Non-Fiction

An Independent Quebec: The Past, the Present and the Future

An Independent Quebec: The Past, The Present And The Future
Jacques Parizeau
Translated by Robin Philpot

Baraka Books
$24.95
paper
244pp
978-0-9812405-6-5

When Maurice Duplessis died, Quebec woke up from a nightmare. Religion was set aside, resources were privatized, bombs
exploded, and nationalistic pride grew. In the 1950s, the highest position a “Frenchie” could hold was foreman; a mere decade
later, French-Canadian businesses flourished. Leaving the October Crisis aside, what Quebec francophones accomplished in
a few decades cannot be undermined. The rise from secondclass citizens to the “dominating” group is not an easy one, but is sovereignty
– the ultimate goal of those who initially broke the chains – still relevant?

Jacques Parizeau, in his book An Independent Quebec: The Past, the Present and the Future, believes it is. While international trade agreements proliferate and borders disappear, many might think that sovereignty goes against the tide, but Parizeau maintains that it is necessary precisely because of globalization. How can Quebec uphold its values (which are often different from the ROC, e.g., the Quebec public’s support for the Kyoto Accord) and preserve its natural resources (Parizeau mentions Canada bailing out the auto industry in Ontario, but leaving the Quebec forestry out to dry) without becoming master of its own house? The point is good, but it is probably the only one that non-sovereignists will acknowledge.

Translated by Robin Philpot, ex-electoral candidate for the Parti Québécois and publisher of Baraka Books, An Independent Quebec revisits the two referendums (their objectives, the thought process behind them, how a victory would have unfolded, etc.); why, economically speaking, Quebec is capable of being independent; and what an independent Quebec would be like.

Having earned a doctorate in economics from the London School of Economics, Parizeau inevitably focuses on the economic aspects of the
issue. He is careful not to appeal to emotions – using studies and numbers instead – but this enables him to avoid the important human element. Perhaps Quebec would be solid enough to be independent (though the “Bulletin de la prospérité” of the Conseil du patronat, published on August 18, gave Quebec a C), but an independent Quebec would also have to deal with people, their egos and their fears. The stock market, backlash from Canadian politicians (who are only human), and an anglophone exodus (along with their capital and businesses) might be more influenced by emotion than logic.

Parizeau doesn’t say where long-established anglophones would fit in. Though he admits that it “has become suspicious for Quebecers to use the term “nous” (we),” he uses it without explaining who this “we” is, which, given the context, does not feel particularly inclusive of anglophones. And “for those who see the spectre of ethnicity rise at the sight of the words ‘French speaker,’ let me reassure them,” Parizeau writes, “the definition used is the same used in public opinion polls, namely those ‘who speak French at home.’” In other words, immigrants who learn French would automatically fit in.

Describing a utopian scenario, Parizeau, at times, seems like someone who wants to have his cake and eat it too. An independent Quebec, he claims, would keep the Canadian dollar because “nobody could stop it from doing so,” would remain a part of NAFTA and would keep the same borders. He equates any opposition with fearmongering, but the book would be more convincing if it included the possible negative consequences of an independent Quebec. Parizeau briefly mentions the drain of capital from Quebec when the Parti Québécois was first elected in 1976 and the fact that it could happen again if an independent Quebec didn’t tread lightly, but he never mentions the fallout of the last two referendums or any other struggle an independent Quebec might have to wage.

Parizeau writes that “a majority of Quebecers still believe that Quebec sovereignty is desirable and viable” and that “rational, convincing and
explicit arguments must be used.” But reason and logic can only take Parizeau so far; politicians can make numbers say what they want them to. In the end, readers have to already believe in his arguments to be convinced. Politics, like religion, is a
question of faith. mRb

Mélanie Grondin is the editor of the Montreal Review of Books. Her book The Art and Passion of Guido Nincheri is coming out in the fall of 2017.

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