Quebec Sovereignty: A Legitimate Goal

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The International Document - Quebec Sovereignty: A Legitimate Goal

This document, intended for an international public, was prepared by: Michel Seymour, Département de philosophie, Université de Montréal, Lubin Bisson, administrateur, Radio C.I.B.L. - FM, Didier Calmels, journaliste, Station de télévision indépendante, Jean-Pierre Chelhot, étudiant à la maîtrise, Département de sociologie, Université de Québec à Montréal, Jocelyne Couture, Département de philosophie, Université de Québec à Montréal, Guy Lachapelle, Département de sciences politiques, Université Concordia, Yves Nadeau, Faculté de Droit, Université de Montréal, Kai Nielsen, Département de philosophie, Université Concordia, Éric Normandeau, M.A. en sciences politiques, Université de Québec à Montréal, Ercilia Palacio, Département de philosophie, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Paul-André Quintin, Département de philosophie, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Michel Robert, Département de philosophie, CÉGEP du Vieux-Montréal, Geneviève Sicotte Ph.D., Département d'études françaises, Université de Montréal, Daniel Turp, Faculté de droit, Université de Montréal, Louise Vandelac, Département de sociologie, Université du Québec à Montréal, Jules-Pascal Venne, Département de sciences politiques, CÉGEP Édouard-Montpetit.

"What does Quebec want?"

Opponents of the Quebec sovereignty movement sometimes ironically ask, "What does Quebec want?", implying that Quebec has no reason to complain. It is indeed true that Quebec is not a colony, nor are Quebecers' rights and physical well-being in jeopardy. Our standard of living is enviable and we have access to ample social security. Furthermore, our right to freedom of expression is such that we can promote political goals which might, elsewhere, be considered subversive or highly treasonable. What, then, are the arguments supporting many Quebecers' wish for sovereignty? This paper details a political analysis of the relations between Quebec and Canada and sets out the reasons why a growing number of Quebecers are in favour of political independence.

We shall first provide an overall picture of Quebec's unique situation and describe some of the special features of Quebec's current ties with Canada (Part 2). Part 3 will discuss certain historical developments that highlight the democratic nature of Quebec's approach to sovereignty. In Part 4, we shall argue that Quebec's sovereignty is primarily a matter of political legitimacy and democracy, rather than of constitutional law. Part 5 will focus on some of the reasons why we favour sovereignty. Finally, in Part 6, we shall appeal to intellectuals, asking them to monitor events closely should Quebec secede, given the intransigence which the Canadian government seems currently prone to display.

The Current Situation

Quebec and Canada today

Quebec is one of Canada's ten provinces. Its total population is close to seven million, representing some 25% of Canada's total population of 30 million.

83% of Quebec's population is French-speaking (i.e. French is the language they speak at home most of the time), while 9% are English-speaking and a further 7% speak neither French nor English as their primary language. The 11 Native nations within Quebec territory total some 65,000 people.

By comparison, in the rest of Canada about one million people have French as their mother tongue, and the total Native population there amounts to some 600,000, divided among 600 bands. These bands are regrouped into some 60 or 80 different nations.

The defense of the French language and Quebec culture

Quebec's pro-sovereignty movement has always been based on the need to defend the French language and promote Quebec culture. As a minority language throughout North America, the position of French is extremely insecure. The assimilation of French-speakers living outside Quebec has reached alarming proportions. Even though this trend has been strong for a very long time, the most recent figures are quite striking. For example, of those living outside Quebec whose mother-tongue is French, 50% live in Ontario, but of these 500,000, only 300,000 say they speak mostly French at home. This amounts to a 40% level of assimilation. The situation is even worse in Canada's other provinces (except for New Brunswick, where the rate of assimilation is only 7%, since New Brunswick is the home of the French-speaking Acadians who represent one third of that province's total population).

Even in Quebec, where French-speaking people are a majority, the situation of the French language remains precarious. Two sets of language laws are at work. On the one hand, in theory, the Canadian government promotes country-wide bilingualism, while in practice, this amounts to almost total English unilingualism outside Quebec (except in New Brunswick) and relative bilingualism in Quebec. On the other hand, the Quebec government tries to ensure that French is the common language within the province, specifically by promoting French in education and in the workplace, as well as on public signs.

French is Quebec's official language. Nevertheless, Quebec's English-speaking community has always had the right to maintain and develop its own institutions, especially in the fields of health and education, and it is quite possible for an English-speaking person to live and even work in Montreal in English. Despite these guarantees, some people regard the measures taken to protect French as excessive and systematically fight against it with the aid of the Canadian government. It is our view that all citizens, regardless of their origins or the communities they belong to, are entitled to freedom of expression; and indeed Quebec's Bill of Rights is among the most progressive on that score. This individual freedom of expression can, in our view, coexist harmoniously with the legitimate promotion of the French language which, in the North-American context, requires appropriate legislation. The Canadian government does not appear to share this view.

