1995: The independence we almost had

The 25th anniversary of Quebec’s bitter defeat

The first time I ever heard the words “vote ethnique” was during my high school Monde Contemporain class. My teacher, a not-so-secret diehard Quebec separatist, explained that it was one of the reasons that many voters felt robbed of a “Yes” majority during the 1995 referendum.

It was claimed that the federal government had rushed the process for immigrants to obtain their citizenship right before the vote in hopes of skewing the results — an accusation that has left a lasting bitterness towards foreigners and minorities.

My teacher also brought up the hundreds of thousands of dollars unlawfully spent by the federal government on their conservative campaign, though failed to mention the ballots illegally rejected by the “Yes” camp.

I’ve been looking back on all this political drama, as the last referendum turned a quarter of a century old on Oct. 30. The separatist ideology has since fallen considerably out of popularity, with 82 per cent of Quebecers siding with remaining Canadians in 2016.

Despite the dwindling sentiment of nationalism, independence remains a major talking point in provincial elections, which brings us to wonder what even still drives this conversation 25 years later.

The economic implications of obtaining sovereignty are almost always the first objection to this matter. Despite Quebec representing just under 23 per cent of the country’s population, our share of Canada’s total debt — which sits at around 37 per cent — would be a major obstacle to our success without the federal government’s help. Our debt to capita and to GDP ratios have also been some of the highest in the country at the time of both referendums.

When the 1995 votes were cast, it was also uncertain whether the Clinton administration would’ve even recognized Quebec’s independence and accepted it as a member of the

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Without a free trade agreement with its neighbours, it would be nearly impossible for Quebec’s economy to survive.

Not to mention the friction this would cause with Indigenous nations, who would have to renegotiate their position in the country, and with ethnic minorities, for whom the rule of the French tongue may pose an even greater challenge.

But the Bloc Québécois and advocates for secession also do make some good points. Independence would allow us to focus our resources on the development of renewable energy sources like hydroelectricity, and to build up our economy in an environmentally-friendly way.

Less reliant on oil and with full control of major ports like Montreal and Quebec City, the new country could make a name for itself on the international stage and form its own economic and political alliances.

The Bloc’s argument for the inclusion of immigrants is also particularly interesting because it asks newcomers to integrate into Quebec culture — by learning French, for instance — so that they can contribute to a general culture, rather than follow the current Canadian model that they claim encourages foreigners to stay within their bubbles. What they call the “children of Bill 101,” or the second and third generation immigrants who were proudly raised as Quebecers, are proof that this is an achievable and desirable objective.

For now, I’m not sure many expect the third and final referendum to be called. Yet, we can still speculate on what could have happened just 25 years ago, and whether there is still hope for Quebec to regain its sovereign ideology.


Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam

Poli Savvy: Start the clocks, the countdown starts.

With one week left to go, federal leaders continue to compete for the public’s attention in the press and through their policies.

Justin Trudeau is trying hard to put the blackface controversy behind him. Obviously deflecting with new and more “a-pleasing” promises than ever, the Liberal leader is neck and neck with Andrew Scheer. However, there is something to be said about his efforts to meet the more progressive party platforms, in an attempt to keep the left-wing vote away from the NDP and the Green Party.

What do I mean when I say party platform? Well, I’m talking about the promises our leaders are making to us. Trudeau – trying to escape his long rap-sheet – is promising net-zero emissions by 2050, and a tax cut that will allow everyone’s first $15,000 in income to be tax-free. Jagmeet Singh, the second leading progressive leader is also promising major climate and economic action. Don’t get me wrong, these leaders are not interchangeable. In matters dealing with the Indigenous communities, Singh has been more favorable due to his strong stance on the clean-water issue in northern Indigenous territories, while Trudeau has been accused of doing little for Indigenous communities.

During the french speaking debate hosted by TVA, we saw four of the six candidates debate questions of foreign policy, Bill 21, and climate action. Conservative leader Scheer scrambled to connect with the Quebec audience, and through his support for the TransMountain pipeline, it’s likely he didn’t win many votes outside of Alberta that night.

As a follow up, the English speaking debate this past Monday included all six federal leader candidates. I’m not sure whether this debate was meant to replicate the dynamics of a high school classroom, but that’s besides the point. Yves-François Blanchet once again proved that he is fighting for the rights of Quebec – more specifically, their right to equalization payments.

Singh made quite an impression as the media declared him the winner of Monday night’s debate. His ability to connect with people is uncanny, and translates to a loss of votes for the Green Party; too bad it won’t be enough to become the default progressive leaders.

So in this coming week, my fellow Concordians – stay alert, listen, and most importantly: vote.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Poli Savvy: The storm before… the storm?

It’s been a whole new world of pain for the Liberal Party, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deals with accusations of racism over his use of “brown face.”

Old yearbook photos have been posted by TIME Magazine, showing Trudeau with a unique take on Aladdin, complete with a turban and dark face paint. Naturally, many Canadians were less than impressed with this attempted display of multiculturalism, leading Trudeau to issue apologies to the public and… NDP leader Jaghmeet Singh?

According to CBC, Trudeau approached Singh to apologize for the incident – a confusing move, seeing that Aladdin is of an Arabian background, not Indian. Moreover, it seems that Singh has enough on his plate, given that the Steel Workers Union of Regina might vote Conservative according to the Regina Post. A traditionally New Democrat group in the NDP heartland, workers are being forced to choose between work opportunities provided by a pipeline or job protections offered by Singh. Whether this highlights a dangerous trend among unions is yet to be seen, but the NDP certainly cannot afford to lose support after previous defections to the Green Party of Elizabeth May…

… who is facing her own scandal, covered by the Toronto Sun since an image on the party website shows her holding what appears to be a photoshopped reusable mug, though the truth is much more sinister. It was proven that May was instead using a single-use paper cup to store her coffee, leading to calls of hypocrisy by voters who feel that the pro-environment leader should lead by example. How this will affect the Green Party’s chances at a federal majority is too early to say. Regardless; Liberal scandals, NDP popularity drops, and Green Party controversies could prove to be advantages for the Conservative Party of Canada’s leader, Andrew Scheer.

Well yes, but actually no, since the National Post reported that Ontario’s CPC base is in trouble due to major cuts in healthcare, environmental protection, student grants, social services, legal aid… basically everything, by Conservative premier Doug Ford. A fact not lost on Scheer, who, interestingly, has conducted most of his Ontarian campaigns without Ford by his side. Undoubtedly a risky move that could alienate “Ford Nation” voters, but one that would gain the approval of no other than Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet.

Incensed by the cuts to French-language services, under Ford no less, Blanchet has expanded his campaign to include francophone towns in Ontario; as covered by Global News. Claiming that French-speakers outside Quebec are being treated like second-class citizens, he has called for votes towards an independent Quebec, a bilingual Supreme Court, and expanded powers for the federal commissioner of official languages. In other words, nothing new; but a stark contrast to fellow Quebecer Maxime Bernier.

From claiming that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant to backing a candidate who had published racist tweets, as covered by CBC, the People’s Party of Canada leader is no stranger to controversy. However, Bernier is facing a lot of criticism for calling environmental activist Greta Thunberg “mentally unstable”, in a series of tweets back in September. Aside from the fact that picking a twitter fight with a 16-year-old is frowned upon in politics, his choice of words proved quite poor seeing that Thunberg has autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Ultimately, how these scandals impact the upcoming election remains to be seen. Canadians will simply have to vote for whichever party they feel is the best choice for Canada or the best option available.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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