AngryFrenchGuy

On Québec’s Independence and Belgian Mathematics

with 47 comments

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).

Insignificant, apparently.

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.

Written by angryfrenchguy

July 27, 2008 at 7:07 pm

47 Responses

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  1. For the most part, it’s probably just wishful thinking on the part of Canadians. They’ve seen 13 years go by since the last referendum and separation hasn’t even been attempted again. Boisclair came right out and said the idea should be shelved for the time being (a move that I still don’t really understand) and Marois has more or less sent the same message since taking over.

    When you have a sovereignist party is openly reluctant to even hold a vote, then it’s easy to believe that the movement is dead. If the Green party took the position that implementing Kyoto wasn’t possible for the foreseeable future, I wouldn’t have much faith in the environmentalist cause.

    Of course the movement isn’t dead, it’s just quiet enough not to affect the lives of Canadians. They don’t care if 35 to 40 percent of the Quebec population still supports it and they really don’t care that the majority of the Quebecois population has pretty much always supported it. Resolving the issue has never been their goal, only making it less visible.

    RoryBellows

    July 28, 2008 at 12:28 am

  2. I had Lawrence Martin as a professor when I was in university. He has always been totally obsessed with the Quebec sovereignty issue. Among other *accomplishments*, he was the one behind the highly-discussed but bogus psychiatric assessment of Lucien Bouchard done by Dr. Vivian Rakoff (so good that he assessed Mr. Bouchard without ever meeting him in person or speaking to him!) that formed the basis for his book “The Antagonist”.

    If one has ever seen Mr. Martin in a TV interview when the matter of Quebec independence is raised, he gets so brooding and intense that one wonders if Dr. Rakoff shouldn’t perhaps have focused his attention on the author of the book rather than its subject.

    Acajack

    July 28, 2008 at 8:55 am

  3. By the way, I agree with RoryBellows pretty much 100%.

    Something like Lawrence Martin’s piece could have been written on July 28, 1986 as well, and look at what happened (and almost happened) just a few short years later, between 1990 and 1995.

    The current accalmie is part of the normal ebb and flow of Quebec politics. Now, I am not sure that the indépendantistes will ever carry the day, but they haven’t yet said their last world, I can tell you that.

    Acajack

    July 28, 2008 at 9:01 am

  4. “between one third and one half of the Québécois STILL want independence from Canada.”

    The polls relate to SOVEREIGNTY- whatever that is supposed to mean. Outright INDEPENDENCE consistently polls much less than the vague term of sovereignty.

    Wanting sovereignty is always more popular when its prospects are more remote, when a vote actually occurs…

    Dave

    July 28, 2008 at 11:19 am

  5. Actually, as te Michel David article points out, one of the reasons for the drop in support is that polling firms went from asking if people supported souveraineté-partenariat to just plain souveraineté.

    I myself use the terms interchangably.

    Rory’s right. The PQ certainly is not boasting the curent numbers. They decided to work the center instead. It’s a dangerous strategy because it freed many souverainists to vote for other parties, the Conservatives and ADQ in Québec City, Québec Solidaire and the NDP in Montreal…

    Will they come back for the next battle?

    angryfrenchguy

    July 28, 2008 at 12:02 pm

  6. If half of all Flemings want an independent Flanders, that is ~30 percent of the population of Belgium.

    If half of all Québécois want an independent Québec, that is ~15 percent of the population of Canada.

    I suggest that it is this difference that causes the Belgian government to get its shorts in a twist more easily than the Canadian government when it comes to local independence movements.

    PS–what’s so odd about septante and nonante? They make sense to me–and I for one think that “nonante” is easier to say than “four score and ten.” I also like the Belgians’ habit of saying “s’il vous plait” when they hand you something (it is a translation of the Dutch “alstublieft.”

    littlerob

    July 28, 2008 at 1:41 pm

  7. Littlerob: “If half of all Flemings want an independent Flanders, that is ~30 percent of the population of Belgium.
    If half of all Québécois want an independent Québec, that is ~15 percent of the population of Canada.
    I suggest that it is this difference that causes the Belgian government to get its shorts in a twist more easily than the Canadian government when it comes to local independence movements.”