Another indicator of the French language's precariousness is the limited ability of the French majority to integrate immigrants. Canada has one of the highest immigration rates in the world, without which neither Canada nor Quebec would have experienced the population growth that has occurred. Yet, in Quebec, the assimilation rate of immigrants is barely 40% (assimilation meaning a change in the language spoken at home, from mother tongue to English or French), a rate lower than that in other provinces. In fact, were it not for English-speaking Quebecers' greater mobility towards the other provinces, the process of assimilation would augment the proportion of English-speaking Quebecers. The immigrant assimilation rate is lower in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada, and this works to the advantage of the English-speaking community. It increases the proportion of the English-speaking population in Canada. Furthermore, there are many more anglicized French-speaking Quebecers than there are francicized English speakers. The present French-speaking majority on the island of Montreal will, in the near future, drop below 50%. Of course, these data must be qualified somewhat, since Quebec's policy aims at integrating immigrants linguistically, i.e. promoting their use of French as a common language in public and at work, rather than assimilating them. This policy has met with some degree of success, since a number of non-French speakers have adopted French as their language outside their home. One may, however, wonder whether their numbers are sufficient to ensure a snowball effect. We feel that such linguistic integration is necessary not only for the survival of the French-speaking community but also for the welfare of the immigrants themselves, who, by mastering the language of their new community, will be able to participate in civic life as full-fledged citizens and avoid becoming ghettoized. A common language allows people of various cultures to coexist in mutual understanding, instead of living uneasily side by side, divided by barriers to communication.

Various measures adopted by successive Quebec governments (both sovereignist and federalist) have slowed down the tendency of immigrants to integrate into the English-speaking community, but this is constantly counteracted by the economic, political and cultural pressures to which new Quebecers are subject. To summarize, even though considerable progress has been made, the position of French in Quebec remains precarious, especially since Quebec does not have the legislative and administrative powers necessary to correct the situation.

Is Canada a multinational state or a one-nation-state?

Quebec's precarious language situation is worsened by the fact that Canada fails to recognize either the national character of the French language (understood as the common language of all Quebec citizens) or the national character of Quebec's culture (which includes the cultures of the English-speaking minority, Native people and Quebecers of all other origins). We feel that Quebec's cultural and linguistic diversity is compatible with the existence of a common national language (used by Quebecers of different origins), and with the existence of a common national culture, based on institutions in which everyone participates and democratic values that all share. The Canadian government, however, does not recognize that this language and culture belong to one of the country's constituent nations1. It sees French as a cultural trait of some of its citizens, a trait which gives rise to individual rights but cannot be identified with the rights of a people as a whole. Furthermore, the Canadian government is engaged in a process of nation-building, i.e. in developing a single civic identity which obscures the country's multinational character. (The citizens of a multinational State may certainly adopt a common civic identity, but such an identity could only be viable if the existence of the State's various component nations were recognized). Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enshrined in the Constitution, is based on individual rights, and so makes no mention of social or economic rights, or of the existence of the Quebec people. Canada increasingly denies its multinational character, and is turning itself into a federation of ten provinces with equal administrative status. The process of nation-building also results in the promotion of a proclaimed "Canadian cultural diversity", while in actual fact neither the Quebec nation nor the Native nations enjoy any real political recognition, except for symbolic recognition of Native peoples in the 1982 Constitution, and for the promotion of French-speaking individuals in the Canadian establishment, as long as they are willing to defend the status quo.

The Canadian government has implemented a multiculturalism policy, as well as a bilingualism policy which states that the entire country is officially bilingual. The multiculturalism policy is based on the principle that all cultures within Canadian territory are equal. We are certainly in favour of the equality of all cultures, but, when this principle is applied to a particular territory, and in order to ensure the survival of all cultures, it must give priority to the existence of welcoming communities, especially if they are in a minority position when compared to other welcoming communities on the same territory. Although Canada's multiculturalism policy officially promotes the integration of immigrants into either one of its two official linguistic communities, in practice, most immigrants to Canada integrate into the English-speaking community, and bilingualism is virtually nonexistent outside of Quebec and New Brunswick. Thus, Canadian bilingualism and multiculturalism policies may appear generous, but in fact serve specific domestic goals, notably to overcome the difficulties that arise out of Native and Quebec nationalisms.

Like many intellectuals, we decry the racist positions adopted towards immigration by some ultranationalist parties in Europe. We are proud to be one of the countries most open to immigration. Yet this openness must not make us lose sight of the precarious position of North-America's French-speaking minority. Canadians want their country to be multicultural and vaunt the merits of cultural pluralism, but in such a way that they will not be obliged to acknowledge the existence of several nations within its borders.

The Quebec nation is an open, pluralist and multiethnic society. Most Quebecers have always accepted cultural diversity and the enrichment it brings. They have, moreover, long considered it an advantage to identify with both Quebec and Canada, thereby being citizens of a multinational state. Consequently, they would have preferred to find a way to have Quebec's specific needs taken into account within the federal system. Canada, however, fails to adequately protect the French language outside Quebec, and refuses to fully recognize the Quebec government's authority and autonomy in matters of language and culture within Quebec territory. It is also attempting to deny that several nations exist within the country. Although Canada is in fact a multinational state, Canadians now seek to turn it into a one-nation state. These, then, are the reasons why a growing number of Quebecers favour political sovereignty.

