The merging of two separate and distinct groups is what has given Canada its unique cultural identity. While some early politicians believed assimilation was the best approach to building a strong Canada, it became increasing difficult to convince the Quebec francophones that a national identity should take precedence over retaining their unique culture. Opposing viewpoints and different agendas have caused mistrust among the Quebec francophones towards the federal government and mistrust among other provinces towards Quebec. Constitutional amendments have been proposed on a number of occasions and, to date, none have been successfully adopted in their entirety. This paper will provide a brief overview of the history of the Quebec francophones and the attempts made to accommodate their concerns. Secondly, it will suggest some possible constitutional amendments that would help to meet the needs of Quebecois while helping to keep Canada intact.
Quebec history goes back to a time when the French and English shared a place in a new land. The French colony in Canada was relatively small and garnered little attention in France. In 1759, the British colony with strong support from England took control of the French colony. While the British were initially determined to destroy all forms of cultural distinction among the French by introducing the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the bill was never enacted. (Whittington & Williams, 2000: 359) The seigneurial system was restored and Quebec remained an agrarian society guided by the Catholic Church.
This predominantly rural province began to fall behind the rest of Canada in both government and business. Political and business leaders were predominantly urban anglophones giving rise to resentment among the francophones and the belief that the federal government focussed on centralist concerns with little regard for Quebec interests. It was believed (and argued) that in Quebec only the Quebec government could be entrusted with the distinctive interests of Quebec francophones. (Whittington & Williams, 2000: 357) This mistrust of the federal government lead to what is called the "Quiet Revolution" where Quebecers polarized and separatists began to argue for a separate Quebec nation.
While many federal leaders chose to ignore the growing resentment in Quebec, the government of Lester B. Pearson sought to find ways to support Quebec nationalism. However, it was Pierre E. Trudeau that took a confrontational approach and attempted to induce Quebec to attach primary allegiance to Canada as a whole. (Whittington & Williams, 2000: 367) While the patriation of the Canadian constitution was the primary goal, Trudeau also recognized the need that Quebec support was required. Therefore, Quebec concerns must be addressed.
With the Meech Lake Accord, introduced by Brian Mulroney attempts were made to address the issues brought to the table by Quebec. The failure of provincial legislatures to approve the accord before the deadline left the Quebec demands unresolved and a growing tide of resentment appeared among Quebec francophones. Similarly, the repeated attempts by the federal government to make concessions to Quebec spawned a tied of resentment among some of the other provinces who resented the special consideration Quebecers were receiving.
While more attempts to meet Quebec's needs, such as the Charlottetown Accord, were made many issues still hold a prominent position in the Quebec separatist agenda. The five areas of concern are a formal voice for Quebec in the Supreme Court appointments, a say on immigration policy, limits to federal spending powers in areas of provincial jurisdiction, a veto on constitutional amendments affecting the province, and recognition of Quebec as a distinct society. To date, there have been concessions to the province on the matter of immigration and an amendment has been added to the constitution recognizing Quebec as a distinct society.
While it appears critical that Quebec be acknowledged as a distinct society, I believe it is imperative that the issue of distinctness is granted not only to Quebec but also to all of Canada's first nation people. Additional amendments to the constitution should include a provision that any group recognized as a distinct society is given the same rights as any other distinct society. While Quebec wishes to have special recognition and powers to maintain their unique cultural identity, so to should the aboriginal people of Canada. If Quebec is awarded the right to limit the use of English language in the province in favour of the French language, then the Cree of James Bay should also be granted the right to have the Cree language take priority over French and English. The Inuit and the many other aboriginal groups should also be recognized as distinct, having their own unique language and, as such, have their language and culture protected and guaranteed under the constitution. While Canada has entrenched the bilingual feature of our nation, it has failed to acknowledge that first people of Canada, had languages of their own that should be recognized and protected.
Linguistic duality was embedded in the British North America Act of 1867 and has had both positive and negative repercussions for Canada. Language has evoked divisive social and political tension between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians. (Jackson & Jackson, 1998: 230) By formalizing the idea that Canada consists of many unique and distinct groups, the division between French and English could be reduced. If Canadians were forced to recognize that first nations cultures are as unique as the French and English cultures, there would be less comparing between the French and English. Rather than comparing between two groups, we would have to recognize that many groups are included in the distinctive fabric that makes up Canada. Clearly, constitutional talks that emphasize the regional and linguistic differences separating Canadians have not been the right approach as this issue is far from resolved. It may be time to stop comparing two groups, English and French, and time to start recognizing the differences between the many groups that started this country which may make Canadian realize the common areas that bind the people of Canada together rather than the differences that separate us.
