Archive for April, 2014

The Quebec Question
April 7, 2014

This column first appeared in the April 2014 All Month Edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC

Does Quebec have any real expectation that it can separate? It can’t do so without the rest of Canada. We would have to separate from each other, ironically, together. Quebecers can no more separate from the beauty of the Rocky Mountains than British Columbians can separate from the majesty of the St. Lawrence River. We are connected by geography, if nothing else, but also by so much more.

While we might want to blame each other for our ongoing discord, the truth is that Quebec’s woes are more about what happened in 1759 when the French failed to make a good showing at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. So blame the British for showing up on time and dragging a cannon up L’Anse au Foulon in the middle of the night to get the King’s job done. And that Canada isn’t all English as some (but certainly not all) in English Canada might prefer, blame France for the hundreds of years it spent colonizing the Americas before you wave your finger at today’s Quebecers. But most importantly, never ever underestimate the power of today’s choices on tomorrow’s problems. That’s the real lesson here.

Yes, of course, the technical issues of a separate Quebec are very complex and include, among many things, roads, airports, ports, waterways, debt, deficits, defense, health care, pensions, taxation, passports and currency. But it’s so much deeper than that.

To reacquaint myself with this deep divide, I looked up Donald Brittain’s NFB series “Champions” about Levesque and Trudeau. If you really want to understand the Quebec question, I encourage you to watch it too. It’s free on If you can watch the three-part series and still not be persuaded that there is much more at play than a simple “us vs. them”, I’d like to hear from you.

I remember as a child, grown-ups sitting around tables at family gatherings having heated discussion about the future of Quebec. I had no idea what it was all about except that it was serious, divisive, important and oddly secretive. Those conversations don’t happen as often now. I want young people to know that we used to have conversations that involved the value of things rather than the price of them.

I will say this: Marois is no Levesque and Harper is no Trudeau. Neither are champions of any kind in my view, other than championing the saving of their own skin. And we Canadians are the lessor for it.

Being both French and English (or as some call it, bilingual) can be a real curse. In English Canada, I’m a Francophone. In French Canada, I’m an Anglophone, which basically means I don’t always quite fit in.  Which is why the NFB series “Champions” is such a comfort to me in these trying times.

Levesque said of the lost referendum “Si je vous comprends bien, vous etes en train de me dire, a la prochaine fois.” Which, translated, means, “If I understand you correctly, you are saying to me, until next time.” I hope the “next time” isn’t now.

I am from Quebec. I am from Canada. I am grateful for and very proud of both. Please don’t ask me to choose because I will have no choice, which is the worst choice of all. Please just ask me to prepare for “la prochaine fois”. That, I think, I can deal with. In fact, it’s really the only thing I’ve ever known how to do.

There are deeply complex and well-hidden agendas on both sides of this persistent debate. As Levesque would famously surmise (and you need to watch Champions to witness it), hidden agendas such as these can have insurmountable consequences. History has much to teach us. I can only hope we can learn to accept her lessons.