Monday, September 3, 2012

A Few Thoughts on the Quebec Election. . .

Ok, I admit it - I have never really understood the drive for Quebec sovereignty. I have generally not been sympathetic to nationalist movements except where they have been driven (generally in the third world) by an effort to foment feelings against colonial power. But in general terms I think that nationalism is driven by an undercurrent of racism, and I see no good reason to support such efforts which are divisive and ugly.

I have never heard a convincing argument for Quebec sovereignty and I think the federation between it and the other provinces has been mutually beneficial. Furthermore, I think that Quebec sovereignty would probably be disastrous for native people and would end in serious financial and social disaster for Quebec in general. Racist language policies would lose their excuse in a sovereign Quebec and the country would face international human rights challenges and could potentially face condemnation in the UN and possibly trade sanctions by many countries. To make matters significantly worse, Quebec separation would be a terrible loss for the rest of the Francophones in Canada. French speakers simply would not be a significant enough minority in the rest of Canada to justify protection of their language rights the way that they have and funding for remaining Francophone organizations would quickly disappear. There would obviously be no justification for maintaining the federal government as a bilingual organization and Francophones would find it difficult to receive services in the language of their choice.

This election in Quebec, which will finally be decided tomorrow, has seen some disturbing noises coming from the PQ. The idea that only those people whose first language is French are 'truly' Quebecers is a frightening kind of racism. The worst thing of all has been their talk of a so-called "Quebec citizenship." Though it is not entirely clear what such a citizenship would look like, or why they have invoked such a plan, it appears that to "qualify" for such citizenship one would have to undergo some kind of language test. It appears that this test would be used to restrict who could run for public office and it seems to me that a natural extension of such a policy would be much like the Jim Crow laws in the US which prevented African Americans from engaging in the political process. The idea that any kind of language skill would qualify someone for the rights and privileges of citizenship is deeply frightening and reeks of the worst kind of racism. And of perhaps equal importance is the class implications of such a plan. In any political system people with literacy challenges are de facto less engaged. If you have challenges, in reading and writing for example, it is more difficult to be familiar with the body politic and the issues of current events are harder to access. The PQ's obsession with French already excludes people from the political process and any plan to further entrench the language  issues will take more people out of politics. In the end the PQ is not only promoting racism and classism, but it is creating a situation in which Quebec society (and the French language) will, in fact, atrophy and die. History demonstrates to me that you can promote a language but it is not at all clear that you can enforce it.

1 comment:

Owen Gray said...

There has always been an element of Quebec society which is insular and distrustful of those they consider outsiders, Kirby.

And it always rises to the top when the federal government writes Quebec off as not worth the trouble.