ON MAY 20th last, the people of Quebec voted on a referendum put to them by the ruling government of the province, Le Parti Quebecois. A separatist party, it had gained power in 1976 with the claim that it intended only to furnish good government. The unpopularity of the previous government was largely responsible for its victory. With power in their hands, the politicians of Le Parti Quebecois set out to separate Quebec from Canada, step by step. Their last step to date was the May Referendum. It was surely unique in the history of North American politics:
"The government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations (italics mine):
"This agreement would enable Quebec to acquire exclusive power to make its own laws, levy its taxes and establish relations abroad -- in other words, sovereignty -- and at the same time maintain with Canada an economic association including a common currency."
On this issue, the population was asked to vote Yes or No. When the votes were counted, the Nos had won by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent. Even without the Anglophone vote, which was probably as high as 87 percent for the Nos, Rene Levesque's party would have lost. An immense women's vote for the Nos turned the scale.
Jane Jacob's book, The Question of Separatism, was researched and probably completed before the referendum votes were counted. It is, however, the clearest and most unbiased analysis I have ever read of a peculiar situation in a very unusual kind of country. Though Jacobs ignores a great deal of important past history, out of which were bred powerful emotions, it is not because she is ignorant of history, but because she concentrates on the hard economic facts which have created a new kind of political crisis in Canada.
However, the readers unaware of Canadian psychologies, it might help to recall a few basic historical facts. Canada came into being because her territory was a dumping ground for the survivors of various lost causes. The French, the original habitants , were ceded to England in 1763 after France had lost the Seven Years War. For the time, they were treated with remarkable generosity, being confirmed in the use of their own language and civil code and their own church-dominated educational system. The United Empire Loyalists, who first settled Ontario and much of the Maritime Provinces, came north because they had fought on the losing side in the American Revolution. The Highland Scots, who became something of a cement between the French and the English, were evicted by their own landlords who had been crushed by the English in the last Jacobite rising. The Irish were casualties of the Potato Famine. After the Hitler Was came a flood of immigrants, many of them highly educated, from ruined countries all over the world. The nub of the periennial Canadian crisis was simply this. The imperative of the French Canadians was to survive and succeed as a people . The aim of the others was to survive and succeed as individuals .
Jacobs deals mostly with the post war present. According to her, and she is right, the cause of Canada's present instability is much the same as the cause of instability everywhere else. In short, a huge fold of immigration poured out of the countryside and small towns into a few big cities, especially into Montreal and Toronto. This rapid urbanization has produced dramatic social and economic changes which she describes with vividness and precision.
Take Montreal, to begin with. Up to the Hitler War, Montreal had been Canada's commercial and banking capital, the world's largest inland port. Though the politics were in the hands of the French, the business was in the hands of the English. Today, the French majority has produced a new kind of French Canadian, a person essentially modern, a traveller, a person eager and competent in business and the arts and quite free of clerical domination.
At the same time, Toronto in Ontario has grown even faster, and the details of its growth as carefully documented by Jacobs. Toronto has now become Canada's commercial and banking capital. Even the first Canadian bank, the Bank of Montreal, now has its headquarters in Toronto. This means, according to Jacobs, that Montreal has sunk to the level of a "regional" capital. It also means that Le Parti Quebecois' demand for sovereignty is a desparate attempt to save Montreal and Quebec from permanent domination by an Anglophone Canadian population now outnumbering Les Quebecois by three to one.
Most interesting is Jacobs' study of the peaceful separation of Norway from Sweden in the early days of this century. Why should not Quebec and Canada follow this example? She believes it is feasible, and perhaps it is. Yet the Norwegian-Swedish situation was very different from ours. Norway is simply the western coastline of the Scandinavian peninsula. In the 1900s she had little industry. Quebec is the core of Canada, is highly industrialized and dominated by multi-national corporations. For centuries, Montreal had controlled the water-road between the Appalachian and Laurentian ranges. This enabled the French Canadian and Scottish voyageurs to penetrate far into the interior of the continent while the English of the 13 colonies were still hemmed in between the mountains and the sea. Frenchmen discovered and explored the Mississippi Valley, and New Orleans originally was a colony of Montreal.
Jacobs has examined the current situation in Canada with such clarity that anyone deeply interested in the future of this continent should read her. I think, however, that she underrates the emotional pull of Canada on many modern French Canadians. Some of our strongest federalists are French-speaking, including Prime Minister Trudeau. (Sweden, incidentally, never elected a Norwegian as head of the combined nations.) Also, in calculating any future, one must remember that no matter what Canada may do to set her house in order, she remains part of a confused, frightened and dangerous world, which may easily explode within the next 10 years.