A Democratic Process

The birth of Quebec nationalism

The slowness of the process toward sovereignty is indicative of its democratic nature and of a real desire to accommodate the vast majority of Quebecers. It is based in large part on referendums, but these are merely the culmination of long negotiations which have been going on for over thirty years. A brief history of these negotiations may help the reader understand the aspirations of the Quebec people.

The transformation of French-Canadian nationalism into Quebec nationalism took place during the 1960s. One result of this process was a series of platforms adopted by various Quebec governments. A few examples of these are the 1962 Lesage government's request that Quebec be granted special status; the position of the Daniel Johnson government, based on the principle of "equality or independence"; the 1967 position of the Liberal party, which proposed a framework between "Associated States"; and the position of the 1970 Robert Bourassa government (reiterated in 1973 and 1976) which requested that Quebec be granted a "distinct society" status. All of these repeated requests for political autonomy met with failure during constitutional negotiations and commissions of inquiry, for example, Quebec's rejection of the Fulton-Favreau 1964 proposal regarding the constitutional amending formula (which granted a veto to all the provinces); the rejection of the report issued by the 1967 commission on bilingualism and biculturalism (which recognized Canada's bicultural status); the failure of the 1971 Victoria Conference (which did not propose a sharing of powers compatible with the structure proposed by Quebec) and the rejection of the Pépin-Robarts Commission report (which proposed an asymmetrical federalism).

All of these fruitless negotiations led to the election of the (sovereignist) Parti Québécois in 1976, which promised to hold a referendum on Quebec sovereignty. This referendum, which took place in 1980, was to conclude a process of national affirmation that had begun in the 1960's. Its purpose was to give Quebec a mandate to negotiate political sovereignty and an economic association with Canada. A victory for the "yes" side would give rise to a second referendum in which the Quebec people would be given a chance to ratify such an agreement. As we all know, this referendum resulted in defeat for the sovereignists, who won 40% of the vote, as opposed to 60% for the supporters of federalism.

Fifteen years of obstacles

The referendum defeat of 1980 was due in part to the promises for change made by then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Yet these changes did not materialize favourably-in fact, quite to the contrary. In 1981, the Federal government went ahead with its plans to repatriate the Constitution, which essentially enabled Canada to modify its own constitution. This was done without reaching a preliminary agreement among the provinces concerning a new sharing of powers between the levels of government, as Quebec had been requesting for many years. This new constitutional law took effect in 1982 despite the fact that the people had not been consulted. In addition, the federal government ignored a nearly unanimous resolution put forward by Quebec's National Assembly which rejected this new constitution, which contained several new clauses severely limiting Quebec's power over matters of language and culture. It should be noted that the constitution, which has governed Canada since 1982, was never ratified by the Quebec people or successive Quebec governments (either federalist or sovereignist), and has never been signed by Quebec.

Following this repatriation, Quebec tried in vain to negotiate constitutional amendments that would enable it to sign the Canadian Constitution. It asked Canada to adopt five clauses, contained in the Meech Lake Accord, that would fulfill the minimal conditions for Quebec's signature. This attempt at reform failed in 1990, since legislatures of two provinces refused to ratify the accord. The inclusion of Quebec in the constitution was refused despite the fact that its five conditions were minimal in nature, and would have helped to repair the damage done by the 1982 show of political force2. Symbolically speaking, the most important of these was the clause granting Quebec "distinct society" status, and it was this one in particular that Canada refused to accept in 1990.

At that point in time, opinion polls in Quebec indicated that popular support for sovereignty had risen to nearly 65%. Despite its federalist allegiance, the government of Quebec, in power since 1985, felt obliged to form a commission on the political and constitutional future of Quebec the Bélanger-Campeau Commission which heard the testimony of people from all walks of life and representatives from a wide spectrum of opinion. In 1991, the Commission recommended that the Quebec government begin preparation for a second referendum on sovereignty to be held the following year, if no formal offer was made by Canada. At the very last minute a Canada-wide referendum on the Charlottetown Accord was proposed. This accord was based on a new constitutional agreement between all the provinces, including the federalists in power in Quebec since 1985. This referendum took the place of the one on sovereignty that would have occurred on the same day in Quebec, but it was also voted down. To Canadians, the defeat of the Charlottetown Accord was at least successful in preventing another referendum on sovereignty.

The 1995 referendum

Between 1980 and 1995, Quebec was thus witness to the illegitimate repatriation of the Constitution, the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, the Bélanger-Campeau Commission and the failure of the Charlottetown Accord. At the time of the 1993 federal election, the Bloc Québécois, a new federal party working to advance Quebec sovereignty, appeared. The party won 54 out of Quebec's 75 seats in Parliament. In the 1994 provincial election, the Parti Québécois regained power in the Quebec National Assembly by promising to hold a referendum on sovereignty the following year. This referendum finally took place in October 1995.

