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Conditioning: From the 1980 referendum until present (#282)

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This posts continues where the last one left of.  I’m the previous posts, I spoke at length about the failure of the Estates General, and the beginning of the political fallout which could possibly have been avoided had the Estates General not been sabotaged in the name of politcal agendas.

The fallout has since affected our collective psyche, and our political expectations and preconceptions.  In other words, it has affected our societal conditioning.  But that conditioning too may vary depending on our vantage point.

For the rest of this post to make sense, the previous posts might be worth a read.   I say this because I am presenting events from the point of view of how Canada’s Francophones outside Québec tend to often view Canada’s recent history.  It is a version which is not taught in Québec, and which Anglophones rarely learn about.  It places extra weight on the failure of the the “Estates-General of French Canada” (Les États généraux du Canada français” as being one of the root causes for other constitutional events snowballing over the past 40 years.  It’s a very poignant and powerful version of our recent history, and thus I believe it is beneficial to also view things from this vantage point.

The “Second Night of Long Knives” and the fall-out from it:

Québec voted “no” in the 1980 referendum.  Soon after, Trudeau sought to repatriate the constitution and to enshrine language rights within the constitution.   It was Trudeau’s attempt (after prior attempts, including the 1971 Victoria Charter) to bring about further changes in the wake of (1) the failed Estates-General, (2) of the 1970s nationalist movement in Québec, and (3) the failed 1980 referendum.

Trudeau was faced with an arduous task involving a good deal of sour politics and going back-and-forth between the various premiers and the courts.

In 1981, and after much wrangling, most Premiers were still not on board with Trudeau’s version of the repatriated constitution.  They formed a blockade against it in an alliance which included René Levesque (the then Parti Québécois Premier of Québec).  But on the night of November 4th, 1981, a number of premiers agreed to push through and sign the accord as a majority, while René Levesque was sleeping.

History provides us with different views of what happened.  One version says that the Premiers believed their signatures were not final and the constitution would still be open for discussion (that it was a pro forma signature, rather than a prima facie finalized signature).   Yet another version of history says that Levesque was under the understanding that all the premiers believed a signature would be final.

I am not in a position to make a judgement – because I, and all the rest of us, will never know what was truly going on in everyone’s head.

But regardless, in the eyes of all the premiers, they believed Canada’s public was tired of constant constitutional and linguistic-cultural stalemates.  It had been 14 years following what would have been a watershed moment of progress had the Estates-General succeeded in bringing concrete proposals to the constitutional table with a strong, united Francophone population backing it.

Had the Estates-General succeeded, and considering the population and geographic weight it would have brought to the table (from Francophones from B.C. to Québec to Newfoundland), it could very well have been difficult for Anglophone Canada to refuse constitutional proposals stemming from the Estates-General.  What is more, those constitutional proposals would have likely been much wider, more meaningful, and more profound than anything Trudeau was proposing.

Owing to how the Estates-General collapsed, I cannot help but wonder if some of the Premiers who signed the Constitution without Levesque at the table did so with a sentiment of “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”.  After all, Québec’s majority delegates at the Estates-General 14 years earlier sabotaged any hope that the Estates General could have led to a constitutional proposition acceptable to all Francophones, and endorsable by all provinces and the Federal government.

Likewise, on November 4, 1981, a majority of Canada’s premiers signed the constitution without René Levesque’s government’s consent.   I suppose it could be considered tit-for-tat.   But again, we will ever know for sure if that is how the premiers viewed it when deciding if it was ethical or not to sign the constitution without René Levesque.

This is why I call the signing of the constitution the Second Night of the Long Knives (and not the First which I reserve for the 1967 failure of the Estates-General).

Regardless, I firmly believe that two wrongs do not make a right.   I am also a strong advocate for the principle of letting bygones be bygones and of having a “reset button” sitting on the desk at all times.

What I find fascinating is that since constitutional repatriation in the early 1980s, the sovereignist movement has touted it as one of the primary reasons for separation from Canada.    The logic is that Québec’s government, under Levesque, never agreed to live in a country with Trudeau’s version of the constitution, and thus Québec should opt out of the country.

As an example, Québec’s Option National party leader, Sol Zanetti continuously and trumps this card to the world…  you can see one of his English-version “broadcasts to the world” here (I, like many others in Quebec and elsewhere around Canada, just shake my head)…

Oh, I think he forgot to mention that someone in Halifax wore a colour he didn’t like… so there’s yet another reason for sovereignty.

Regardless… he’s simply spewing crap (it’s my blog, so I can say that).  His take on things obviously aren’t reflective of reality — and proof is in the polls:  The last time I looked I think the Option Nationale had 0.9% or 1.2% of overall popular support… at any rate, something like that.  Not enough to warrant me wasting my time to look up the exact number.

