Those of us around for the 1995 Quebec Referendum–which math serves to tell would be everybody in the university community except that eight-year-old whatever savant in that one class–will remember being glued to the television that night, awestruck by so many things: that one’s nation was cause for dissociation from them! That an issue could prove so divisive! That supporters on either side could be so passionate! It was a brilliant early lesson in people for this child of 10 and likely many more. Furthermore, it was a fantastic look at some of the forces holding Canada together and pushing it apart. When the polls rang out what amounted to a dead ringer–50.58 per cent against separation, 49.42 for–the dominant post-vote attitude was one of concern over the eventuality that Quebec’s split seemed to be.
What didn’t seem obvious at the time was the disrepair into which the debate would eventually fall, and fall it did. The concern over the sovereignty of the French in Canada had all but disappeared from the cultural landscape over the course of the next decade, with the brief exception of a spat in the spotlight in the late ’90s. It seemed for some time that we were free and clear to contribute to world problems as Canada and not the sovereign nation-states known formerly thereas.
So what is one to think when the new regime not only resurrects the problem, but fails to properly contribute new ideas to its solution? It is understandable that tensions in the country make the Quebec situation slightly more complicated than that, but let’s face it, we’ve dealt with this before–twice, in fact. How can we honestly stand behind a leader oblivious enough to taunt separatists with the statement, “Do Quebecers form an independent nation from Canada? The answer is no and it will always be no,” as Harper did on Nov. 22?
To be fair to Harper, the quote above is not entirely without context. It was said in the middle of a speech offering the province sovereignty as long as it stayed within a united Canada, an arrangement which sounds nice but doesn’t seem to mean anything whatsoever. What is a sovereign nation within a united country? The only example remotely inspirational in understanding Harper’s proposal is the case of Scotland and England, but in this case, it could be wagered the deal is more of historical preponderance than actual cultural benefit.
What seems to be the real issue is neither side’s awareness that countries don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things anymore. Sovereignty of nation and sovereignty of state both amount to the same thing in these modern times: little to no influence on the real balance of power. So to the passionate it must be said: fight on comrades! And to Harper: certainly many people will enjoy crowding around the TV like in 1995, watching our country break itself apart because of your ridiculous assertions while the rest of the world marches into oblivion without us. Not bad for a day’s work!