CANADA / COVER

THE CHOICE IN QUEBEC

ANDREW PHILLIPS October 30 1995
CANADA / COVER

THE CHOICE IN QUEBEC

ANDREW PHILLIPS October 30 1995

THE CHOICE IN QUEBEC

CANADA / COVER

ANDREW PHILLIPS

For Canadians outside Quebec, sitting through the nail-biting final days of that province’s referendum campaign is a bit like living in the apartment next door to a particularly fractious couple. The walls are thin and it is impossible not to hear the commotion on the other side. Cries of “humiliation” and “blackmail” ring out. He warns of dire consequences if she leaves; she sobs that the situation has become unbearable. It’s difficult to sleep through it all, and pounding on the wall does not seem to help. But from bitter experience, it is clear that any attempt to go next door and settle things will only lead the unhappy pair to make common cause and turn fiercely against you.

That is the frustration of English-speaking Canada as it awaits the outcome of the vote on Oct. 30. It will have enormous consequences for the entire country; it may even spell the beginning of the end of the country as we have known it since 1867. But, in the end, the so-called Rest of Canada has been been forced to sit nervously on the sidelines. For the drama being played out in Quebec has long been essentially a family feud. It is not, at its core, a French versus English question, or even a tussle between Quebec and the ROC. It is a quarrel inside the Quebec family itself, a struggle between two visions of where the best interests of French Quebecers (and by extension, French-Canadians as a whole) lie. The great debates have pitted Jean Lesage against Daniel Johnson Sr. in the 1960s, then Pierre Trudeau against René Lévesque in the ’70s and ’80s, and now Jean Chrétien and Daniel Johnson Jr. against Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau. The great debates, in turn, reflect the profound divisions among ordinary Quebecers, as the profiles of two families on the eve of the referendum that appear on pages 24 and 26 illustrate.

With a week to go in the campaign, the debate has shifted far from the dry contest of facts and figures that both sides waged for months—to the mounting boredom and confusion of voters—to what it always has been, and always will be: a battle of the heart. And it is on that battleground that federalists feel most vulnerable. They do not have the kind of charismatic champion that sovereigntists have found in the mesmerizing figure of Lucien Bouchard. Call it The Bridges of Quebec County. Since Bouchard seized the helm of the Yes forces, many Quebec voters have allowed themselves to be swept off their feet by the dark, handsome stranger come to inject a little political passion into their lives. Federalists can only hope that the real-life drama plays out as it did in the movies, and that, in the end, Quebecers will cool down—and opt once again to stay with Canada.

& battleground

For the purposes of the Oct. 30 referendum, all of Quebec is treated as a single riding. Every vote counts equally, and political organizers are working furiously to make sure that all their supporters turn up at the polls. But like Canada as a whole, Quebec is sharply different from one region to another. Overall, its 7.3 million people are 86-per-cent French-speaking and nine-per-cent English-speaking, with the remaining five per cent (the so-called allophones) having other mother tongues. From the Far North, where a majority native population bitterly opposes separation, to the strongly nationalistic Saguenay region, to the Eastern Townships, where French and English have lived peacefully side by side for two centuries, the province is much less uniform than it might look at first glance. Some of the key regions where organizers are concentrating in the campaign’s final days:

Quebec City .

Montreal

SAGUENAYs— LAC-ST-JEAN

Relies heavily on resource industries. Long the most nationalistic re gion. Language: 99 per cent French; one per cent English. Voted 56 per cent Yes in 1980 (only region to vote yes), and went solidly PQ in 1994. Outlook: Yes forces confident of another victory.

FAR NORTH

The vast northern third of the province, including 12,000 Cree and 7,500 Inuit who are holding their own referendums on Oct. 24 and 26. Natives overwhelmingly oppose separation. Language: 50 per cent French; three per cent English; 47 per cent native languages. Counted as part of Abitibi region in 1980 referendum. Elected one PQ MNA in 1994. Outlook: a resounding No from natives; francophones split.

ABITIBI

Famous for copper and gold mines. Language:

95 per cent French; three per cent English; two per cent other. Voted 52 per cent No in 1980, and went solidly PQ in 1994. Outlook: Yes side hoping fora win.