The referendum question of 1995 proposed that Quebec would become politically sovereign after having formally offered to the rest of Canada a political and economic partnership. If the "yes" side were victorious, the process leading to sovereignty would begin, after allowing one year for an agreement concerning the offer of partnership to be reached with the rest of Canada. This referendum question was in keeping with the wishes of a large number of Quebecers who wanted to maintain certain political and economic ties with the rest of Canada after sovereignty had been attained. Nowadays, complete separation is not desirable, especially when so many close, mutually advantageous economic ties already exist. In addition, a political union is also desirable not only to manage an economic union and the debt, but also for geopolitical reasons, and to accommodate the interests of the English-speaking minority in Quebec and the French-speaking minority in Canada.

The referendum took place on October 30, 1995. The results were 50.6% for the NO side and 49.4% for the YES side, with a record voter turnout of 93.5%. The majority of experts agree that the close result of the referendum proves that this issue is far from being resolved3. This referendum gave rise to an unprecedented debate in Quebec. Sixty percent of French speakers voted in favour of sovereignty, but they were still opposed by the Anglophone minority and a majority of new Quebecers. Generally speaking, citizens who opted for the maintenance of the federal status quo chose to prioritize, by choice or necessity, values other than their affiliation to the Quebec nation. Their opposition to Quebec sovereignty is due to reasons that have nothing to do with the alleged ethnic nationalism of the French-speaking majority, as we are often led to believe. Anglo-Quebecer opposition is quite understandable, since most of them want to remain in their country, Canada, and do not wish to see themselves become a minority in a new country. As for the opposition by new Quebecers and those whose first language is neither English nor French, several other factors come into play. They are most often integrated into the English-speaking community, and the federalist policies of bilingualism and multiculturalism support them in this choice. Indeed, the bilingualism policy allows them to integrate into the English-speaking community anywhere in Canada, and this includes Quebec, while the multiculralism policy conceals the existence of a welcoming community in which French is a common language. Their primary loyalty is to the country that welcomed them, Canada, a country which incidentally still makes its new immigrants swear allegiance to the Queen when they become citizens. Some of them mistakenly fear that the same problems that led them to leave their native countries will recur in their new country, and for this reason mistrust Quebec nationalism. Most immigrants also believe that it is more economically advantageous to integrate into North America's majority linguistic community. We believe that were it not for all these factors influencing new Quebecers' vote, a broader spectrum of political opinion would have emerged. In addition, their vote was not as monolithic as many would like to believe. The sovereignist cause has made significant headway within certain immigrant communities, most notably among people of Latin-American origin. Be that as it may, we recognize that Quebec citizens have an absolute right to defend any political viewpoint they wish.

An analysis of the voting patterns of various communities is of little importance, since the sovereignists lost the referendum. The Quebec government took this defeat to heart, and turned its attention towards getting Quebec's public finances in order, which it has made its first priority. It must now consider federal offers for partnership, although the possibility of such an offer seems less and less likely. In addition, provincial elections will need to take place before another referendum on sovereignty could take place, because Quebec referendum law prohibits a government from holding two referendums on the same subject within the same term of office. If, however, Quebecers re-elect the Parti Québécois, it would be perfectly legitimate to hold another referendum.

The next referendum

If no significant changes are made to the federal political system, it seems increasingly likely that the pro-sovereignty side will win the next referendum. Such a referendum could very well take place within the next few years. Yet this victory, were it to come about, would not unite the various communities that make up Quebec society. How would Quebec's political situation look in the event of such a victory?

We endorse the concept of citizenship promoted by Partners for Sovereignty. We support a Quebec citizenship based on solidarity and an active cooperation in which the differences between citizens are neither eliminated nor developed in isolation from each other, but work towards a common goal, i.e. the development of Quebec. Differing opinions, values and lifestyles are welcome in a democratic society and do not prevent people from respecting each other. Even though many disagreements would remain within an independent Quebec, individual liberty and equality for all Quebec citizens would be affirmed in the Quebec constitution. The collective rights of the English-speaking national minority and Native nations would be specifically written into the constitution, since, besides being full-fledged Quebec citizens, they also have specific needs and rights. As a sovereign country, Quebec would be all at once multiethnic (by including individuals of different origins), pluricultural (by including a English speaking national minority) and multinational (by including Native nations). Historically, the English-speaking national minority helped build the Quebec of today, and will continue to be guaranteed the right to create, maintain and develop its own institutions. The eleven Native nations within Quebec territory have the right to governmental autonomy, which must be officially recognized. Quebecers must be careful not to commit the same errors in dealing with their minorities that Canada has; they must protect the rights of the English-speaking national minority as well as those of the Native nations. This was the Quebec government's intention in 1995 and we would never support sovereignty if this were not the case. Furthermore, although the opinion of the minority must not determine the orientations of the majority, it must still be listened to and respected. With this in mind, the proposed political and economic union with Canada included as part of the sovereignty option would allow those who feel Canadian first and foremost to maintain a sense of belonging to a single political entity that would resemble Canada as it currently stands.

Quebec Sovereignty According to Constitutional and International Law

Quebec sovereignty according to Canadian constitutional law

Canadian constitutional law does not explicitly allow for the possibility that a province might secede. Yet some people claim that sovereignty can be attained via constitutional amendment and the subsequent consent to such an amendment by the Canadian provinces (seven out of ten or perhaps all of them) as well as the federal government. In the event of a vote in favour of sovereignty, some would still insist that the Canadian constitution is binding, even if this constitutional order was implemented against the democratic will of the Quebec people. They claim that Quebec's political sovereignty is illegal, that it cannot be declared unilaterally and that, should Quebec unilaterally declare independence, its territorial integrity would not necessarily be preserved.