And one more thing – especially to everyone in Canada who resides outside of Québec, or is Federalist (regardless if you are Anglophone or Francophone):  When he’s talking about “they“, “they” and “they”… He is talking about “you“, “you“, and “you” — which also includes “me” too.   That just shows you the absurdity of what he is preaching.

Are you or your friends, or peers, or family – or even most of your compatriots around you double-crossing, heartless, will cheat-ya kind of bastards?  I’m assuming you’re not.  And, you know what?  Neither am I.

The Two Solitudes exist… but that does not mean everyone is the Wicked Witch of the East, West, North, South, or whatever other place Sol can dream up.  All of our people are actually pretty cool — Francophones and Anglophones alike .

Thus, me thinks that Mr. Zanitti needs to take a chill pill… Especially if he frets over events which might have well happened during the ice age!  I’m mean, really?  Did he actually invoke a battle in the 1700s with cynicism to mark political points?  Seriously?  (Oh, big big sigh — Reset button… push the reset button Mr. Zanetti!).

Some additional remarks regarding conditioning and Mr. Zanetti’s video:  You can see that Mr. Zanetti’s conditioningand the historical context upon which that conditioning is based is very different than mine – and perhaps equally as different from yours.  His conditioning could stem from as diverse a range of factors as those who he has been surrounded by when growing up, the education he received, how he was taught to interpret history, his travels and where he has lived, and all the emotions which arise from these factors.

I am not in any way diminishing the validy of Mr. Zanetti’s emotions.  Everyone has reasons why they harbour their emotions.  But emotions often take the “objectivity” out of a situation.

This video is a prime example of how conditioning can prompt one to take action.  But as you have also seen from the last few posts, there is more than one way to look at an issue (these issues) and how to resolve these issues.

Therefore conditioning can become quite dangerous when it blinds people from existing alternatives and closes ones views to other possibilities, realities, and other people’s experiences.

In a sense, Mr. Zanetti’s video it reminds me of two friends, one Anglophone, one Francophone, who are each living in minority environments.   I used their cases as examples in post #277 as examples of negative conditioning.  In each of their cases, they believed they were being mistreated by the other linguistic group – and thus it tainted their view of other people in those linguistic groups… Whereas in reality I could see that only a few unfortunate, isolated incidents tainted their views of the remaining 98% of all the other good which was going on around them.  Negative conditioning led them to look for the bad along linguistic lines, rather than the good.

Despite Canada having been chugging along and slowing but surely finding its way to improve socio-linguistic inequalities, I find it very interesting how nobody in the sovereignist movement wishes to talk about Québec’s delegates roles in the First Night of the Long Knives in 1969, and how that quite possibly snow-balled into the Second Night of the Long Knives, and events throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

The subject is not even taught in Québec school curriculums, and barely touched upon at university – at least not from this angle (rather, it is taught as a matter of triumph and not betrayal… but triumph over who and what?  Other Francophones and Francophiles elsewhere in Canada, like myself?  Strange – truly, very strange).

I truly don’t talk about these subjects very much with people know.  But I can tell you that the few times I have talked about the Estates General, and how it’s needless collapse affected all events which came afterwards (considering an alternative future could have otherwise played itself out), it has left more than a few of my friends in Québec in a bit of a state of surprise.  It sometimes gets an “OMG” moment of realization, but most of the time just surprised silence (especially when I ask the above questions of those who I know who are soft-sovereignists).

As you can see, this is why I strongly advocate for a “reset” on all of these issues.  When everyone chills, people see that the matters at hand are (1) not insurmountable, and (2) are not so bad (actually, I think they’re pretty good).

Moving on…

The Mulroney intiatives, the 1995 referendum, and the period to the present

By way of the Charlottetown and Meech Lake Accords, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sought to seek agreement for a re-written version of the constitution acceptable to all the provinces and the people of Canada.  He could not reach agreement, neither by way of provincial quorum nor by a referendum on the matter.

The failure of Mulroney’s efforts brought Canada to the brink of self-destruction (we have since learned that Saskatchewan’s Premier’s office and core cabinet members were even presented with the idea of joining the United States if Québec were to leave following the 1995 referendum… which perhaps would have had a spin-off effect with new countries created across the continent from the ashes of what once would have been Canada.  With such a large land mass as Canada with so many different regions, it truly was uncharted territory).   The failure of Meech and Charlottetown caused support for sovereignty to skyrocket.  The 1995 referendum results were 50.58% no and 49.42% yes.

Since the second referendum of 1995 (largely brought about by Mulroney’s failed attempt to seek consensus on a constitutional modification), support for sovereignty has declined.   Since 1995, it has rarely left the 33-39% range (give or take a couple of percent).