    Good points. Also keep in mind Flanders has about 60% of Belgium’s population (vs. Quebec’s 22-25%), and is substantially more prosperous (think approx. 5% unemployment in Flanders vs. approx. 18% in Wallonia) while Quebec is economically about “average” in Canada.

    Acajack

    July 28, 2008 at 2:00 pm

  8. “PS–what’s so odd about septante and nonante? They make sense to me–and I for one think that “nonante” is easier to say than “four score and ten.” I also like the Belgians’ habit of saying “s’il vous plait” when they hand you something (it is a translation of the Dutch “alstublieft.”

    I think septante, etc. are pretty cool too. BTW, these words are also used in French-speaking Switzerland, and in places in Africa colonized by Belgium that still speak French like the larger of the two Congos (formerly known as the the Belgian Congo and Zaire).

    Strangely enough, it’s also used in a tiny Acadian (who are generally not of Swiss or Belgian origin, incidentally) region of Nova Scotia south of the town of Yarmouth, in places like Pubnico, Wedgeport, Ste-Anne-du-Ruisseau. To my knowledge, this is the only place in Canada where they use these words, and even the Acadians in Clare (Baie-Ste-Marie) just on the other side of Yarmouth will always say soixante-dix, etc.

    Some of these areas may also use “huitante” or “octante” in lieu of quatre vingts.

    Acajack

    July 28, 2008 at 2:10 pm

  9. I support greater regional autonomy in Canada, to the extent I think we should break up into 2 or 3 small Scandanavian type states.

    I think though, that the seperatist movements should try to frame the debate in terms of “Do you suppport, [Quebec, Western Canada] making a Unilateral Declaration of Independance as soon as possible?”

    Seperatist movements should try to take the sting out of these words, and try to remove fear from the seperation debate instead of playing games with language, and trying to sneak out the back door.

    Eddie Blue

    July 28, 2008 at 2:56 pm

  10. Acajack–“Huitante” and “octante” are new ones on me!

    Didn’t know that the unemployment rate in Wallonia was so high. Geez, places like Namur and Charleroi must be hurtin’ for certain.

    littlerob

    July 28, 2008 at 4:09 pm

  11. @ RoryBellows:

    “For the most part, it’s probably just wishful thinking on the part of Canadians. They’ve seen 13 years go by since the last referendum and separation hasn’t even been attempted again.”

    And even then, there was a 15 year gap between the referendums of 1980 and 1995.

    Friendly Correction:

    Regarding the use of numbers in Belgium, “Septante” and “Nonante” are certainly used almost exclusively… but you will never hear “Octante” and “Huitante” uttered by anyone in Belgium or its African colonies.

    Those are only used in Switzerland (i.e. la Suisse romande.)

    Cancerous

    July 28, 2008 at 8:59 pm

  12. Oops, pressed “Submit” too soon…

    I stayed in Belgium for close to 2 weeks… I would venture to say that it’s my favourite European destination so far!

    Cancerous

    July 28, 2008 at 9:02 pm

  13. So then,, you all agree that the separiste cause is going to come again…..So why not right now…Why prolong the agony…. Do it now…why wait…unless you don’t want to do it…You are essentially wasting time with your dialogue on “whadda, coulda, shudda.

    Interesting statistics….on Belgium….well if the Quebec separatistes are 35% thats about 2 gto 3 million people…30 plus million in Canada…why not ask the whole country if Quebec should separate. A national referendum with all of Canada, if the answer was oui…then out Quebec goes…very simple. You might be surprised at the result…could very well be in you favor….Ask not what Quebec might want…ask what those in the ROC want…a larger vote.

    Isnt this what you all long for…a separate Quebec independent of the ROC…so why havent you been able to make it happen?? For your language, your culture, your future children…etc etc. And for the ROC. Please, Try again and get it accomplished.

    Cut the BS and go for it…it would be the best for all.

