Oh my, Québec is making those funny noises again. I have to say I thought they were all over that, you know, like a bout of summer flu.
You have aches and pains for a few days, you complain a lot about it, get lots of sympathy and attention, and before you know it you’re all better. Turned out the major treatment you needed was to be reassured that you’re loved and valued by the rest of us.
And so all is well — for awhile. Then you get the flu again and go through the same cycle. But after several of these, everyone knows it isn’t that serious. Everyone knows you’re just a bit of a complainer, something like Newfoundland and Labrador.
No, it comes with the territory. We should understand that, having had more to do with Québec in our 500-year history than most people realize.
But now we’re hearing those noises yet again and we’re forced to ask ourselves if this time Quebec aren’t a bit sicker than we thought. The last time we didn’t pay enough attention we almost lost her. No one wants to lose her. The costs are just too high for all of us.
We have come to recognize something else over the years. These periodic bouts that threaten to become something more deadly isn’t mainly with the body of the patient.
It’s a little different with the body politic than with the body physical. In Québec’s case, the problem is most serious when it comes from the head.
As with most provinces and democratic nations, Québec keeps changing heads. Generally everyone recognizes, including the heads, that this simply reflects the changing societal emphases which have to do with a multiplicity of different factors.
When change comes it’s intended by no one that the change be permanent, especially when it results in a radically different direction affecting tens of millions of people.
I said “no one,” but that isn’t so. Just as the head of your body has what seems to be a disproportionate amount of control over the rest of you, so the political heads in Québec have been trying for many years to turn their periodic sicknesses into a deathbed experience for the whole body, something which I think clearly the body does not want.
And now they are beginning again.
I was one of those who intensely disliked the chain-smoking, hard-cussing Rene Lévesque, the diminutive, fiery leader of the Parti Quebecois and the father of the sovereignty movement in that province. I saw him as the deadly enemy of this marvellous country. Most people did.
It took some time for me to begin to feel a kind of grudging respect for Lévesque. I still hated him as the deadly enemy of everything Canadian, but there was something else as well. It has something to do with the passion in his words and facial expressions. But there was also something else. It became obvious that we had better deal with him almost mercilessly if we were to survive, because he was fighting for what he believed to be his country as well.
Lévesque wasn’t in the struggle mainly for Lévesque. He was in it for the Québec of his dreams, something he believed had been taken from them by force, and had been denied them all those years. I almost felt sorry for him when he lost. I would have shaken his hand.
I don’t feel that way about Pauline Marois. I don’t see the same passion in her, for which, as a Canadian, I’m grateful. I don’t see the same force of personality, the same leadership qualities of a Churchill or a Trudeau or a Thatcher.
I don’t think the current Québec premier has what it takes to convince more than 6 million people that they are better off being separated from the rest of this country.
Her passion, if she has any, is not for a dream of a sovereign nation for a great people, as was Lévesque’s. Her dream is for a separate state led by the founder of that state, who will go down in history as President Pauline Marois.
I’m not worried about it this time around, although we should never take any move for sovereignty lightly. And certainly the very last thing we should do is pay any attention to or give any credence to the ill-advised comments of those who can give any number of “reasons” we should be happy to see Québec separated from the rest of us.
The last such list I saw making the rounds of the Internet included in large highlighted print the greatest reason of all: “No more French language.” Why anyone could conclude that this would make Canada a greater nation and Canadians a greater people is beyond me.
Last week, Russia annexed the area of Ukraine known as Crimea. A majority of the people in that area are of Russian descent.
According to Putin, they voted overwhelmingly to join the Russian Federation.
The world is reacting strongly against what is seen as the takeover of a portion of a sovereign state.
Yet there were some commentators who dared to voice their opinion that the people really wanted to become part of Russia.
The question remains: to what extent do people have the right to choose their own destiny? Remember Trudeau, Québec and the War Measures Act? How far would we have gone to keep Québec in Confederation? How far would we go now?
Make no mistake, we would be a much poorer nation without Québec and the language of one of our founding peoples, just as they would be much less than what they could be without us.
I expect, just the same, that this bout of illness will be with us for some time to come before, as it has in the past, it devours itself.
That will be our greatest salvation as a nation.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.