OTTAWA VALLEY

Highly dependent on federal jobs and money, with its major population centres of Hull and Gatineau across the river from Ottawa. Language: 85 per cent French; 13 per cent English; two per cent other. Voted 71 per cent No in 1980 (the strongest No vote of any region), and went solidly Liberal in 1994. Outlook: No side counting on another big win.

MONTREAL

Has roughly half the province's population and economic activity. By far the biggest non-French population. Language: 65 per cent French; 19 per cent English; 16 per cent other. Voted 67 per cent No in 1980, and mainly Liberal in 1994. No side expects, and needs, another big victory.

SUBURBAN

MONTREAL

Sovereigntists see the fast-growing, mainly francophone areas surrounding Montreal as prime territory. Language: about 90 per cent French; eight per cent English; two per cent other. All areas voted No in 1980. Went mainly PQ in 1994. Outlook: Yes organizers expect to win this time.

QUEBEC CITY

Relies heavily on provincial civil service and tourism. Stands to gain as capital of an independent Quebec. Language: 97 per cent French; three per cent English. Voted 51 per cent No in 1980, and went overwhelmingly PQ in 1994. Outlook: Yes organizers are counting on winning the area.

EASTERN

TOWNSHIPS

Rich agricultural area with strong tourist industry. English community dates back to 18th century, and as much as 40 per cent of the population is bilingual—the highest rate outside Montreal. Language: 93 per cent French; seven per cent English. Voted 62 percent No in 1980, and mainly Liberal in 1994. Outlook: federalists count on winning again by a large margin.

BEAUCE

Known for its strong tradition of small manufacturing businesses in such fields as construction materials and plastics. Language: 99.5 per cent French; 0.5 per cent English.

Voted 58 per cent No in 1980, and split between PQ and Liberals in 1994. Outlook: result should be closer but federalists expect to win again.

GASPE

Combines poor fishing villages with some of Quebec's most spectacular scenery and most popular tourist destinations. Language: 93 per cent French; seven per cent English. Voted 57 per cent No in 1980 referendum, and elected mainly Parti Québécois MNAS in 1994. Outlook: up for grabs.

RESEARCH BY MARK CARDWELL

*1 don’t; want to se; Canada break up*

Jean Parris, 49, immigrated to Quebec from Barbados in 1974 and lives ip Montreal. She worked as a nurse for 11 years, then became a labor relations consultant for nurses across the province. She spoke to correspondent Liz Warwick:

I’m going to vote No, because after the 30th of October I still intend to maintain my Canadian citizenship card and my Canadian passport. Quebec is special. It is a distinct society and I just love it. But I don’t want to see Canada break up. I love being in a Quebec that is part of Canada. My address is Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

‘I don't see it asa divorce*

Gaston Gourde, 45, is a lawyer and former Liberal MP who served as a backbencher in former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s government from 1981 to 1984. He is now mayor of the town of St-lsidore, 30 km south of Quebec City, and regional president for the Yes side in the Chaudière-Appalaches region. He spoke to correspondent Mark Cardwell:

Since the rest of Canada said No when it reneged on the Meech Lake accord in 1990, and rejected Quebec’s minimal demands in the Charlottetown agreement, Quebecers have no choice but to say Yes on Oct. 30.

Elected to Ottawa in 1981, I long believed that the federal system could be reformed, and that change would result in more power for Quebec. I even voted in 1981 in favor of the repatriation of the Constitution. There again, I thought Quebec would be a winner. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen—on the contrary. After spending several years in Ottawa and in various federalist political organizations, I am now convinced that a Yes vote is the only way to get the rest of Canada to move. If not, the interminable constitutional battles will continue for 10, 15 or 20 years more. What a waste of energy and talent.

I’m 100 per cent certain, absolutely convinced, that there will be a far-reaching agreement between Quebec and Canada after a Yes vote. While certain fundamental things like Quebec’s sovereignty and power of taxation won’t be open for discussion, I don’t believe the sovereignty project now on the table will be implemented fully. There will, I believe, be a strongly negotiated giveand-take settlement. For example, why couldn’t or wouldn’t Quebec and Canada share an armed forces, a postal service and even money?

I don’t see Quebec sovereignty as a divorce, more like a rearranging of the family furniture. Independence is our only way out of the constitutional maze, but we must go forward hand in hand with Canada.