    Come on..less rhetoric as AGF’s post and more action…action…action….contact your BQ people and the PQ people and influence them on the right decision which is Quebec Independence.

    Make it happen, mes amis..

    ABP

    ABP

    July 28, 2008 at 9:46 pm

  14. ABP: In every thread you bring the issue back to money, so I wanted to make one point about the money transferred to Quebec. I’m not sure if you know these facts, or perhaps you are just overlooking them.

    Quebec has been/is being bought off by Canada.

    That’s why there are billions flowing into Quebec. Because the federal government (and most of the ROC provinces in fact) doesn’t want to decentralize the federation any further and loosen Quebec’s leash any more than it already is.

    Now, I know lots of people think Canada can’t be decentralized any more than it already is, but that’s simply not true. If you don’t believe me, check out the ADQ’s autonomist program, or the Allaire Report that was produced by the Quebec Liberals several years ago. You’ll get an eyeful of what even the federalists in Quebec have in mind as an ideal Canadian set-up for Quebec.

    You see, most of this is just not on in the ROC. So they sign cheques to keep the peace – for now.

    Sort of like your teenage daughter that says she wants her curfew extended past midnight. Daddy doesn’t want the curfew extended, so he offers her a plasma TV for her bedroom. The daughter huffs and puffs, isn’t happy, but she’ll still take the plasma TV. Hey, a plasma TV’s a plasma TV, after all. But that doesn’t mean she’ll stop pestering daddy about that curfew, though.

    Acajack

    July 29, 2008 at 5:55 am

  15. “ABP: In every thread you bring the issue back to money, so I wanted to make one point about the money transferred to Quebec. I’m not sure if you know these facts, or perhaps you are just overlooking them.”

    I didnt mention any money in the last post..did I??

    “Quebec has been/is being bought off by Canada.”

    You think?…Of course they have allowed themselves to be bought off and are now addicted to the subsidy….So then the decision is to stay and to keep receiving benefits, or leave and cut the standard of living. Definately a clever scheme by Ottawa. Analogous to the prostitute who has been hooked on drugs by her pimp, cache 22.

    “You’ll get an eyeful of what even the federalists in Quebec have in mind as an ideal Canadian set-up for Quebec.”

    I suspect if the the report was done for Liberals its likely BS. But I will check it out for sure… Decentralization, I think the western provinces would be on board for that. Likely more so if Dion by some miracle gets elected. The quebec hatred of the liberals is only exceeded by the same in most of the West. (note I said most). The carbon tax issue is receiving a lot of negative reaction out here but of course, Dion and Co has already wrote off the west just as Jean Chretain did before. “you know we dont like to deal with dem guys from de west … I am just joking…no, I really mean it” or something like that in the leadup to his last election. Idiot.

    “So they sign cheques to keep the peace – for now. ”

    “Not on”, I dont know about that…seems to be a growing dissatisfaction with the unfairness of the whole situation…which you must admit is unfair as the numbers indicate. Many in the ROC have blinders on which is more the case. If they took the time to find out the facts, I am thinking they would be less complacent with the situation and the main benefactor.

    Good analogy on the dad and the spoiled daughter BTW. I know all about this having had three daughters :):)

    Who knows, maybe Quebec and the West should get together as AGF once suggested and both pull the pin. Wonder what they would offer up the west as an incentive to hang around. Shit, I forgot, where would they get the money!! Ontario is nearly out of the game, Quebec already is a benefactor…Maritimes, I doubt Danny W would have anything to do with this. HMM.??

    ABP

    ABP

    July 29, 2008 at 11:12 am

  16. It’s tough to make any across-the-board decentralization fly in Canada because in addition to the federal government, six out of 10 provinces tend to be centralist in their outlook (Ontario, Manitoba, plus the four Atlantic provinces). Your home province of Saskatchewan can go either way. In the 1982 patriation, it fought the good fight for provincial rights alongside Quebec and Alberta, but both SK and AB bailed out on Quebec’s René Lévesque once they got what they wanted from Ottawa on natural resources. SK’s minister of justice (attorney general I guess is what they call them) Roy Romanow was even the one who led the late-night lobbying and arm-twisting to rally all 9 provinces except Quebec for a constitutional fait accompli that was announced with great fanfare in the morning.

