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Québec Referendum: Is it still “money and the ethnic vote” 25 years later? | Op-Ed

With the possible birth of a new nation on the evening of October 30, 1995, a different birth was happening elsewhere, in a Montreal hospital room – moi.

While my parents were in a jubilant celebration of my first breath of life, a similar kind of excitement was inching closer for many Quebecers – an independent Quebec.

Looking back, I am sure that my parents never foresaw that being born on such a historic and memorable night, would inevitably shape my sense of belonging in Quebec and Canada.

  • Through grades four to six at John Caboto Academy in Ahuntsic-Cartierville, I gained profound interest for social studies.
  • When I saw a portrait of René Lévesque in a school textbook, it piqued my curiosity – at that point, I had only known him as a downtown street.
  • So, I asked my then teacher who he was. She told me that Lévesque was once a former Premier of Quebec, who had passionately championed the cause of Quebec sovereignty.

Understandably, I was in shock. Why would anyone want to break up a country that gave refuge to my mom and dad? A country where multiculturalism was one of its greatest attractions. A country where no matter your national or ethnic origins, there was always a place for you. 

Broadly speaking, some visible minorities were focused on the discriminatory elements of Quebec’s sovereignty movement. Largely, they interpret the movement as ‘racially ethnic’ in which anything but ‘pure laine’ white Francophones would be incompatible.

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An Intercultural Movement

Although interculturalism attempts to calm these concerns through a cross-cultural dialogue via the French language, visible minorities have felt better attached to Canadian multiculturalism.

They only needed the parting words of then-Premier Jacques Parizeau during his concession speech – “money and the ethnic vote” to confirm these pre-existing suspicions that an independent Quebec would not be welcome to non-Francophones.   

Twenty-five long voyages around the sun later, Quebec has grown into a cosmopolitan mosaic in all of its corners. Second-generation children born to immigrant parents have gone farther than ever before to disprove the sentiment that ethnic voices do not matter. We do!

All you need to do is look at a few examples:

  • Naadei, Abitibi-raised, Ghanaian-Quebecois model, singer-songwriter, and contestant on this season of the popular Quebec reality television show Occupation Double.
  • Ronny Al-Nosir, a Montreal native born to Syrian parents now obtaining a masters degree in International Business at HEC who previously worked at Montreal City Hall.
  • Jonathan Marleau, a Black ex-provincal party youth wing president who grew up in the Beauce region.

Quebec Nationalism is Provincial Autonomy

Surely, as you have read up to this point, you must believe that I am a federalist. There is no lie to that – I do believe Quebec should remain in Canada. However, I do not discount some of the merits of Quebec nationalism – less on advocating for complete independence and more on asserting provincial autonomy.

It is a discussion I often have with some of my Concordia undergraduate friends such as Victoria, the anglophone, and Jeremy, the francophone:

  • Though she brands herself as an anglophone, born to a Guatemalan father and Irish-Austrian mother, Victoria’s appreciation of Quebec’s independence movement is influenced by both her family and culture – the former from relatives out west criticizing Quebec’s need for distinct society status and the latter because of her parents pre- and post-Bill 101 experiences.
  • As for the francophone Jeremy, although he thinks that an independent Quebec would not be internationally pragmatic, he does not shy away from criticizing Ottawa’s continued ‘interference’ in Quebec’s internal affairs.
  • In the past, both Victoria and Jeremy voted for the Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois at the federal and provincial levels.

Both, like many of my friends, question Quebec’s place in Canada – myself included.

Quebec’s Place in Canada

As a political science graduate and a lover of all things constitutional, I wonder what an independent Quebec would look like in relation to the rest of the federation?

Would the other provinces fight as hard as they did in 1995 to keep the stability of the country or allow for the constitutional dissolution of the two solitudes based on culture and identity?

Aside from the federal government’s provincial succession conditions laid out in the Clarity Act, nobody has really analyzed the dynamics and practicalities of a Quebec alone in the international scene.

Bottom Line: No matter the answer, no matter future referendum results, I know that I will always have a place here whether I stay or go.

Therefore, is it still “money and the ethnic vote”?  I ask this because the vast diversity of opinions since the ’95 referendum – cultural, political and social – echoes the words of another Premier:

« le Québec est, aujourd’hui et pour toujours, une société distincte, libre et capable d’assumer son destin et son développement ».

“Quebec is, today and forever, a distinct society, free and able to assume control of its destiny and development.”

Robert Bourassa, premier of Québec (1970–1976 and 1985–1994)