(this is irrelevant so skip to the actual post if you want to – I was listening to this song while writing this post and it made for just the right amount of cynicism about the whole Confederation thing for me to write this post)
In a situation where decisions are made for the “greater good,” it can be difficult to identify the “right” and “wrong” of multiple sides. Through learning about confederation, we have explored the various perspectives which took place in shaping Confederation into the enormous movement that lifted Canada onto it’s feet as a country. However, with every change, there are consequences. The most notable negative consequence coming out of Confederation was the implementation of Residential Schools, permanently damaging the cultures of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and affecting those communities to this day.
Since the first talks of Confederation, protecting minority rights has always been a priority to the founding fathers, which at the time, included many of French descent. To many looking from the outside, the idea that today, there is an act of sovereignty in the province of Quebec would seem based on some kind of cultural ego. But when looking deeper into the French people’s experience with Confederation as a whole, tales of threat, having no alternative, and the erasure of culture are all topics of interest.
So what were the elements of confederation that threatened the independence of the French people in Quebec? What are the guiding elements of confederation that are the most prominent in Canada today? Do any of these ideas lead to the act of sovereignty in Quebec we have seen since the 1960s?
Still, assimilation is the concern of the French people.
The old Union of 1840-1841 had been transformed from an instrument of assimilation and oppression of French Canadians into a partnership where Quebec and Ontario shared equally power on the principle of duality. Since, by Confederation, Quebec only had about 40% of the population of the United Province of Canada, to share equally in the government put it in an advantageous position. This was so much so that it was Upper Canada that now complained about the Union and its most important political leader of the time, George Brown, claimed that the province had become ‘French dominated’. While Brown’s comment disclose an intolerant attitude, to most Upper Canadians it contained a good deal of truth and they wished something to be done about it. Their great solution to this problem was to propose Representation according to Population. Had this proposal been implemented, it would have made it possible to form a government with only political support from Upper Canada and, consequently, put George Brown in power. Such a prospect could not be accepted in Quebec as it would endanger all the cultural gains its people had made in the union since 1848. Simply put, to have accepted Rep. by Pop. would have put the cultural survival of Quebec on the line and, ever since the 1840’s, cultural survival was the central question, the existential question, in Quebec.
– Claude Bélanger,
Department of History,
Though being able to feel culturally secure outside the government, the constant overrunning of any kind of French power was a common theme in early stages of asserting Confederation-esque ideas. The source above continues to discuss the reasons Quebec even decided to join Confederation in the first place:
- Political realism (breaking the political deadlock)
- Their elite representative power (people like George Cartier who advocated for Confederation)
- Lack of alternatives
- Federalism (in the grand scheme, Confederation was a good idea, though maybe not catering to the French specifically)
The last point they mention is the fact that the Fathers of Confederation were committed to keeping the culture of the French intact, even though representation was skew wherever it could be.
When we look at the cultural makeup of Canada today, we see the overwhelming Anglo-population, as well as other branches of people who are culturally diverse in non-French ways – various ethnicities, religions, languages, etc. Perhaps this development of the country into a largely non-French country is a fire for French people in Canada to feel threatened, especially after countless promises of maintaining French culture prominently in Canada were a part of Confederation. There have even been acts taken by the Quebec provincial government that have been seen as controversial, as acts of rebellion to this French erasure concept, such as the example below.
Public employees would not be allowed to wear overt religious symbols at work under the proposed charter of Quebec values, released by the Parti Québécois today. The minister in charge of the charter, Bernard Drainville, announced at the national assembly that if the charter were adopted by the legislature, the wearing of kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs and “large” crosses would be banned for civil servants while they are on the job.
– CBC News
It is rare to find much French culture outside the Quebec area, which is seen as the assimilation of the French culture to many of the French people living in Canada today. The fact that Canada has developed into a country that boasts about it’s prized bilingualism but has such little emphasis on the French culture within it is reasonable to be seen as disgraceful and in order for a rebellion of some sorts. Enter Quebecois Sovereignty; the idea that Quebec should be able to gain independence from Canada and become it’s own country has been floating around for nearly 60 years now.
A group of prominent Quebec sovereigntists has penned a manifesto that slams the Parti Quebecois as a spent force in the fight for independence. The group is calling itself the New Movement for Quebec and is composed of former members of both the PQ and the Bloc Quebecois. In a manifesto published online today, the group says the independence movement is undergoing a serious crisis and needs to be transformed.
“The crisis that the sovereigntist movement is going through is not banal,” the manifesto reads. “It crystallizes the end of an era and the start of a new one.”
– Jonathan Montpetit and Sylvain Larocque, The Canadian Press
Thinking about one of our own provinces wanting to separate from our country can be a shocking idea to many people. But with a bit of background, it is clear that Quebecois Sovereignty is a movement built upon pent up oppression and neglecting of the French people, while still having the government’s favourite parts being thrown around as decorations on our reputation. It will be interesting to see how this long haul of a movement progresses with time, whether there will be a success or the most anti-climactic end for the movement entirely. It is valuable to understand how this grand decision is received by various groups, whether they be French, Anglo, or Aboriginal. It would be interesting to see the ability for French-Canadians to empathize more with Aboriginal peoples, who have literally gone through the most atrocious event in our history, and have suffered through cultural genocide. Maybe bonds could grow strong between French-Canadians and Aboriginal peoples, or maybe the French sovereigntists will continue on their path to freedom, never daring to look back for a second.