    Acajack

    July 29, 2008 at 12:51 pm

  17. Mais Oui, the famous “night of the long knives” Ottawa version. Romanow and Chretein certainly worked together on that one, didnt they.

    Trudeau had to break up the gang of eight by caving in on a number of issues, the main being the notwistanding clause. I never liked him, and some of his programs but would never accuse him on not being politically savvy. It worked as we all know and Levesque was blindsided the next morning. Nice bunch, politicians.

    ABP

    ABP

    July 29, 2008 at 2:02 pm

  18. Quebec will never separate because the welfare check is too good and where would good quebekers be without their checks in hand? Lets face facts. Since Bill 101 many thousands of tax paying citizens left the province rather than be subjugated by draconian language laws. A shrinking tax base guaranteed more money from Ottawa. I mean most of the separatists are a bunch of idealogues an pussies who never earned an honest days pay. Now they sit in the brasseries, drink beer and remember the good old days. Meanwhile the province stagnates and sinks into the mud.

    Chuck

    August 2, 2008 at 6:18 pm

  19. To Chuck!
    The best short economical analyse of the Quebec reality.

    Geck

    August 2, 2008 at 8:11 pm

  20. “Meanwhile the province stagnates and sinks into the mud.”

    Compared to where?

    Ontario’s booming manufacturing sector? The American economy?

    When you guys are done filling your unemployment forms, come over to the pub. The drinks are on me.

    angryfrenchguy

    August 3, 2008 at 3:52 pm

  21. 36% is an incredibly high figure.

    1) When Trudeau left office, support for separation was less than 10%. A few years later, support was over 50%. These things come in waves.

    2) 36% is virtually 100% on the francophone side, which is 80% of the population. Therefore, that works out to be (36/80) x 100 = 45% of francophones supporting independence.

    45% support on the francophone side at the point in time when all the pundits are saying we are at the bottom of the trough of support means one thing and one thing only: support for separation has never been higher.

    Just wait until the next trumped-up “humiliation” occurs (doesn’t take much), the numbers will shoot up to well over 60%, and the blackmail will, once again, start.

    Tony Kondaks

    August 3, 2008 at 6:54 pm

  22. This AFG is out of economy

    Geck

    August 3, 2008 at 8:13 pm

  23. “Ontario’s booming manufacturing sector? The American economy?”

    Ontario does have some problems for sure. but they dont receive 13% or more of their total provincial budget as a freebee provided by others including Ontario last year.. What does that say AGF?? If you compare GDP per capita Ontario is still well ahead of Quebec, even with moderate growth figures this year.

    ABP

    ABP

    ABP

    August 3, 2008 at 9:20 pm

  24. So what does “separation” mean?

    A separate armed forces?
    A separate foreign policy?
    A separate health system?
    A separate tax system?
    Passports?
    Check points at border crossings?
    Separate education system?
    Separate treaties with the rest of Canada? With the rest of the world?
    Separate currency…and what would be its value?
    A separate judiciary? Would it be subject to the U.N?
    Import/export regulations?

    Etc; etc;etc;.

    Separatism is an emotional response, nothing more.

    Michel

    August 3, 2008 at 9:25 pm

  25. “So what does “separation” mean?

    A separate armed forces?
    A separate foreign policy?
    A separate health system?
    A separate tax system?
    Passports?
    Check points at border crossings?
    Separate education system?
    Separate treaties with the rest of Canada? With the rest of the world?
    Separate currency…and what would be its value?
    A separate judiciary? Would it be subject to the U.N?
    Import/export regulations?

    Etc; etc;etc;.

    Separatism is an emotional response, nothing more.”

