The best political news Canadians have heard in recent times was, of course, the election defeat of the separatist Parti Québécois.
No attempt at another referendum for at least a decade, therefore, quite possibly none for another quarter-century or so.
Yet good reasons still exist to worry about what’s going on in Quebec.
The cause for angst this time is that while Quebecers are no longer thinking about separating from Canada, many aren’t thinking about Canada at all.
The source for this is a 2013 survey by EKOS Research.
As EKOS deconstructs its own findings, these “suggest that worries about Quebec separation, in one very real sense, are moot.”
Rather, according to EKOS, “At the level of basic emotional engagement, francophone Quebecers have already left Confederation.”
This isn’t the kind of news anyone wants to hear. But it may very well be true. At stake is the issue of attachment to country as opposed to attachment to province or to a particular ethnic group.
The first time EKOS looked at this topic was back in 1997. One key finding was that among Canadians in the so-called Rest of Canada, people’s overwhelming attachment, no matter whether they were native-born or immigrants, was to the country itself. This was the opinion of 90 per cent of them.
Among Quebecers, the comparable attachment to Canada, if lower understandably, was then at a substantial majority, at 57 per cent.
Today, according to EKOS, attachment to Canada among Quebecers has collapsed. It’s down now to a fragile minority of 31 per cent, a count that would be lower if its survey had been limited to francophone Quebecers.
By contrast, the attachment to Canada today among all outside Quebec remains overwhelming, at 85 per cent. Worries once held that multiculturalism could erode a sense of pan-Canadianism thus are clearly irrelevant; indeed, it’s the attachment to ethnic identity that has gone down, to 39 per cent from an earlier 55 per cent.
In EKOS’ view, “The gap between the two solitudes may never have been larger, and regardless of whether or not there is another referendum, Quebec may already have left the building.”
That pessimism, though, is grossly overdone. Assuming that the survey’s findings are correct, what may be taking place is the creation of yet another hitch in the historic Canadian challenge of accommodating difference.
In practical fact, Quebec has indeed “already left the building” — largely. It’s not yet separate, in the legal sense of a sovereign nation, but it has achieved virtual autonomy. Other than being able to appoint an ambassador to the United Nations, any list of “gains” to Quebec’s self-governance by outright independence would be pretty short.
And yet Canada still functions as well as all but a few other countries (the Scandinavians always edging ahead of us in international comparisons).
Where Quebec has mostly gone, so now are our native people going. Here, the scale of the growth of self-government is smaller and its application a good deal more challenging.
But beyond the least doubt, native people will progressively take more and more of their future into their own hands.
But return now to the fact that we’ve made multiculturalism work, not only far better than we ourselves expected we could do, but better than just about any other country, quite possibly better than the whole lot of them.
In terms of governance, the Canada that’s emerging will, in many respects, seem to be far too decentralized to function.
Except that there’s nothing new in this. Through much of its history, Canada’s root problem has been its virtual national invisibility, as an almost indistinguishable part of the British Empire and then of the American Empire.
Yet, this odd national entity is now blazing a trail in multiculturalism and, as important, by having “boring” banks that don’t go bankrupt or cheat.
Given that reality, it still would be nice if more Quebecers stopped staring at themselves and took a look at a country of which they are an integral part, and one that so many other countries are now looking at.
Richard Gwyn’s column appears every
other Thursday. Email email@example.com