The recent release of the second instalment of Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s memoirs has brought the 1995 sovereignty referendum back into the spotlight. Chretien wrote that even if Quebecers had voted yes, the result “would not have led quickly or inevitably to the breakup of Canada.” In a way, I can certainly understand where he’s coming from, even putting aside the breakup of the country. If you don’t recall, the referendum question was:
Do you agree that Québec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Québec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?
It’s a squirrely question. There’s no mention of consequences of Canada accepting or rejecting this offer, and if it doesn’t matter, then why mention it at all? Also, given how much the public really knows about what politicians do, it’s quite a leap to assume the rank and file will be aware of the bill and the agreement mentioned. The “Do you agree that…” opening seems more like a request for an opinion than a call to action should the vote pass.
As you might expect, the separatist reaction has been one of displeasure. Gilles Duceppe introduced me to what I can only assume is a separatist fairy land with his reaction. He wondered why Canada officially recognized the breakup of the Soviet Union but would not so easily let Québec go, suggesting there should be no break between domestic and foreign policy.
Even worse, the separatists paint themselves into quite a corner. Let’s go with the idea that countries are dynamic, fragmenting and aggregating, over time. It’s pretty difficult to argue this point as we’ve seen it happen all through history. All the separatist logic and reason when considering other people’s real estate evaporates when it comes to Québec, however. In 1996, Québec premier Lucien Bouchard said, “In Québec we are a people, we are a nation, and as a nation we have a fundamental right to keep, maintain and protect our territory.” He was responding to then Prime Minister Chretien’s assertion that “If Canada is divisible, then Québec is divisible.”
If Québec did split from Canada, you can bet your ass that some regions would want to split from Québec and rejoin Canada. I imagine many in the Outaouais would want to join Ontario, and some bordering the Atlantic provinces would also like to make the switch. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Indian Nations in northern Québec make a clean break with Québec and Canada to go their own way. And why shouldn’t they be allowed to do this through precisely the same mechanism Québec uses to leave Canada? Sauce for the goose.
The separatists would fight it, however. Logic wouldn’t factor in. Their desire to make their own way in the world would trump everyone else’s. Welcome to fairy land.