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The Hill Times & Calgary Herald: If we demand respect, Quebecers will come around

By July 9, 2012March 18th, 20204 Comments

Our great failing vis-à-vis Quebec has not been our unwillingness to change to accommodate them. It has been our unwillingness to demand their respect for our differences, and for the country. And if we do demand that respect, far from slamming the door on the way out, Quebecers will find their emotional attachment to Canada renewed and refreshed. My latest column for The Hill Times and Calgary Herald below:


If we demand respect, Quebecers will come around

By Brian Lee Crowley, The Hill Times, July 9, 2012

Is Quebec now « une province comme les autres »?

Not if you listen to the usual suspects obsessing about how « dangerous » it is that the federal government has only a handful of seats in Quebec. Horror stories have abounded of late, including one about former prime minister Brian Mulroney expressing his fears about Quebec politics to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Ottawa’s alleged “weakness” is contrasted with the likelihood of a victory for the Parti Québécois in the looming provincial election. The nightmare picture painted for us is of a frightened federal government dominated by non-Quebecers facing a strong provincial government committed to taking Quebec out of Confederation. Who would speak for Canada in a referendum campaign, is the question asked in anguished tones by the professional doomsters.

For many years, I have believed fervently that this way of thinking about the issue has it exactly backwards, and for once, I think we may have a chance to test out which view is right.

Where we all got so badly off track was in convincing ourselves that because Quebecers were different and valued that difference that the rest of the country had to apologize for not being like them. Our differences were reason for us to feel guilty. And if we protested that we too saw value in our thoughts, the way we behaved and the history that made us, we were bad Canadians, clinging to an outmoded past best bundled surreptitiously, like all family skeletons, into a dusty attic.

We acquiesced in rewriting our history to make Quebec a unilingual French-speaking province, when the English presence is nearly as old and every bit as legitimate as that of French-speakers. The rest of the country, including Ottawa, watched in silence as oppressive and revanchist policies were put in place that drove hundreds of thousands of Canadians from their homes in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec simply because the province decided it would be made onerous and unpleasant to live, work and be educated in English there.

English-speaking Canada collaborated in the demonization of English Quebeckers with the dismissive epithet of Westmount Rhodesians, implying that law-abiding citizens whose only crime was to wish to preserve the language and the institutions their ancestors had legitimately established in Quebec were somehow a distasteful remnant of a repugnant colonialist and racist past.

In the name of celebrating “la difference” we went along with an orgy of public spending, tax rises, state intimidation of business, public debt and other policies that have so devastated the provincial economy that the last time I looked Quebec had nearly a quarter of the national population but a mere seventh of the private sector jobs. One reason for the decline of my beloved Montreal Canadians is likely the ruinous taxation the province imposes, driving talented athletes as well as businesspeople to less confiscatory jurisdictions.

But lest Quebecers turn around and blame Canada for their self-inflicted economic decline, we lessened the blow by massively subsidizing this perverse behaviour. We never breathed a word of criticism, however, lest it be taken as proof we despised Quebecers and they were better off in their own country. In fact with each election and referendum we offered to up the bounty.

We accepted the emasculation of Ottawa to the point where we have to beg the provinces to tear down the barriers they themselves have erected to the freedom of people to buy and sell their goods and services to other Canadians across the land. Ottawa feels daring when it allows individual Canadians to buy a bottle of wine in Niagara or the Okanagan and take it home to Calgary or Sorel without fear of arrest.

These behaviours were sold as necessary to make Quebecers feel “at home” in Canada, the price of “keeping the country together,” but they were nothing of the sort. They were acts of collective self-abasement. But if I have learned anything about negotiations in life, it is that if you don’t respect and believe in yourself, the people on the other side of the table certainly won’t. They will exploit your self-doubt.

Our great failing vis-à-vis Quebec then, has not been our unwillingness to change to accommodate them. It has been our unwillingness to demand their respect for our differences, and for the country. And if we do demand that respect, far from slamming the door on the way out, Quebecers will find their emotional attachment to Canada renewed and refreshed.