But those in the sovereignist movement took away three major lessons:

  1. Provoking a constitutional crisis can cause pro-sovereignty sentiments to spike,
  2. People are fearful of their economic future and are reluctant to risk that future, and
  3. Immigrant sentiments are key to any referendum outcomes.

Since 1995,

  1. we have seen the Parti Québécois (PQ) try to poke at things here and there to provoke a constitutional crisis (without success… precisely because successive Federal governments have not been willing to poke back after the lessons learned in the early 1990s),
  2. we have seen the PQ try to persuade Québec’s population that a sovereign Québec would be economically more viable as an independent state (hence why the billionaire businessman Pierre Karl Péladeau was chosen as the PQ’s latest leader), and
  3. we have seen the PQ try funny things on the immigration and integration front (hence why we see schizophrenic and finicky actions such as trying to woo immigrants, spend money on immigrants, blame immigrants, and fence-in immigrant issues with mechanisms such as the Charte des valeurs).

Despite all these efforts on the part of the PQ (and the Bloc Québécois, Québec Solidaire and Option Québec), support for sovereignty has rarely left the 32% to 39% spectrum.  There are many factors why this may be the case.  Yes, economic stability for an aging population may be a reason.  Youth who view politics in a more global rather than local sense may be another.

But I also tend to think that another factor is that people have become desensitized to the emotional impact of events of the 1970s, 80, and 90s.  In addition, overall good governance of Canada (relatively speaking when viewed in a global or Western context) as well as massive social changes in Canada since 1995 (not related to Constitutional affairs, but rather to individual sentiments) have played just as much, if not more of a role in a decrease of support for sovereignty.

This is not to say that support for sovereignty in Québec may not once again find its foothold.  I am watching with great interest what will come of the latest chapter involving the PQ’s new leader, Pierre Karl Péladeau.   Is he the ideology’s new magic ticket?  Or will he turn out to be the one carrying the shovel which will bury the issue even deeper into the ground? (perhaps once and for all).

But back to the national front

When all is said and done, the last 20 years have proven that we do not need constant constitutional amendments as a prerequisite for constant societal evolution in Canada.  That’s not to say the matter will be closed indefinitely.  It’s just to say that so far the past 25 years have demonstrsted that reopening the constitution is not of prime importance for the country to continue to evolve in the right direction.

When interpreting the constitution, the courts have shown that they are apt to interpret it in new, modern, and dynamic ways… turning a static document into a living one.    And for the most part, our societal evolution since 1995 (both for Francophone and Anglophone societies) have moved along in the same direction; not in opposite directions.   They are becoming more and more similar as time moves forward.   

In a twist of irony, despite there having been no constitutional amendments since its repatriation, Francophone and Anglophone societies in Canada have become more and more similar in the past 20 years than during any other time in our shared history.  (That may ultimately be the real killer of the sovereignty movement).

I’m of the belief that this has diminished the risks of a constitutional crisis.   That is not to say that some day there may not be another one.  But if the Federal government keeps its nose clean, and if the PQ’s attempts to provoke a constitution crisis can be tactfully brushed off, then things should go well and society should continue to positively evolve (socially, culturally, and socio-linguistically).

That does not mean that Anglophone Canada should cease being proactive.   On the contrary, evidence to date shows that many aspects of Anglophone society continue to be proactive (the subject of numerous past posts).  But people on both sides of the linguistic divide need to remain empathetic to each other, and share in each other’s culture to enrich our overall Canadian experience and nationhood.  After all, we continue to evolve as a country.

It is this type of societal conditioning for which I advocate.

I am not a fan of the type of conditioning from certain aspects of Québec’s ultra-nationalist factions.  There are segments of Québec’s the political, media, and education world which continue to erect walls between Québec and the rest of Canada.  This in turn prevents cross-linguistic empathy and learning.   But these segments are becoming more isolated with time.

Likewise, I am not a fan of the conditioning from certain aspects of Anglophone Canada which are ignorant to many issues pertaining to Francophone Canada, not only in Québec, but also coast to coast.   We often see such ignorance on issues in certain aspects of Anglophone Canada’s own political class, media and education systems.  Again, I believe that these segments too will become more isolated with time.

That, in a nutshell, sums up Canada’s recent history with respect to the Two Solitudes.  And it lays the foundation for aspects of Canada’s modern socio-linguistic conditioning with respect to why the Two Solitudes have been maintained during the past 45 years (at least from my point of view).

The next post will put into context the last few posts, and open the way for us to look at little things which reinfoce conditioning of the Two Solitudes; on a more localized, daily basis.

It makes for an interesting discussion.   See you soon!


SERIES:  HOW THE PRESENTATION OF EVENTS IN MODERN HISTORY WHICH HAVE CONDITIONED US ALL REGARDING HOW WE VIEW OUR PLACE IN CANADA (13 POSTS)

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