What can be said in response to these arguments? One could indeed use the Canadian Constitution to counter some of Quebec's moral and political arguments. Yet, by choosing to repatriate the Constitution without the consent of Quebec and its National Assembly, Canada has in a sense helped to resolve this dilemma. Even if it were in principle possible to use the political weight of the Constitution to oppose the political weight of Quebec's moral arguments, the balance leans in the latter's favour. The reason is that the Constitution is, in fact, illegitimate because it was imposed without the consent of the people of Quebec or Quebec's National Assembly. Therefore, the events of 1982 justify a unilateral declaration of independence, if it should become necessary. To claim that Quebec cannot attain sovereignty without Canada's consent means to forget that Canada imposed its new constitutional order without Quebec's consent. However, since it did do so, Canada must now be prepared to accept the consequences and accept the expression of the will of the Quebec people.

Quebec and Canada would nonetheless be wise to reach an agreement in the period immediately following a vote in favour of sovereignty. Canadians could, after such a vote, quickly come to an agreement concerning amendments to their own constitution which would take Quebec's sovereignty into account. A unilateral decision by Quebec must be considered a last resort, but a refusal to acknowledge Quebec sovereignty would be one way for Canada to force Quebec to make a unilateral declaration of independence. If the Canadian provinces and the federal government use their Constitution to block this process, they will be the ones opting for force over law and imposing "constitutional legality" over democratic legitimacy.

Peoples create constitutions, constitutions do not create peoples. And when a constitution is imposed on a people against its will, they have every right to acquire a new one. If there are sufficient moral justifications, such a people could even resort to political sovereignty as part of this process. All in all, Quebec sovereignty only appears illegal in relation to a constitution which has been illegitimately imposed on Quebec. This is the reason why the Canadian Constitution cannot be used to counter Quebec's proposed actions.

Quebec sovereignty and international law

The Canadian Constitution cannot legitimately exert influence over Quebec's sovereignist aspirations, but can such aspirations be governed and directed by international law? The right to self-determination written into the United Nations Charter, stated in the U.N. 1970 Declaration of Friendly Relations (A.G. Resolution 2625), essentially concerns colonized peoples, and some understand this to mean that the right to sovereignty is limited to them. Yet in practice, international law recognizes a society's right to accede to sovereignty, if the process is democratic and if it is able to properly govern its territory and population. Therefore, the process of attaining sovereignty is first and foremost a political issue, not a legal one. International law neither authorizes nor prohibits sovereignty; it simply recognizes it. On this basis, we claim that Quebec sovereignty is in keeping with international law, in the same way as the sovereignty of many states since the end of the Second World War, and especially during this decade (during which 21 new states have been recognized).

Certain members of the current Canadian government maintain that Quebec cannot use international law as a basis for unilaterally declaring its sovereignty, concluding that such a declaration would be illegal under international law. This is how they hope to make people believe that this process is morally reprehensible. Yet most international legal experts who have offered opinions on this subject disagree. International law does more than simply avoid ruling on this question. It recognizes sovereignty. These jurists implicitly recognize that the pursuit of sovereignty surpasses the bounds of the strictly legal, and is often both politically legitimate and morally justified.

As we have indicated, Quebec will do everything in its power to avoid a unilateral declaration of sovereignty. Nonetheless, if faced with Canada's refusal to recognize its democratic decision, Quebec could feel itself obligated to make such a declaration. Would Quebec be able to justify its actions? In the following section, we will outline some of the arguments it may use to morally justify its actions.

Quebec's Moral Justifications

Canada refuses to consider itself a multinational state

Quebecers have always tried to come to an agreement with their partners in the Canadian federation, in the form of a pact between peoples. They believe that one can belong to the Quebec people and also be part of a multinational State; they also believe that Canada is a multinational entity supported by two founding peoples who were called, at the time of confederation, French Canadians and English Canadians. Now, they are more commonly referred to as Quebecers and Canadians. Native peoples existed well before and independently of the creation of Canada in 1867. They were not considered one of the founding peoples of Canada because they were wrongly excluded. Yet it must now be acknowledged that they are also part of Canada's wide-ranging diversity and that their aspirations for self-government are legitimate. Acadians are also a people within Canada. This is the reality of Canada which should no longer be denied.

Although Quebecers are open to the idea of belonging to a multinational sovereign state, they are still confronted with Canada's long-standing refusal to recognize the existence of the Quebec people. This refusal has existed since confederation in 1867, and is expressed constitutionally as well as politically and administratively. Canada refuses to acknowledge its multinational character in the constitution (except for the purely symbolic recognition of Native peoples which appeared for the first time in 1982). It refuses to grant Quebec full power over cultural (language, culture, communications) and economic (manpower training, unemployment insurance, regional development) matters. Within Quebec territory, these responsibilities should be under the control of the Quebec government. The federal government also refuses to limit its own spending power and continues to interfere, most notably by imposing so-called "national standards", in sectors which are under exclusive provincial control, such as education and health.

