I recently mentioned that this past week marked the 20th anniversary of the 1995 referendum on Québec independence.
Since 1995, in Québec, every five years the event is revisited with a sharper magnifying glass than during the “between years” (which normally have a few reports which last for just one day, after which it passes).
The event is also reflected upon by Francophones elsewhere in Canada (even though Francophones in all provinces outside Québec are overwhelmingly federalist, they nonetheless consider the question of Québec sovereignty one of prime importance, precisely because of the negative — even devastating – impact it could have for them).
Like 2000, 2005, and 2010, over the course of several days, this year’s symbolic 5-year “marker” is highlighted by French-language TV documentaries on the subject, as well as numerous news magazines reports, newspaper reviews, and internet posts throughout the entire week.
But this year’s commemorations / review / retrospective (whatever you want to call it) “feels” different… very different from any of the past 5-year pegs.
For the very first time in Québec, this year feels like people are looking back at the 1995 referendum in the same way as it feels when one watches a WWII documentary on television. That is to say we know it was an important event, we know it was very pertinent at the time, we know things changed because of it, but it feels like it was from another period for another people, and that it involved a “different generation” with different values and societal questions.
In a nutshell, like a WWII documentary, it feels like it simply does not fit the present, nor an event which could recur in the present.
I think if you were to ask almost anyone in Québec, this is probably is a very representative feel.
That is not to say that we should speak for the future. True, the majority of people in Québec believe that the sovereignist movement is not an option “now” or in the foreseeable future, but that does not negate that the sovereignty question may not rear its head again at some point in time.
Perhaps it never will again, but then again, perhaps it will (there a good number of political parties and associations which are keeping the pilot flame alive, just in case the right person comes along at the right time, in the right context, to crank up the heat in the furnace).
Who am I (and who are you) to be in a position to speak to what events will occur in 15, 20, 30, 50 or 100 years from now?
But for now, all is going well.
When I say that all is going “well”, remember that I am staunchly federalist.
That does not mean that I believe that the Canadian Federation should be governed with static (or status-quo) federalism. But I, like many (or perhaps most) federalists believe that our federation should be flexible and asymetric.
I firmly believe the federation should evolve to keep up with the times. I believe that our constitution should be interpreted in light of contemporary circumstances (a “living document”, or a “living tree” as constitutional lawyers call it). And most important, I believe the federation should be accommodating and broad in its legal scope with what it can offer to all citizens, specifically for the benefit, welfare and advancement of all the federation’s citizens.
Thus, when I say that things are going “well”, I say so in the context that I believe that those sovereignists who have lost touch – or were never in touch – with the true situation in Canada beyond Québec’s borders (those who are hard-core sovereignists) are gradually becoming a smaller and smaller portion of Québec’s society.
That does not mean that I believe that sovereignist views are “illegitimate”… After all, a person only knows what their own experiences teach them. But sometimes some people’s experiences are narrower than others – and perhaps I am the odd-ball out in the sense that not so many people in Québec have had the opportunity to have lived and worked in so many places across Canada as I have.
Thus, perhaps my own daily interactions across the country are a bit “wider” than those of most people – and thus should sovereignty ever succeed, perhaps I feel that I have more to lose (culturally, economically, and on the personal and patriotic fronts) than most people.
But with that said, my own experiences and my own relations with friends and acquaintances who are sovereignist lead me to firmly believe that they view English Canada through the lens of a past era which is no longer applicable.
What will the situation be like for our children or grandchildren? Frankly, who knows? And anybody who says they know is obviously full of themselves.
All I am saying is that it is important to be aware of these issues, and to know there are sensitivities.
A number of articles, commentaries, and radio-interviews (in both English and French) caught my attention throughout this past week which commemorated the 1995 referendum. I would like to share some of them with you (I’ll also see if I can find and drag out some of the better ones I have heard over the past couple of years).
What I particularly find interesting about what I will present to you is that they speak to things which I have never been quite able to succinctly articulate myself (in a world led by “sound-bites”, it is often difficult to sum up a concept or particular context in just three or four sentences).
These articles and commentaries have very nicely summed up many of my own long-held thoughts (and a number of things I have alluded to in past posts in my blog).
I’ll share these articles with you over the next few days. As you will see, the question of sovereignist sentiments are not as black and white as many in English Canada would believe.
Many in English Canada believe a “no” opinion is based purely upon economic gain, or a “yes” is based purely upon an economic loss, or that Canadian “achievements” and “reputation” at home and in the world should be in and of itself a reason to vote “no”.
I will turn the tables a little bit in the next few posts. You will experience some views from all angles, and I’ll try to present them as counterbalances to each other. As you will see, the above are only a few factors among a long list of other shades of grey… Shades which, when combined, are strong factors for overall personal sentiments at the time of any referendum ballot.
It is how individuals balance the factors which I will present which may determine which way the balance may tip in people’s minds… and in their hearts.
And just as important, it is how the political class in both Canada and Québec (federally, and across all provinces)… as well has how societies on both sides of the Québec/Canada provincial border “deal” with these issues which perhaps will ultimately determine which path the people in Québec choose… “when” or even “if” the time ever comes again.
I’m looking forward to presenting you with some of these articles and commentaries over the next few posts.