pageok
pageok
pageok
Why Don't Canadian Conservatives Support Quebec Secession?

Yesterday's Canadian election gives me an opportunity to explore what to me seems an interesting mystery about Canadian politics: Why don't Canadian Conservatives support Quebec secession?

Canadian Conservatives prefer relatively pro-market policies. Quebec is the most statist province in the country and its political influence drives Canada's economic policies well to the left of where they would be in a separate anglophone Canada. Canadian Conservatives hate paying for federal government subsidies to Quebec (Quebec is a major net recipient of transfer payments from the federal government). Obviously, there would be no such subsidies if Quebec were an independent nation. In the long run, secession might even lead to relatively more market-oriented policies within Quebec itself, since an independent Quebec government could no longer rely on Ottawa transfer payments to finance its statism. Finally, Quebec secession would be a major political boon for the Conservative Party. In the recent election, the Conservatives won 133 of 233 parliament seats in the anglophone provinces, but only 10 of 75 in Quebec. The Tories won't necessarily do this well in the "rest of Canada" every time; but their odds of getting a majority would be greatly improved if Quebec were to secede.

Given the above realities, if I were a Canadian Conservative I would do all I could to help the Parti Quebecois (the secessionist party which wins most of the Quebec vote) to achieve their goal of establishing an independent nation. "Vive le Quebec libre" would be my slogan too.

Actually, I think I know why most Canadian Conservatives in the real world are opposed to Quebec secession. Francophone Quebec nationalists and the Anglophone western Canadians who form the base of the Conservative Party are bitter political enemies. No doubt, many Conservatives can't stand the thought of giving their traditional rivals what they most want. That's an understandable attitude, even if an irrational one. There's plenty of similar (and worse) irrationality in American politics too. But as a somewhat detached outsider, I would respectfully suggest to Canada's Conservatives that giving your adversaries what they want is sometimes the best way to achieve your own goals.

Of course, I'm not an expert on Canadian politics, so it's possible that there's something I'm missing here. The above analysis is based on my general expertise on federal systems combined with a necessarily limited knowledge of Canada. Hopefully, Canadian readers and others more expert than I am will enlighten me as to what I'm missing.

UPDATE: Based on the comments, it's worth pointing out that the Conservatives (like the other major Canadian parties) already accept the idea that Quebec and other provinces have a right to secede. Had any of several previous Quebec referenda on independence passed, the other provinces and the federal government would have let Quebec go and would certainly not have used force to compel it to stay. The debate in Canada is not over the right to secede (as it was in the US in 1861), but merely over whether it would be desirable for Quebec to exercise that right.

Thus, arguments to the effect that the principle of secession is inherently dangerous because any province could use the threat of secession as leverage probably don't explain Conservative opposition to Quebec independence. Canadians (at least most of them) have already accepted that principle.

UPDATE #2: Canadian-based political scientist Jacob Levy makes a good point in the comments:

Being a "federalist" party in the Canadian sense (that is, anti-secessionist) is the sine qua non for support in English Canada. There might be some number of western voters who would cheer Quebec's departure and be happy that the ideological median in their new country had moved a long way right. But the Conservatives would sacrifice something close to all their votes in Ontario (the largest province)-- many of whom have no identity-commitment to being Conservative but have a massive investment in the idea of Canada....

Ontario is far from solidly conservative or culturally conservative, and it would electorally cut off at the knees any party that abandoned federalism. Whatever Conservative leaders might wish in their hearts, it's a political non-starter.

I think Jacob is right that openly supporting Quebec secession would be politically dangerous for the Conservatives (or any majority-anglophone party). That may indeed sufficiently explain why they don't do it. At the same time, it remains the case that secession would greatly facilitate the achievement of conservative policy objectives in the long run. So maybe the right strategy for Conservatives would be to increase the likelihood of Quebec secession indirectly by opposing Quebec demands for increased subsidies and other concessions from the central government, thereby strengthening the PQ by reinforcing their argument that Francophones can never get what they want within Canada. To some extent, of course, that is what the Tories are already doing. Whether they could get away with doing it to a greater extent is difficult for me to judge. Which just goes to show that professional politicians are usually better judges of political strategy than armchair commentators.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Why Don't Canadian Conservatives Support Quebec Secession?
  2. Canadian Conservatives Win North America's Other Election:
Case2L (mail):
I had several anglophone Canadian roommates some years back during college, and they always mentioned (sometimes tongue in cheek to be sure) the reason they put up with Quebec was to help keep themselves distinct from their southern neighbors. Without the francophone influence, it would be much easier to "become more American". My roommates had nothing against America per se, but they liked Canadian culture and wanted it to stay distinct from American culture, which it may not do if Quebec seceded.
10.15.2008 8:31am
SSFC (www):
For that matter, why don't blue state liberals support southern secessionists? The south is a net recipient of federal tax dollars through highway funding and other forms of government largesse, and with the south gone the remainder of the country could be made much more like Massachusetts.