The Canadian government also refuses to explicitly recognize a genuine asymmetry in the sharing of powers which would reflect the fact that Quebec is one of the founding peoples of the country. Even though Quebec has its own Civil Code and language laws, and has just recently gained some control over immigration, on the whole the principle of equality among provinces takes precedence politically and constitutionally, which basically means that Quebec will never be able to attain special status within the Canadian federation as presently conceived.

These constitutional, political and administrative impasses occur because Canada refuses to recognize the existence of the Quebec people and its own wide-ranging diversity. Instead, it is engaged in a process of nation building. As we pointed out previously, the federal government imposed a Constitution which enshrines a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that essentially recognizes individual rights, and remains silent on the subject of collective rights, most notably the existence of the Quebec people. In addition, this Charter limits Quebec's power over language and education. Whatever its intent, Canada's multicultural vision of the country in effect denies the existence of the Quebec people. Its (unsuccessful) attempt to impose institutional bilingualism had the effect of avoiding a recognition of the biculturalism of its founding peoples. It then refused to ratify the Meech Lake Accord which would have recognized the existence of a "distinct society" within Quebec territory. Further still, the nine other provinces and the federal government agreed in July 1992 (just before the Charlottetown Accord) to Senate reform based on the principle of equality among all provinces. In short, Canada has never wanted to sanction the multinational character of the Canadian state. It is because of this exclusion that a growing number of people in Quebec feel that no change will occur unless Quebec moves towards sovereignty.

Taken now collectively as a nation or a people, Quebec is not represented within the sovereign state of Canada. As stated above, Quebec never signed the Constitution which Canada tried to impose in 1982, and every Quebec government since then has refused to recognize the legitimacy of this constitutional order. Furthermore, constitutional documents make no mention of the Quebec people. Finally, the Canadian government did not even comply with the clause stipulating that they were to approve French translations of constitutional laws as quickly as possible. Delaying the implementation of a bilingual Constitution which reflects, albeit only partially, the wide-ranging diversity of its founding peoples, was one more way in which the federal government rendered the Canadian Constitution invalid within Quebec territory. Under these circumstances, how can one claim that Quebec is represented within Canada?

The Federal State has promoted unequal economic development

Quebec's desire for sovereignty also arises from the fact that the Canadian government has, through numerous policies implemented over the last thirty years, promoted the economic development of the Toronto region, at the expense of all the other regions of the country. We acknowledge that economic inequality is inevitable in the case of a community that is situated in a remote area, that has a small population and that lacks diversified economic resources. Such is the case most notably in the Maritime Provinces, and the only way to correct such unequal development is to institute a system of fiscal equalization payments. Quebec's situation, however, is very different from the one just described. Quebec is highly populated, closely located to the centre of the country's economic activity, and it has a wide variety of resources. Yet it is one of the poorest provinces and Montreal, its vital centre, is currently the poorest city in Canada. Many factors must be considered in order to understand this situation, but it cannot be denied that the Canadian government has played a determining rôle4. Through this inequality, for which it is largely responsible and which it has never tried to rectify, the Canadian government has violated the principle of equality between its founding peoples.

We must acknowledge that factors other than the policies of the Canadian government have worked to the detriment of Montreal and Quebec. Since 1920, the migration of the English-speaking elite from Montreal to Toronto began a transfer of investments to the latter. The development of an economic centre within the United States Great Lakes region exerted economic pressure on Canada to create an analogous region on the Canadian side of the border. Quebec quickly discovered that its industrial structure was relatively uncompetitive, based for the most part on the furniture, clothing and shoe industries. Yet all of these causes were far less influential than the policies put in place by the federal government. It is also often said that the election of sovereignist parties since 1976 created political uncertainty, which provoked an exodus of executives, head offices and investments. Nonetheless, the appearance of a sovereignist movement in Quebec was first and foremost the result of unequal development, and not the cause of this inequality. Political uncertainty is the result of Canada's uncompromising attitude towards Quebec's political claims. The current federal government is maintaining political uncertainty, believing that this is how it can maintain the status quo. It states over and over again that the political climate is not conducive to investment and is adopting an increasingly hard line towards Quebec. It is therefore not surprising that investors choose to go elsewhere.

Canadians often stress that Quebec benefits from staying in the Canadian federation, citing federal transfer payments to provinces, municipalities and individuals. These transfer payments (in the areas of health, post-secondary education, social aid, tax points, old age pensions, and unemployment insurance) constitute a substantial portion (40%) of federal spending, and as a poor province, Quebec is one of the beneficiaries. Quebec receives nearly half of the equalization payments that Canada distributes to the provinces and one third of the transfer payments. Due to these compensatory measures, Quebec only contributes 22% of the total federal revenue, and thus only contributes 22% of the sum the federal government uses to control its debt5.

