On Québec’s Independence and Belgian Mathematics
The separatist threat is over.
This is the new conventional wisdom in Canada. Québec’s independence? Old news. Problem dealt with. Taken care of.
In the Globe and Mail Lawrence Martin writes a one paragraph obituary of what was only a brief episode in Canada’s glorious history:
“In Quebec, a corner has been turned. Separatism? It’s old, it’s boring, the debates as shallow as a birdbath. Decades of referendums, constitutional battles, separatist threats drained the national spirit. They curbed foreign investment, preoccupied the federal government, sidelined other national priorities. Not so now.”
The latest polls show that support for independence is at it’s lowest in decades. Only 36% of the Québécois would vote for sovereignty according to an April 2008 poll by CROP. Léger Marketing counts 42% (google English).
Well… you know what they say about numbers and what we can make them say.
Take Belgium, for example.
Now, French-speakers in Belgium have always had a slightly odd way of counting, different from the way other French-speakers count. Ninety and Seventy, for example, are in French Quatre-vingt-dix and Soixante-dix, but not in Belgium. Over there they say Nonante and Septante.
Apparently the perception of numbers is also different in Belgium. In Canada when 42% of the Québécois support the secession of Québec it means the movement is moribund and agonizing. In Belgium, when 49% of the Flemish say they support the independence of Flanders, the country is thrown into the worst political crisis of it’s history.
Yet, if you take a standard 5% margin of error, there could mathematically be more separatists in québec than Flanders right now…
Of course, the situations in Québec and Flanders are very different.
Over there, the crisis is the result of Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s failure to reform the country in a way that would give Flanders more autonomy whereas in Québec, Trudeau’s constitutional reforms and Mulroney’s Meech Lake accord have… left Québec pretty much in the same situation where it was when the “troubles” started 40 years ago.
In the very heated context of a political crisis that has been going on for years and the very fresh rejection of Flemish autonomy by the French-speaking Wallons, half of Flanders wants out of the kingdom of Belgium.
In a still favourable economic climate, with a governement that panders to the nationalists and after four decades of “referendums, constitutional battles, separatist threats” that have “drained the national spirit”, “curbed foreign investment” and “sidelined other national priorities”, between one third and one half of the Québécois STILL want independence from Canada.
Insignificant, I’m sure.
There is no way those numbers could go back up again, right? French-speaking Montrealers are feeling very secure linguistically right now, aren’t they? And there is no way the 55 000 new immigrants the Québec governement wants to recruit every year will have any effect on the demographic balance on the city either. Of course not.
And as the people of Québec watch their manufacturing sector collapse in the wake of the American economic meltdown, they will surely find comfort in the fact that they can always flee Québec and it’s horrible language laws for the riches and linguistic freedom of Alberta.
How could any of this ever flare up into a rise of support for Québec’s independence?
Thank God for Canadian Math.