decisions.

7) The argument of equality between the national communities

The Canadian government has not adequately acted to assure that economic development is distributed equitably between the main national communities. As a result of federal government policies over more than 30 years (national energy policy, auto pact, centralization of R and D support, absence of protection for pharmaceutical patents, and -- obviously -- high interest rates) the Toronto region has become the nerve centre of the Canadian economy. In contrast, a multinational central state would take into account the principle of equality between the peoples which constitute it. It is time to take control of the political and economic levers held but not appropriately exercised by the federal government.

8) The constitutional argument

Following the illegitimate repatriation of the constitution in 1982, Quebec found itself excluded from the Canadian family. By this constitutional coup de force, Canada restricted Quebec's power to act on language (the Canada clause) and imposed a charter of rights based essentially on individual rights and which confided considerable powers to judges nominated by the federal state. It imposed this without a referendum, and against the expressed wishes of Quebec and its national assembly. In doing so, Canada violated the pact on which the federation was originally founded. Since that time, all negotiations designed to reintegrate Quebec into the constitutional fold have failed, thus demonstrating the irreconcilability of the aspirations of Quebec and Canada. Canada now sees the Quebec people as a cultural minority among others, even though Quebec is, and considers itself to be, one of the country's founding peoples. There is no other way to resolve the dispute on this fundamental question than for Quebec to become sovereign and adopt a constitution that reflects its true nature.


The arguments just enumerated lead inexorably to one conclusion: the future of Quebec will be best served by sovereignty. We hope and expect that a detailed presentation of our arguments will stimulate debates and a "prise de conscience" in intellectual circles and elsewhere. In the coming weeks and months, we will be on the offensive and we shall reply in a systematic fashion to all detractors of sovereignty. Furthermore, our action will not be limited to the immediate period as we intend to be active after the referendum, notably to give our advice on the future constitution of Quebec. Freedom of opinion and expression is meaningless if it is not used. We hereby solemnly call upon intellectuals of all tendencies, in all institutions and all circles to join with us. Their participation is essential to the future of Quebec.

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