Even though Quebec has suffered as a result of unequal development, it receives financial compensation. One could claim that these two factors cancel each other out, but to do so would be to ignore the following facts. Firstly, a large portion of the transfer payments is used to finance social programs (welfare and unemployment insurance), and they are not investments able to boost the economy. Secondly, the causes of the large federal debt must be considered. One of these causes is government spending, the result of what is called "federal spending power". The Quebec government has always been opposed to the abuse of such federal power. Another cause of the debt has been generous tax shelters for big business. Yet because the economy is increasingly centred in Ontario, these expenditures profit mainly that province. Thirdly, high interest rates recommended by the Bank of Canada have also played a significant role in the growth of the debt. These high rates have harmed regional economies most of all, including that of Quebec, because their purpose was, in part, to slow down Ontario's overheating economy. There are many other factors that could also be mentioned here, but it appears that the federal debt is the main result of measures which worked against Quebec interests.

Even though Quebec receives transfer payments, pays a significant part of the Canadian debt, and contributes according to its share of the Canadian GDP, it must be recognized that provincial governments will be compelled to shoulder more and more of the federal debt over the next few years. Transfer payments to the provinces will decrease significantly so that the federal government can keep its debt under control. This process has been ongoing for several years, but has been intensified in the 1996-97 federal budget, with cuts of over six billion in transfers to the provinces, and all indications are that the federal government will continue on this path for the next few years. During these years of cutbacks, Quebec's transfer payments will decrease significantly, and this is now added to the unequal development to which it has already been subject.

We could describe the situation in terms of economic profitability: is it better for Quebec to reap the benefits of a developed economic infrastructure like Ontario's, or receive equalization and transfer payments intended to "balance out" the economic inequality it suffers? In our opinion, the choice is clear. These measures will never amount to more than financial compensation, which is no valid substitute for structures upon which to base an expanding economy. To be fair, a multinational state must certainly assist its most underprivileged individuals, but it must also encourage the creation, development and maintenance of economic institutions within each of its various founding communities. A central government cannot favour one people at the expense of another. In this era of scarce public funds, federal transfer payments to the poorer provinces are continually put on the chopping block, while the economic effects of federal policies in favour of Ontario are permanent. We believe that this unequal economic development justifies Quebec's move toward sovereignty.

Quebec cannot choose its legal status within Canada

As discussed previously, Canada imposed fundamental constitutional changes on Quebec, despite an almost unanimous resolution against these changes by Quebec's National Assembly. Quebec is therefore governed by a Constitution which was imposed upon it and which it cannot amend, as the abortive attempts of Meech Lake and Charlottetown attest. The failure of the Meech Lake Accord clearly highlighted the inapplicable nature of the constitutional amending formula. For many issues, this formula requires the approval of every provincial legislatures within a three-year period. This makes it nearly impossible to reach an agreement on constitutional amendments. And the Charlottetown Accord was proposed to all Canadians mainly because it allowed the Canadian government to stave off another referendum on sovereignty in Quebec.

Canadians are no longer interested in hearing about constitutional amendments. Furthermore, the Canadian government, with the consent of the other nine provinces, has decided in 1996 not to revise the constitutional amending formula as it was supposed to do according to its own Constitution. In fact, the Constitution provides for a revision of the amending formula within a 15-year period. However, the other nine provincial governments and the federal government have decided that the discussions at Meech Lake and Charlottetown counted as occasions that already enabled such a revision to take place. Therefore, Canada retains an amendment procedure which renders any constitutional change impossible. Consequently, one can effectively argue that Quebec is no longer in a position to choose its own status within the Canadian Federation.

Threats to Quebec's Democratic Framework

In reaction to Quebec's plans to hold a new referendum on sovereignty in the next few years, the Canadian government has been increasing its attempts to invalidate this endeavour. Canada has just taken the question of the legality of Quebec sovereignty to its Supreme Court, and it is clear that according to its Constitution, the court will declare that Quebec must obtain the consent of the other provinces and the federal government in order to attain sovereignty. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has already stated that his government will contest the result of a referendum on sovereignty supported by the majority of the Quebec population. He claims that the federal government should formulate the referendum question, determine the percentage of the vote required in order to determine a sovereignist victory and even allow all Canadians to determine Quebec's destiny. The Canadian government has also openly supported the partitionist aims of certain groups, who claim that they will remain part of Canada in the event that Quebec separates. Quebec's referendum law is currently being contested, and this case will certainly be carried to the highest courts in Canada. This law, which imposes spending limits on each side in order to ensure that the debate is conducted fairly, is considered very progressive by many political experts in the world. However, the international media repeatedly casts doubt on the legitimacy and the democratic nature of Quebec sovereignty, and, whether intentionally or not, sows fear in the minds of the English-speaking minority and new Quebecers by brandishing the spectre of possible violations of their rights when nothing, in either the past or the present, could lead them to believe that such a thing would ever come to pass. According to Canadians who do not wish to recognize Quebecers as a people, much less a "distinct society", Quebecers themselves are now being passed off as intolerant.