On this I can cite no less an authority than one of the founders of the separatist movement in Quebec, Pierre Bourgault, who said, “Believe in yourselves and then maybe we’ll believe in you too.…The day you believe in Canada as much as I believe in Quebec, 90 per cent of your problems will go away.”


Brian Lee Crowley (@brianleecrowley) is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.


The Hill Times


  • J Story says:

    Powerfully stated.

    I have to admit I’m fed up with Quebec’s claim of being special. So what? Every province is special. Quebec has been on the dole for far too long, given that it has the land, people, and natural resources to prosper if it chose to do so. Equalization should be used as a hand up, not an entitlement as seems the case for Quebec.

    One of the arguments trotted out against Quebec leaving Canada is that it would leave Ontario with almost half the seats in Parliament. To my mind, the argument does not stand up to inspection. First, Ontario alone demands less of Canada, and second, the rest of Canada — in particular, its paymasters, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and BC — holds a credible threat of independence if Ontario tries to throw its weight around.

    Further, Quebec’s myopia in virtually shutting out the federal Conservatives means that, from a coldly political calculation, Quebec’s exit would only strengthen the Conservatives. Harper may take a deep breath before facing down Quebec, but he is the one holding all the aces. In short, enough is enough.

  • Donald Weetman Cameron says:

    Great article. I couldn’t agree more. This practice of French only is an abstract form of slavery.

  • daveyy says:

    As a Quebec resident I disagree with most of what you write. We were here for 200 years before the British arrived and imposed their lamnguage, their sovereign, their laws etc. The locals never asked for that it was imposed. We learned to live with being a minority and accepted reluctantly an independent country , ie independent from the British crown, on negociated terms. Fast forward 150 years or so and you expect us to lie down and play Canadian province just like say Manitoba or Alberta, and you are peeved because of your perception that we always want to be different. We never agreed to a strong centralized federal government and you whimper about the emasculation, examples please. How many people have been charged with drinking Niagara wine in BC ? Is that as bad as it gets ?

    Yet what do you have to offer, other than an economic and political union ? For one, we still are stuck with the British crown, and culturally, guess what ? We much prefer the real American one ( in small doses mind you) than the watered down Canadian version, why watch Canadian idol when American idol is on the other channel ?

    We like and respect our English speaking Quebeckers a lot more than you would believe, they at least can speak to us in our own language and share a lot of commonalities. Your observations seem to be taken right out of the seventies, you talk about forced mass emigration in the same tone of voice that Armenians refer to their flight from Turkey 100 years ago. All the anglos I know who moved away back then had their expenses fully paid for by their employers who initiated the move for the most part. You make it sound like forced deportation of individuals unwilling to take an oath, ie like when your ancestors deported the Acadians. Yes we remember that sad little footnote too. If you want to bleed for anglo Montrealers who were forced to leave (your terms) give back Nova Scotia and PEI to the Acadians and you can have Wesmount and Pointe Claire all to yourselves.

    You cannot possibly be a true Habs fan when you spell their name the Montreal Canadians , just saying. We don’t need to feel at home in Canada, we never have and probably never will. We just need a fair kick at the collective can. There was a time when French speakers were downtrodden and didn’t participate in the federal government, now that there seems to be more of a balance you watch the numbers like a hawk in case we should receive a penny more than our population deserves.

    BTW the equalization formula is decided by Ottawa not Quebec, we pay into it too

  • David Pedersen says:

    Bravo. As an American living in Montreal for the past seven years, I have said nearly these exact words to Canadian friends. It is incomprehensible to me that Quebec is allowed to get away with half the things that happen here. To take one example, Quebec dilutes Anglophone voting power by gerrymandering electoral districts. In fact, there is a proposal to dilute them further under the guise of giving ‘the regions’ (rural, Francophone Quebec) more seats in the provincial legislature. My own friends have called me ‘rude’ and ‘insensitive’ merely for suggesting that the way things are is not the way things should be (and these were Quebec Anglophones.)

    The separatist movement has done an amazing PR job when Anglophones are so willing to sacrifice their own rights as atonement for imagined injustice. As I pack up my things to return home, I have to say that living in Quebec has given me a renewed appreciation for America: it’s often crass, loud and vulgar but that is simply because no American would so easily give up what many English Canadians have done.