Another issue that Quebecers feel strongly about is the need for a formal voice for Quebec in the Supreme Court appointments. While I don't disagree that all provinces, including Quebec should have a voice in the Senate, I feel that rather than appointing senators, Senators should be elected officials. The existing Senate lacks legitimacy because it is based on political appointments. (Jackson & Jackson, 1998: 184) As senators are appointed by the Governor General on recommendations from the federal government, a senator's appointment is tied directly to the party in power. This affords the ruling party the advantage of using political clout to appoint similar minded senators and garner favourable rulings from the Senate.
While Albertan's favour a Triple-E Senate (equal, elective and effective) it would appear that this system of equal provincial representation from all provinces would be equitable. Ontario, the largest province with regards to population, would receive the same number of senators, as would Prince Edward Island, the smallest province. (Jackson & Jackson, 1998: 182) However, the number of elected senators from each region could be designated in a similar fashion to federal elections where it could be based on population distribution. This would guarantee that all regions rather than just the federal government would have a voice in the Senate. It would also make senators accountable to the people who elected them. Senators would have to made sound decisions based on the wishes of the people from the region in which they have been elected. Instead of lifetime appointments, senators would have office for a specific term, 5 years, so that senators would have to continue working for their particular region. There is nothing like knowledge of an upcoming election to ensure that politicians remain focused on the needs of the people in their writings. Senators, like all other elected officials, would have the realization that poor attendance or irresponsible decision making could mean losing their position in the Senate. The current system of lifetime appointments with a self-monitoring system does little to ensure that senators remain loyal to their position and make decisions with the Canadian people in mind.
The final recommendation that I would suggest for constitutional amendments would be a provision entrenched in the constitution that should any province, not just Quebec, wish to secede from the nation, then they be allowed to do so. However, if they were to secede then they would assume their portion of the national debt. As well they would have to establish their own monetary system. They would not be allowed to continue using the Canadian currency. They would have to establish their own international trading partners and agreements rather than remaining under the agreements signed by Canada.
The new nation would have to assume responsibility for all social programs without support from Ottawa. They would have to relinquish their Canadian citizenship and passport. While Quebec presently has an immigration department, they would have to develop a system for identifying target immigrant groups, refugee settlement, deportation and removal of illegal immigrants and visitors, and their own systems of monitoring the movement of immigrants. They would not be allowed to rely on Citizenship and Immigration Canada to guard their borders. Nor would they be allowed to use Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to monitor border crossings and collect duties and taxes.
They would have to develop their own military rather than rely on the Canadian Department of National Defense to offer assistance or protection in times of peace or war. The new nation would have to assume a role on its own within the international arena whether it be peacekeeping efforts or military alliances.
All forms of economic support would be terminated once a province seceded from Canada. Grants would not be forth coming to assist with labour market programs or health and education. Funding for programs would be the sole responsibility of the new nation and development of programs and services would be no longer be given assistance by Ottawa.
Borders would have to be redrawn so that those groups or regions within the province that did not wish to secede remained part of Canada. Those people who did not wish to remain would have to be relocated and compensation awarded by at the expense of the new nation. Along with people choosing to leave on their own, the relocation of federal departments would have to occur. The loss of workers and their families would have serious effects on the work force of the new nation.
Provisions would have to be included so that for a province to secede they must have a significant majority of the population vote in favour of secession. Secession could not occur if only a small majority of the people were in favour of forming a new nation. It would have to be a clear-cut significant majority (minimum 75 percent) in favour of the move to secede. It would be impossible to allow for a 51 percent of a province to make a decision for the remaining 49 percent.
It would be imperative that all the consequences of seceding from Canada be outlined and included in a provision in the constitution. There would be no surprises nor any cause to complain after a province made a decision to secede. By clearly outlining the consequences of seceding, decisions about secession would be made with full knowledge of all things to be considered. It would ensure that people make informed decisions rather than listen to opposing rhetoric from political parties with different agendas.
It appears that attempts to meet Quebec's needs in the past have only alienated other parts of Canada. Recommendations to the constitution, therefore, must address the concerns of Quebecer's as well as the concerns of all Canadians. Recognizing Quebec's distinctness must be accompanied by recognizing the distinctness of the first nations people. Addressing Quebec's concerns over Senate reform must include equitable representation based on population from all regions along with accountability through the election process. Finally, secession provision can be included in the constitution by allowing people the opportunity to make sound decisions based on full awareness of the consequences of secession.
Obviously, there is no single solution to addressing Quebec concerns and ensuring Canada's unity. Nor is the solution simple and readily attainable. Before constitutional amendments can be considered the consideration must be made whether concessions to one province will cause a negative backlash in other provinces.