Since the Parti Québécois has been elected, it’s like we’ve been frozen into a cocoon or a box called sovereignty. And nothing else has occurred. There has been a i grand announcement abouti hospital closures. The lives« of thousands of people have | been suspended by this an“ nouncement. People are walking around in a daze with a lot of unanswered questions. And the people who have the answers can’t answer because they’re stuck on sovereignty. They are blind to anything else that is going on around them. The sovereignty question is holding everybody prisoner.

It’s important that the answer given on the 30th is very clear. I want the answer to be accepted by both sides so we can all move on rather than continually bellyaching about sovereignty or separation or the distinct society. There are other things to deal with: poverty, the social system, employment, what is happening in the lives of our youth, what is happening to rectify the situation of racism in this country. Quebec is using separation as an excuse to avoid all these issues. I would like to see my tax dollars going to something other than the sovereignty bandwagon. We have spent enough money on this one question.

`The risks are great'

Marie-France Poulin, 33, is vice-president of communications and marketing for Maax, one of Canada’s largest manufacturers of bathroom accessories, in Ste-Marie-de-Beauce, 50 km south of Quebec City. The company has four factories in Quebec, one each in British Columbia and Alberta and three in the United States. She is a member of the federalist Group of 100, and spoke to correspondent Mark Cardwell:

For both economic and social reasons, I will vote No on Oct. 30. Every day, en trepreneurs, industrialists and store owners innovate and get involved in am project where the risk is calculated and reasonable. That’s why the vast majority of business people oppose Mr. Parizeau’s proposition: because the risks are toe great and the benefits are all hypothetical.

Today, access to the American market is guaranteed to all Quebec businesses through NAFTA, and access to Canadian markets is granted through our political economic and monetary union. The day following a Yes, those roughly 1,40C laws and treaties will have to be renegotiated. Why waste all that time and mon ey and only end up losing a lot, and gaining nothing we haven’t already got?

I’ve travelled a lot in Canada and the United States, and I’ve proudly worn m} double label as a Quebecer and a Canadian. Today, I’m being asked to give up against my will, half of my identity. People want to take away my Canadian heritage from my three children Marie-Pier, Francis and Gabrielle. Marie-Pier asked me recently: “Mommy, why does Mr. Parizeau want to sep arate Quebec from Canada? Why does he want to de stray the Earth?”

A Yes vote on Oct. 30 is not reversible. And because I feel as much a Quebecer as Mr. Parizeau, because believe that the creation of jobs, economic stability and social peace depends on the maintenance of oui Canadian political and economic union, because noble sentiments and emotional attachments don’t belong uniquely to sovereigntists, because I want to leave m^ children with everything that I was given, I’ll vote No.

‘We need a new deal9

Arthur Sandbom, 39, is president of the central council of the Confederation des syndicats nationaux in Montreal, which represents 80,000 unionized workers in the Montreal area. Bom in Hamilton, Sandbom was raised in the mainly anglophone West Island and is a member of the Network of English-Speaking Quebecers for the Yes.

He spoke to correspondent Liz Warwick:

I voted Yes in 1980. A few years before, I was working in the Dominion I

I Bridge steel mill in Lachine. To get a promotion, you had to read and speak English. In a huge steel mill where 70 per cent of the people were French, everything was written in English. All the safety equipment was English only. You couldn’t get a stretcher without reading English because the instructions were just in English. It impressed me that there was something wrong. As we got closer to the referendum

date, I was saying we need a new deal with Canada thaï will allow the French culture to be sure of itself. So voted Yes then and I’ll vote Yes again this time.

The partnership comes down to the fact that we live here and we want to maintain a relationship with the rest of Canada. We don’t want to close all the doors bul we do want to be respected as a distinct group. If we vote Yes, I imagine a majority of Canadians will stili g want to maintain a clear link with Quebec. The craz^ § thing would be to not maintain economic links.

In an independent Quebec, anglophones would have constitutiona assurance that they would maintain their institutions. They don’t have that right now. The only guarantee now is that Canada is anglophone and bigger. We would probably be able to get away from defensive Ian guage laws, and get into positive things. I’m an anglophone with a re ally bad accent in French. I have absolutely no trouble working all ovei the province with my accent. I was asked recently if I thought there would be an exodus of anglophones after a Yes vote. I sure hope not.