I was in Quebec City on July 1 this year. They had a massive celebration and fireworks display. I remember being surprised; after all this was Quebec City, the heart of the ever-aspiring French nation that wants out of Confederation. When I checked my latent prejudices (and a few plaques), I was reminded that Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City in 1608. In one way, the fireworks could be considered imperialist propaganda, but there's no denying that the roots of the country that would become Canada run as deep here as anywhere.
Early one morning, exiled from the hotel because of my terrible snoring, I did some touring around. It was early enough that I was able to walk in relative quiet without the throngs of people that usually line the streets in the summer at a busy tourist destination. I walked along Governor's Walk, a beautiful elevated boardwalk along the fortifications that had a great view of the St. Lawrence. At one point there was an interesting juxtaposition between past and present: a person in a canoe and one on a jet ski. I got an image of Champlain racing along on a Sea Doo (product of a legendary Quebec company) scoping out the location for the capital of New France.
I also hiked a bit of the Plains of Abraham, that location of a battle that in a spiritual sense has never ended in this country. The War of 1812 is the focus of the government's current memorial efforts. That was the war that, depending on your perspective, either an emerging nation of Canada (in actuality a mere British colony) won due to brilliant strategy or the Americans lost due to hubris and stupidity. King Harpernicus seems obsessed with trying to instill the population with a sense of a glorious martial past. Like many before him, however, he's still losing the battle for Quebec.
I greeted with enthusiasm the recent election that gave Pauline Marois and the Parti Quebecois a minority government. It continues Quebec's latest political rebellion that started with the protest vote that made the NDP the Official Opposition in the last federal election. Some of the gestures Marois has made since assuming office (like rescinding Liberal tuition hikes and lifting restrictions on public protests) resonate with me. They acknowledge social priorities as opposed to military ones. Of course, with the PQ in office there's the inevitable bogey of a referendum on separation or "sovereignty association," but at this point I'm ambivalent to that.
The time has come to do battle with the ghosts of the Plains of Abraham, and all that has gone since then. I have been skimming some history lately, and what I've read suggests that the agreements that created what we call Canada were essentially a marriage of convenience. It seems Georges Cartier's best option to preserve the heritage of New France lay in a partnership with Loyalist thugs rather than the American ones. That awkwardness has underlined the history of the country, and Quebec became one of many bedfellows that occupy this uncomfortable chamber we call Canada. At the time, that probably was the right move. Nation states were all the rage, and financing new ones very difficult. Coincidentally, the government of the United Provinces of Canada was completely dysfunctional before Confederation blew it up. Sound familiar?
In 2012, the world is very different. We are part of an integrated global transportation and communication infrastructure owned by private businesses rather than a colony negotiating to patch together a railway to secure its borders. Corporations are rootless pools of capital that simply chase whatever part of the global work force suits their needs. Financial markets can make or break nations in a week.
For Canada, free trade has promoted hegemony with the United States (so much for 1812), and outside of selling off natural resources (as has always been our bread and butter) the essence of the Canadian economy is the same as our neighbours to the south. King Harpernicus is chasing even more free trade agreements which could mean less influence for future governments in directing our national affairs. It's all part of a trend that seems, at this point, irreversible.
Health care, education, and other social programs were all afterthoughts at the time of Confederation, and were shunted to the provinces, yet they are important to Canadians. Jobs are always a preoccupation, but social programs are never far behind. With jobs being devalued in the current economic climate, and control over the factors that create jobs diminished, my guess is that social programs will become even more important to people.
There is federal money provided from the tax base, and that has been the case since the many disparate colonies needed to be bought to bring about a nation. That's not good enough today. Without a "social" vision for all Canadians, why not shift the full tax burden to the provinces and their municipalities and cut federal taxes further to accommodate that? That way we can try to better look after local needs while coping in a global economy.
If Pauline Marois' government decides it wants to lead Quebec out of Canada, to my mind she's simply following the logical path that has been laid down (intentionally or not) by our Federal leaders over the past 145 years. If it turns out Quebec wants a divorce we should grant it and move on. It seems evident there wasn't much of a family to begin with, and we don't seem to want to start building one now.