Friday, October 24, 2008

Why Isn’t Quebec an Independent Country? Part I

It’s a thought that would never even occur to me 10 years ago. The thought was treason. My parents were Anglo-Quebecers living in Ontario, so I was born and raised on the issue. My dad subscribed to the Montreal Gazette and pounded the kitchen table when talking about separatists. If you found any Anglo who did sympathize, it was usually some aging leftist against imperialism, not to be taken seriously.

October, 1995: It was days from the Referendum and I was staying at a friend’s place in Montreal, east of St. Denis. She was a francophone separatist, who I weirdly ended up working side by side with in England for the previous year. She was home in Montreal to stay and I was on my way back to England.

Building up to this time, we almost never spoke of politics. She made it clear on her first day on the job that she was a separatist. Our Brit colleagues thought it was cute that the two Canadians disagreed on the issue, but could care less.

One time we touched on it and it got hot. She was saying how broke Canada was, and that Quebec was sending good money out of the province to Ottawa, never to see it back.
"Hey now," I said, "the ROC send transfer/equalization payments over to Quebec, you guys get more back than you put in."

“No.” She dismissed what I said as a lie. Ooo, that burned let me tell you. I remember reading a poll that the majority of Quebecers thought the same way.

Whatever. We were friends, we went to the pub with the same group of people and we were overseas.

So here I was visiting her and some other friends right before the Referendum. Quebec flags everywhere. And those disingenuous OUI signs that had a picture of the loonie as the “O”. Some had a picture of the Canadian passport. My girlfriend and I joked how ridiculous that was and why aren’t they on the NON signs? Not that you could see any of those. All it meant was that the Quebecers were not at all serious about forming a new country.

Not able to yet land a full time job, she was schlepping drinks at a separatist bar in old Montreal. We visited her one night, and were the only anglos in a place packed with people singing nationalist/separatist folk songs. Deep down inside I thought that these people live in a different country and Canada was a mere political formality. What did it even matter what my outsider opinion was?

Back at her mother’s place her professor father visited. In our group of friends there was a Parisian French woman. She recounted to me later that the good professor gave her a history lesson on the struggles of the Quebecois, and how the people wanted to finally break the chains and go at it on their own. (The word chains rankled me.)

I heard about the final result two days later in London. Win by a nose. Phew! Canada remains intact. That was 18 years ago. I wouldn't be saying "phew" now.

To be continued....

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