Stephen Harper's tabling of legislation last week, to add thirty seats to the Parliament, all outside Quebec may seem like justice to Anglo Canadians, but to Quebeckers it's confirmation that their star is eclipsing in Ottawa and that 'French Power', as they say in TV land, has "jumped the shark."
In 2008 Andre Pratte of LA PRESSE commented that;
"Rarely has there been as weak representation of Quebec around the federal cabinet table. Only 5 (14%) of the 37 ministers appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper are from Quebec.....We obviously can't blame the Prime Minister. It's the direct result of choices we made on October 14." (The last Federal election where most Quebec seats went to the Bloc Quebecois).
Worse, there's an uneasy realization that Quebec political forces are powerless to do anything about the decline and that the Province is at the mercy of western federalist forces, keen to reduce its power.
Its likely that if Ottawa offered a Charlottetown-like deal today to Quebec, even the Bloc Quebecois would be forced to accept it or face the wrath of the electorate.
Writing in Le Soleil, Raymond Giroux beseeches Gilles Duceppe:
"I suggest to Mr. Duceppe that he tries to bring back the constitutional package of 1992 (rejected by the referendum, one which I admit I voted against) and swap the 75 elected representation against a flat 25% of MPs in Quebec."Sorry, Mr. Raymond. Sorry Mr. Duceppe, that ship has sailed... What seemed like such a bad deal back then, looks powerfully appealing today.
The rest of Canada is in no mood to hand out more power to Quebec, under any circumstances. Recent polls have indicated that about 15% of Canadians WANT Quebec to separate and given any threats from Quebec, that number would sky rocket.
The Charlottetown Accord (1992) was the second attempt in the modern era at constitutional reform. The first, undertaken ten years earlier, the "Meech Lake Accord," failed after the the deal unravelled when citizens across the country balked at a concept that a dozen senior federal and provincial leaders, negotiating behind closed doors, would set the country's destiny without public debate. It led to a backlash that led Newfoundland and Manitoba to balk at ratifying the agreement within the prescribed delay.
Going back to the table, ten years later in 1992 and having learned a lesson, the Charlottetown Accord, which essentially provided the same changes, was to be decided upon in a national referendum.
In hindsight, the agreement seems rather a sweetheart deal for Quebec and today, a lot of insiders are wringing their hands, muttering "Coulda!, Shoulda!"
The accord's provisions were so favourable to the Provinces that Pierre-Elliot Trudeau, the former Prime Minister agitated vehemently against it's approval because of its devolution of Federal powers towards the provinces. His bitter and sarcastic speech at a Verdun restaurant, 'La Maison du Egg Roll,' in October 1992 has been credited with influencing many English Canadians to oppose the accord.
The major changes envisioned by the accord were similar to what was proposed at Meech Lake.;
- Recognition of Quebec as a "distinct society"
- Constitutional veto for Quebec.
- Increased provincial powers with respect to immigration.
- Extension and regulation of the right for a reasonable financial compensation to any province that chooses to opt out of any future federal programs. (read...Quebec)
- Input in appointing senators and Supreme Court judges.
- A Guarantee for Quebec of 25% of the seats in Parliament, regardless of future demographic shifts
- 3 Supreme Court judge positions guaranteed for Quebec.
Given the hysteria and fear-mongering, it wasn't any surprise that Quebec rejected the accord by a margin of 57%- 43%. The pan Canadian total vote was extremely close, but the accord was defeated narrowly- 50.4%-49.6%. Had Quebec given the accord even the slightest of majority, it would have passed easily.
Quebec and Quebec alone, can shoulder the blame for its failure.
At the time separatists rejoiced, believing that the failure of the agreement would lead to a second referendum, this one successful. Alas it was not to be.
The subsequent years have not been kind to Quebec and particularly nationalists. A number of factors have contributed to a diminution of the Province's status and power and today Quebec finds itself in its weakest bargaining position since the first election of the Parti Quebecois back in 1972.
For the last thirty years, Quebec has been waging a losing demographic battle with English Canada because Ottawa, whether by accident or design, opened the doors to an unprecedented flood of immigrants, a policy unparallelled in any developed western democracy.
Although Quebec has tried to match Canada's immigration rate, it has been unable to staunch the flow of immigrants who first come to Quebec and subsequently flee to English Canada. The effect of all this, is that Quebec's demographic weight in Canada has been reduced from almost 26% to 22.5% over the last thirty years. The trend over the next decade is not encouraging and it's conceivable that within twenty years Quebec will represent less than 20% of Canada's population.
To make matters worse, the fifty thousand new immigrants welcomed to Quebec each year are overwhelming prone to be federalists.
Because of this growing immigrant population, who along with traditional Anglos, who would vote No in any potential sovereignty referendum, it would now take over 60% of Francophones to vote Yes, in a referendum, to achieve a win for sovereignty. Because of the continuing flood of immigrants, that number creeps up by another ⅓ to ½ of a percentage point each and every year.
So the Bloc and the Parti Quebecois can huff and puff all they want, the cold harsh truth is that federalists cannot be blackmailed anymore into concessions with the threat of sovereignty hanging over their heads. At any rate Canadians are no longer afraid to face a Canada without Quebec. Given the choice between Meech or Charlottetown-like concessions or sovereignty, the nation would likely opt to bid adieu to Quebec.
While Mr. Harper may have declared Quebec a 'distinct nation,' it's clear that because of the province's refusal to support his party, he has turned his back on the notion of rewarding Quebec with additional powers. Instead, he is delivering just the opposite, invoking policies that has the effect of morphing Quebec from a nation, to a province no different than the rest.
The only other avenue left to Quebec to defend itself, is to use the polarization between the Conservative west and Liberal Ontario to its advantage. Overwhelming support to either party would turn one of them into a majority government, one that would be dominated by Quebec members and be beholding to Quebec for its political life.
What has Quebec done?
By voting for the Bloc en masse, the Province has squandered the opportunity to shape its own destiny and has instead mired itself in political ignominy.
While some commentators are starting to sound the alarm, most Quebeckers remain sadly oblivious that the Bloc Quebecois has been robbing Quebeckers of any influence at all and Mr. Harper is immune to promote his openly pro-western, anti-Quebec measure with impunity.
And so, Quebeckers can look forward to more of the same.
While the Bloc blusters on and Quebec voters continue to live the fantasy that the party is actually relevant, I am reminded of poor Macbeth who realizes the futility of his situation;
".....full of sound and fury Signifying nothing." — Macbeth