12 April 2014

William Johnson: Quebec — land of political myth


The Supreme Court established that Quebec can only secede by revolution or — with the agreement of the other provinces and the federal Parliament — with an amendment to the constitution. Such a negotiated agreement would include defining new frontiers. A credible third referendum could not merely ask about a preference for independence over federalism; it would have to define the territory that would emerge with independence. That would almost certainly exclude the lands of the Inuit, the Cree, the Montagnais, the Mohawks and — probably — the Outaouais region. Would the Québécois still vote for a new country cut by half?
The secessionists are not alone in having fundamental assumptions to rethink. The Quebec Liberal Party, ever since the Quiet Revolution, has also been formulating its constitutional policies under an illusion. All the premiers, from Jean Lesage to Jean Charest, have called for a supposed renewal of the federation. But what all of them offered was not a federation, but rather a confederation, a union of two sovereign states, on the model of the European Union. And all assumed that Quebec could demand whatever constitutional change it really wanted and, if it failed to obtain it, the alternative was to secede.
The demands for constitutional change were in fact revolutionary, and hence unworkable. We have been at an impasse from the start. If Philippe Couillard decides to pursue an amended constitution, he will have to begin by discarding all the federalist illusions and utopian dreams of the past six decades. Only then would an agreement become possible.

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