*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Québec: just what did you expect of nationalism?

Ethnic nationalism makes integration impossible, making living among the ethnicity aggravating or worse, and learning their language and customs well, pointless.  The early nineties were a bad time to live in Québec for ethnic-populism, as it seems the teens are becoming in Japan.  I have made poor choices of language study: living in Montréal in the run-up to the '95 referendum, Tokyo now and just after the Bubble, and a few months in China after Tiananmen.  Or perhaps it is true that only a dominant language, like English, can integrate others.

Jacques Parizeau Votes Ethniques by mediawatchqc Jacques Parizeau Votes Ethniques by mediawatchqc (from 3:30)

I support the right of a significant majority vote to gain independence*: Québec, Scotland or other. 
The only way to respect not only a (far greater than '50%+1') majority, but also all minorities, is both to allow borders to change, and to strongly protect minority rights. Goodbye sign-laws, enforced French schooling, a chunk of greater Montréal, parts of the North Shore and Gaspé... This doesn't even begin to address the treaties Natives and the US have signed with Canada (not Québec), much less monetary policy.

I am unsure if it is more the cynic in me, or the student of human psychology, which suspects the cooler heads in the PQ are happy to use sovereignty, but wary of achieving it.  Once again the "puis des votes ethniques" mongering: 
[Separatist Party Leader] Pauline Marois concerned about ["les votes ethniques"] 2014 Quebec provincial elections
That's exactly why most of Montréal's once vibrant Jewish community are now in Toronto, as well as many ex-Montréalais Anglos (such as myself) and businesses, and the fact that even Francophone immigrants tend to move on.

So many mixed feelings.  Let's start with the ones you won't expect from an Anglo-Canadian:
- Canada is only soverign from, and better than, the US because it includes a more socialist Québec
- only Québec knows how to vote for its class interests, and vote strategically
- Montréal is the only interesting city in Canada

Let's continue with the less positive:
- I felt encouraged in no way to improve my French while in Montréal, whereas I often have my Japanese in Japan
- I felt little more chance of integration in Québec than in Japan, which is saying a lot
- bigotry in sign-laws, schooling, head coverings, and descending to using the 'notwithstanding clause' of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
- corruption ubiquitous since well before my father refused to do business there in the 70s

A hint to the PQ: if you have lost referenda twice, the birth rate of 'pur laine' Québécois is below the replacement rate, and there is no way Allophones or 'ethniques' Francophones will vote for Québécois populism, try being inclusive.  If Québec were, I would take my blended family there**, learn French and use it, because Québec society is more economically just than anywhere else in North America

*I do not think the Crimea passes the smell test.
**If I could make a living for them.


  1. I have a similar background to you (from Toronto, currently finishing my degree in Montreal), sans living in Japan, and I've got similar thoughts on this. Montreal is a better city than Toronto in countless ways, but at the same time, I feel way more at home in Toronto.

    It's telling that I can read this story [1] (which is focussed on the riding in I live in) and almost empathize with the sentiment. I actually *am* a little uncomfortable with the idea of voting in a province that I've always felt like a tourist in and lack a lot of context about, especially since a pretty significant contingent have made it abundantly clear I'm not wanted. I don't think I'd be feeling this way if I lived in Vancouver.

    There's a part of me that worries that inclusiveness is at odds with the qualities that make cities great. Toronto is one of the most inclusive cities in the world, and it's ended up being cheap, selfish and rudderless. It may be a sense of a collective "we" is what provides the basis for solidarity and investment in society. We're tribal animals, and I worry that there's a connection between the lack of an Anglo Canadian "we" (at least in the metropolitan regions) and the growth of resentful "taxpayer" citizenship. If push came to shove and the solidarity of our society was really tested (in the way that, say, the great depression and world wars did), I have a feeling Quebec (or Japan, I'd assume?) would fare much better than Ontario. If we didn't already have our socialized health care system, I don't think we'd be in a position to institute one now.

    I hate thinking this, because it's at odds with my life, and provides a logical backing for a kind of nationalism that I don't at all want. I also don't want the boring, provincial, old-boys-club Toronto of yore. I love that most of my friends growing up in Markham were Cantonese immigrants, but at the same time, I have a suspicion many of them (and their parents) vote Conservative if they vote at all, and would probably have voted for Ford if they lived across Steeles.

    (As you say, humanity is fucked.)

    [1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/pq-worried-election-will-be-decided-by-people-from-the-rest-of-canada-1.2583307

    1. The PQ is fear-mongering. It's what populism does. Of course there are going to be a very few who get to vote who shouldn't, as happens in any election. Democracy is an imperfect system by design; totalitarianism is the opposite. There should be no change in the scrutiny of voters over previous elections, much less rattling the cage during an election, or there is something uglier being done with it. No doubt this is a swing riding, and the PQ needs it to get a majority. I miss the seventies and eighties, when even (Progressive) Conservatives and Levesque's PQ had some respect for democratic institutions: ended with Mulroney.

      The rules for students are not clear enough, wherever you live in Canada. This is a problem, but one to be solved at another time. Should you have the vote? Even if you leave Montréal? Why not? You are a citizen of the country Québec is yet part of, and spending years there. I lived in Montréal for five years, which is more than I have as an adult anywhere but Toronto. In any case, it should neither be the purview of a separatist nor a federalist party to decide if you have that right, but Elections Canada, for clear reasons.

    2. You have a point about the effectiveness of tribalism; however, you must also be well aware of the costs to human rights and innovation.

      Reminds me of a story, perhaps apocryphal:

      The Canadian delegate at an international conference of officially multilingual nations gives a presentation to the delegates of other multilingual countries, describing in excruciating detail the constitutional issues and history of the separatist movement in Québec, the PQ and the Bloc Québecois, framing it as a series of failures.

      The delegate from Rwanda stands up and interrupts: "Excuse me, but I fail to see your point. Nobody dies. That's success."

    3. Yeah, to be clear, I don't agree with the way they're cynically politicizing the franchise in the midst of an election, and I hate the implication that us Anglo students are conspiring to "steal" an election (if there's a secret handshake, I must have missed the memo). I was just admitting that I can almost see where they're coming from from an emotional standpoint, and I think that's telling about the state of Quebec right now.

      I also agree that tribalism/nationalism is dangerous and regressive, but there may also be lessons to be learned from its appeal. History has shown that it's a matter of time until the Canadian economy goes through a rough spell and a non-trivial percentage of the population blames the non-"Canadians". I'm not at all looking forward to that, but I think it will happen in our lifetimes. I'm not sure our current strategy of blindly adhering to a vague sense of multiculturalism is a good long-term strategy.

      At the very least, I think there's something to the idea that our current "taxpayer" political climate is connected to a lack of a Canadian social narrative. I don't think Rob Ford is a fluke so much as an unlikely harbinger of where we're going as a society. Doubly so if Quebec were taken out of the picture.