Short of suggesting that Canada is willing to resort to force or duress during the debate on the future of Quebec, it is clear that all of these actions are calculated to heighten tension and intimidate people. They contribute nothing to the resolution of the problems within a framework of democratic discussion respecting each side's position. In participating in two referendums on the sovereignty of Quebec, the Canadian government has in fact already attested to their legitimacy. Nonetheless, it seems that they acted in this way because they thought that they would be victorious on both occasions. Now that the political situation has changed and that Quebec sovereignty has become possible and even probable, the canadian government is now attempting to change the rules of the game, and appears to be getting ready to resort to political authoritarianism. Quebec's democratic structure is being threatened by such attacks.

If the majority of Quebecers vote in favour of sovereignty during the next referendum, the will of the voters must be respected and the political emancipation procedure, which meets all required democratic guarantees, must be supported. The Canadian government will doubtless try to claim that secession is not covered in the Canadian constitution, and ask other members of the U.N. not to recognize the sovereignty of Quebec before it does so itself. This would simply be its roundabout way of imposing the will of the Canadian majority on the Quebec people, as it did in 1982. Criteria for the recognition of Quebec sovereignty must be based on democratic legitimacy, not constitutional law.

We appeal to your reflective and critical capacity as intellectuals and ask you to exercise caution in this matter. We feel that Quebec sovereignty is in keeping with an ideal shared by intellectuals around the world, and by people who favour a liberal polity. This ideal makes the aspirations of a people, rather than the power of the state, the focal point of democracy.


1. "Nation", as we use it, is based on a concept that is neither solely civic nor ethnic. A nation or a people may be defined as a political community consisting of a national majority (i.e. the absolute majority sample, on a given territory, of a specific linguistic and cultural community, which may also live as minorities on other territories) along with national minorities (i.e. minority extensions of neighbouring nations) and new citizens. Therefore, within Quebec's territory there is a Quebec nation which includes: a national French-speaking majority, a national English-speaking minority and Quebecers of all other origins. Eleven Native nations also live within the same territory. We are aware that many studies see a difference between "people" and "nation", and that these terms may be used quite differently. In this paper, however, we use the terms "nation" and "people" interchangeably.

2. Briefly, the five conditions were: 1) recognition of Quebec as a "distinct society"; 2) the right to withdrawal from all programs (not only those related to culture and education), with financial compensation, along with the right to veto all constitutional changes affecting Quebec's powers; 3) a restriction on federal spending power; 4) the right for Quebec to nominate three of the nine Supreme Court judges; 5) the ratification of the Cullen-Couture agreement which would grant Quebec a certain amount of autonomy in immigration matters.

3. Although the result was close, it is nonetheless clear that the federalists won. Sovereignists have always maintained that the majority must rule in the debate concerning the future of Quebec. Some believe, on the contrary, that in a referendum situation, the majority must be qualified, and suggest that a two-thirds or greater majority must be obtained. However, this assumption is based on procedures invoked when the voting parties represent regions or states with significant differences in population. The situation is entirely different when the entire population votes. In this case, a simple majority is perfectly acceptable. Clearly, a slim victory of 50.5% for the sovereignists would make the actual attainment of sovereignty very difficult, yet one must distinguish between the implementation of a decision after a slim victory and the question of understanding what constitutes a referendum victory as such. It would be most unwise and unjust to change the rules of procedures, which have, to this point in time, been accepted by all parties concerned in Canada.

4. Some of the measures taken by the Canadian government which have impacted negatively on the development of the Montreal region are: the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which considerably reduced traffic in the port of Montreal; the national energy policy which killed the petrochemical industry in east-end Montreal; the Canada-USA auto pact, which led to the consolidation of the auto industry in the Toronto region; the Federal government's research and development policies on science and technology, which have always favoured Ontario over Quebec; and its goods and services purchasing policy, which has always been unequal. In addition, the federal government promoted the development of the industrial area located in Kanata, Ontario. Federal government and Crown Corporation public investments have also worked to Quebec's detriment, i.e. between 1981 and 1996, Quebec received only 16.4% of government investment and 14.4% of Crown Corporation investment. Furthermore, the federal government also dragged its feet before imposing a twenty year protection on pharmaceutical patents. This delay allowed the generic drug industry in Ontario to develop and compete unfairly with the Quebec pharmaceutical industry. They also bowed to pressures exerted by powerful Toronto lobbies and prevented the creation of international banking centres in Vancouver and Montreal.

The federal government's efforts to help Quebec create a competitive economic infrastructure have not been totally absent, the most notable efforts being the F-18 contract and the creation of the Space Agency in St-Hubert, but its efforts have been insufficient and sporadic. This accurately reflects the position of the federal government, which does not consider Quebec to be one of the founding nations of Canada.

5. However, if we consider all of the taxes that the federal government collected from Quebec as well as the total amount it spent on Quebec (including transfer payments) it is clear that, with respect to the 1996-97 federal budget, the Canadian government comes out ahead. Therefore, the transfer payments Quebec receives could very well be considered as money which is simply being returned to it. Of course, some would reply that the Canadian government must aim to come out ahead with respect to its current operations, especially when one considers the very heavy debt load it must bear. In fact, the government can use these extra funds to pay part of the interest on its debt. Clearly, Quebec should be taxed according to its share of the GDP and not according to the proportion of the population it represents. Therefore, transfer payments should be considered as an equal sharing of funds, and not an advantage for Quebec.

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