Independence at What Cost?

Rene Levesque

As I begin to read the above gentleman’s memoirs (Rene Levesque) founder of the Parti Quebecois party and premier of Quebec from 1976 to 1985, I cannot help but compare what is happening in Catalonia in Spain to Quebec back in 1981 when this leader almost  made Quebec a sovereign country.

The year 1976 for me was the year I graduated out of high school. We lived in a predominantly English speaking part of Montreal called the West Island which included Lachine where I grew up. In June I graduated and during that Fall the Parti Quebecois was elected to run the government. With this separatist party the main objective was to separate Quebec from Canada mainly to preserve it’s language and culture that they felt was being swallowed up by not only Canada but with the giant United States sharing the same continent as well.

Up till the time I graduated out of high school we didn’t take French class too seriously. There was no need to as long as we thought we just had enough to get by to get a job wherever we felt like. I knew some French but hardly spoke it. I was surrounded by English speakers insulating me from having to thoroughly know the second language at the time.

That is until the PQ got elected. Almost overnight the main language became French and English was the second language. Head offices moved out of Quebec in droves and Montreal which at the time was the head office headquarters of so many companies packed up headed down Highway 401 to Toronto.

The PQ passed a law that all storefront signs be only in French. Any storefront having an English sign would be fined. Customer service jobs had to speak both languages fluently. They used to enforce this by sending spotters to stores of which one complained that my Mother could not converse in French. She was let go because of it.

Families moved out of the province who could not speak the French language of which mine was one of them. The following year 1977 saw Bill 101 passed in the Quebec legislature making French the only official language. In courts, places of business, and other public service jobs it was you had to speak French or good bye. In fact it was okay to hire people who just knew French and not English.

Anyone who immigrated to Quebec had to go to a French school. Slowly English was being wiped out and that West Island enclave of which I was a part of was becoming more French day by day. A lot of my friends moved as well to different parts of Canada with their parents.

I did the yo-yo thing moving back and forth between Montreal and Toronto. Finally when I did want to settle there I took a French course paid by the government in 1987. It took a while for me to learn French  but then I moved on after anyway.

The PQ posed the question on May 20 1980 referendum to the people of Quebec. The government was disguising the separation part by the term sovereignty association with Canada. This made it sound a little less final. In other words vote yes and we will start right away with the federal government to separate and begin our new country but we will still maintain all the benefits we have now even if we do separate. In other words it would be like a son or daughter moving out into their own apartment but Dad and Mom are still going to pay the rent and cook for you on a nightly basis.

I remember moving back from Toronto to Montreal when all this was going on but unable to vote because I was not a resident of Quebec for the past two consecutive years. They were worried of an influx of people to move back to vote no I suppose.

Happily the PQ lost the referendum garnering only about 40% of the vote as I recall. People went to vote and thought about it real hard. It was a democratic risk. It could have torn Canada apart. Our dollar was sinking fast, investment had stopped coming in, unemployment was creeping up, and inflation was rearing it’s ugly head. Probably was not the best of times to call a referendum. People did not want more uncertainty.

Besides that the French were having their way having  passed laws like Bill 101 to preserve the prescence of their language. Wasn’t that all they wanted in the first place? Quebec today still gets the most transfer payments from the federal government. Separated that would stop. Sovereignty association it would not be.

So Catalonia right now wants to separate from Spain. The majority speak Spanish so language is not an issue there. It is a hub of business being a larger province within Spain, much like Quebec was back in 1976. Barcelona is a mecca for tourists and business investment. The Catalans were once an independent and autonomous state with their customs and culture. They still have them.

They just held a referendum when only 42% voted but of those a whopping 90% voted in favour of a split from Spain. Spain none to happy about it are trying to arrest the leaders of the independent leaders. The big guy fled to Brussels for a while.

The Spanish government is calling the vote illegal and is fighting the result. The people are up in arms protesting for their right to separate.

Well as I like to say the referendum is easy to do. At what cost though? If Catalonians separate no handouts anymore from the Spanish government. They will have to exit the EU and join under Catalonia which probably will cost them. New trade agreements will need to be worked out. There will be I am sure a lot of people who will want to start their country a certain way. Power will go to their heads. Will they have to relinguish their Spanish passports? Will they want to make Catalan their official language?

All I am saying here it is easy to declare your own country but not easy to start it. People generally find out they had it just as good the other way. Much like Quebecers voted in 1980. Hey we got what we wanted so why go down that path?

Brexit is another disaster. Sure let’s get out of the EU and find out that the EU wants a $100 billion on getting out. Rip up all the trade agreements and start all over. Have fun Theresa May on that one and already people are regretting the vote.

Sudan did not do well when they split up into North and South. Now the South is starving for a crumb of bread. Funny though I do not hear much of North Sudan.

Yes we always get those rogue people who lust for power who want to create a country of their own so they can lead it and go down in history. Telling people things will be better. It is a long road though. A long way down before they see up again. Meanwhile life goes on and all the separatist get older and their taxes get higher with it.

Right now I am happy Quebec did not separate. Twice they had the referendum and lost. The second one by the narrowest of margins. Separation is an afterthought here now. Yes we still have a few in Quebec who dream of the day but back in the month of May 1980 we could have been very close to the beginning of the end for Canada.

Thank heavens people voted with their brain instead of their emotions.