Canadian Commentary: Constitution and Politics

Here We Go Again

September 1997

As the probability of a new referendum begins to come into focus, the Quebec question is beginning to rear its ugly head again. The usual suspects are reappearing - politicians, journalists, interest groups - and are recycling much the same phrases and solutions which have led nowhere for the last ten years.

All of the proposed solutions come up hard against two facts:

1) Quebec will not stay in Canada in the long term unless it gets serious recognition in the Constitution that it is different (distinct, unique, special, whatever).

2) Most anglophone Canadians don't like this idea. In particular, the population of Alberta and B.C. is unalterably opposed to it.

It is pretty hard to get around this basic conflict. A place to start would be to acknowledge it. For some reason, federalists have been obsessed with "consensus", insisting that the federalist side can't be seen to have disagreements within it. Why not? Anglophone Canadians are deeply divided over what to do about Quebec. These divisions destroyed the two previous attempts to deal with the problem. Yet there is constant pressure to give the appearance of unity. Those who upset this appearance are told they endangering the unity of Canada. In fact, the suppression of opposing anglophone voices is equally dangerous. It results in the elite coming up with solutions which are then rejected by the population. The only way to come up with a solution that will actually be accepted by anglophone Canada is to let all possible opinions be voiced and debated, to be eventually either rejected openly or incorporated into a solution.

As for the actual process, I have two, contradictory, proposals, both of which at least have the benefits of accepting the divisions in anglophone Canada, and of being different from the unproductive methods we have tried so far. One of these proposals is a way of finally getting the whole Quebec question decided, one way or another. The other is a more drawn-out approach to finding a solution that is acceptable to a wider range of Canadians.

1) Getting it over with once and for all

2) Painful but inclusive compromise

See also Constitution Notes for related material.

Sept. 15, 1997

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