    You have convinced me. Canada should join the United States.

    angryfrenchguy

    August 3, 2008 at 10:22 pm

  26. “Just wait until the next trumped-up “humiliation” occurs (doesn’t take much), the numbers will shoot up to well over 60%, and the blackmail will, once again, start.”

    “Quebec will never separate because the welfare check is too good and where would good quebekers be without their checks in hand?”

    Of course. It makes so much sense, now. I have seen the light!

    Please, now, can someone tell me where I can find the transcripts of these conspiratorial meetings, The Protocols of the Elders of Dorion.

    For there must be a record of these evil plottings. Some sort of plan must have been devised between the Separatists, who are by definition excluded from the decision-making instances of the Federal government where perequation decisions are taken and their federalist “adversaries” who execute the orders of the PQ leaders and sifon the riches of the Maudits Anglais towards Québec.

    angryfrenchguy

    August 4, 2008 at 12:24 am

  27. “For there must be a record of these evil plottings. Some sort of plan must have been devised between the Separatists, who are by definition excluded from the decision-making instances of the Federal government where perequation decisions are taken and their federalist “adversaries” who execute the orders of the PQ leaders and sifon the riches of the Maudits Anglais towards Québec.”

    Well, the BQ for one (arent they a separatist group)…They have a significant vote in parliament which Gilles has used to Quebec’s advantage. The other issues, buying votes by Harper and Co. — of course if Quebec had more of a conscience they wouldnt allow themselves to be bought as Acajack has suggested.

    Siphoning the riches…hmm…yes about 8.2 billion last year….and that doesnt include business subsidies or farm subsidies which add up to a great deal more. Are you saying that Quebec does not receive the welfare payments….or does not want to receive the payments?

    I wish you well with your cause but quite frankly history as proven you are wasting your time with this excercise. It wont happen any time soon…I believe the West will separate before Quebec ever gets around to it (the color of margarine seemed to be more of an issue the last 20 years) ….What will the feds do then when a major source of money is cut off,,,no more freebees for Quebec…Maybe then, you might get a chance for what you desire. But, not before, Quebec is addicted to the Welfare.

    ABP

    ABP

    August 4, 2008 at 9:49 am

  28. If Québec does leave the Confederation, I suspect that Canada, or part of it, will indeed join the United States. They taught us in school here (US) that “Canada is British because it is French,” and I believe it; I think that its Francophone population, centered in Québec, is what distinguishes Canada from the United States.

    What would happen to an independent Québec if it were surrounded by a union of American states that included Ontario and New Brunswick as well as New York and Vermont? Would it apply for membership in the EU? (the advantage for Québec if it joined the EU would be that it would have a language in common with Belgium [or Wallonia] and France, but the disadvantage would be that all of the other EU states would be 3500 miles and an ocean away).

    littlerob

    August 4, 2008 at 2:20 pm

  29. Ouch… An American telling Canadians that the only thing that makes them not American is the presence of the Québécois amongst them.

    If I know anything about English-Canadians, that made a lot of people upset.

    Québec is not in Europe. I don’t see how it could join the EU.

    It would simply remain a member of NAFTA, and probably remain a vocal advocate of it’s expansion. I don’t see any reason an independent Québec should be cut out except out of spite, and I don’t think the Americans, the only partners that matter in that forum, care at all whether Québec is a province, a country, or a protectorate of the king of Bahrein.

    angryfrenchguy

    August 4, 2008 at 4:30 pm

  30. — A separate armed forces?

    Yes.

    — A separate foreign policy?

    Yes.

    — A separate health system?

    Already has one.

    — A separate tax system?

    Already has one.

    — Passports?

    Yes.

    — Check points at border crossings?

    Probably not.

    — Separate education system?

    Already has one.

    — Separate treaties with the rest of Canada? With the rest of the world?

    Yes.

    — Separate currency…and what would be its value?

    No separate currency at first.

    — A separate judiciary?

    Yes.

    — Would it be subject to the U.N?

    As much as any other country.

    — Import/export regulations?

    Yes.

    Was this supposed to scare anyone?

    Eric Grenier

    August 4, 2008 at 5:50 pm


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