Sure the southern secessionist movement is small now, but with contributions and influence from the likes of George Soros, it could be revived. It seems positively irrational that blue state liberals don't follow their short-term political interests out of some irrational and dated attachment to this outdated anachronism called a nation.
10.15.2008 8:45am
Big E:
I think it's more likely that Canadian Conservatives believe that without Quebec the whole confederation by fall apart and reform with a more powerful centralized government.
10.15.2008 8:47am
Ilya Somin:
For that matter, why don't blue state liberals support southern secessionists? The south is a net recipient of federal tax dollars through highway funding and other forms of government largesse, and with the south gone the remainder of the country could be made much more like Massachusetts.


Federal transfer payments are a much bigger issue in Canadian politics than American ones. And the Quebec secession movement is much stronger than any comparable one in the US South (at least in the last 130 years).
10.15.2008 8:49am
jvarisco (mail) (www):
There's nothing about conservatives that means they can't be nationalists too. It's part of Canada, is that not reason enough?
10.15.2008 9:07am
TyWebb:
Prof. Somin,

I think you're avoiding SSFC's point. There's an inherent political good in tamping down secessionist sentiment in that it reinforces the power of the national/federal government. If Quebec/the South successfully seceded, secession could become a threat that other provinces/states could deploy any time they felt their idiosyncratic desires or cultures weren't being adequately respected by the feds. Put another way, it defeats the entire purpose of a state, and especially a federal-style state, to throw up one's hands and say "well, if you don't want to be here, fine, go--we're better off without you anyway."
10.15.2008 9:11am
Ilya Somin:
I think you're avoiding SSFC's point. There's an inherent political good in tamping down secessionist sentiment in that it reinforces the power of the national/federal government. If Quebec/the South successfully seceded, secession could become a threat that other provinces/states could deploy any time they felt their idiosyncratic desires or cultures weren't being adequately respected by the feds. Put another way, it defeats the entire purpose of a state, and especially a federal-style state, to throw up one's hands and say "well, if you don't want to be here, fine, go--we're better off without you anyway."

Given the costs of secession, it's unlikely that other provinces would do it in the aftermath of Quebec's departure unless they too had similar longstanding grievances. Moreover, Canadians of nearly all parties (including the Conservatives) already accept the idea that Quebec has the right to secede if its want too (though many oppose it's actually choosing to exercise that right). So, in Canada, secession already is "a threat that other provinces/states could deploy any time they felt their idiosyncratic desires or cultures weren't being adequately respected by the feds"
10.15.2008 9:14am
JonC:
Riffing on Big E, which I think is on to something: what about the concern that allowing Quebec to succeed would geographically sunder the country? The whole East Pakistan/West Pakistan thing didn't work out too well.
10.15.2008 9:16am
Ilya Somin:
Riffing on Big E, which I think is on to something: what about the concern that allowing Quebec to succeed would geographically sunder the country? The whole East Pakistan/West Pakistan thing didn't work out too well.

I don't see any reason why a separated Anglophone Canada would be any more problematic than Alaska and Hawaii being separate from the lower 48 states. The US-Alaska situation is far more analogous to what Canada's would be in the wake of Quebec secession than pre-1971 Pakistan.
10.15.2008 9:24am
Jacob T. Levy (mail) (www):
The Conservative leadership would have to be suicidal to do embrace secession-- because a lot of their non-Quebec votes come from people who are much softer in their support for the Conservatives than they are in their support for a united Canada.

Being a "federalist" party in the Canadian sense (that is, anti-secessionist) is the sine qua non for support in English Canada. There might be some number of western voters who would cheer Quebec's departure and be happy that the ideological median in their new country had moved a long way right. But the Conservatives would sacrifice something close to all their votes in Ontario (the largest province)-- many of whom have no identity-commitment to being Conservative but have a massive investment in the idea of Canada.

Ilya's generalizing from the US 2000/ 2004 election sense of the red states and blue states-- a culturally conservative and solidly Republican South/ mountain West, a culturally liberal and solidly Democratic Northeast/ Pacific West. But Ontario is far from solidly conservative or culturally conservative, and it would electorally cut off at the knees any party that abandoned federalism. Whatever Conservative leaders might wish in their hearts, it's a political non-starter.
10.15.2008 9:27am
JB:
Alaska and Hawaii are within an easy and relatively short sail from the Pacific Coast of the Lower 48. To sail from western Canada to Halifax requires going around the Panama Canal, or relying on more-extensive global warming.

For that matter, as Southern Secession is dead, so is the issue of transfer payments. Congress candidates from Connecticut could easily campaign on the fact that CT gets 60 cents back for every dollar it sends to the Fed in taxes, but they don't, just like candidates from South Carolina could easily campaign on secession, but they don't. Just because one was tried 150 years ago and the other wasn't doesn't mean one is more viable. (In fact, the aforementioned CT strategy ought to be the basis for any future small-government Republican campaign in New England, as it's the only thing that might possibly ever work)
10.15.2008 9:33am
Jody (mail):
With no actual first-hand knowledge, it could be that the Conservatives are conservative in disposition. In other words, they're naturally wary of major changes and the secession of Quebec would be a major change.
10.15.2008 9:34am
Ilya Somin:
Alaska and Hawaii are within an easy and relatively short sail from the Pacific Coast of the Lower 48. To sail from western Canada to Halifax requires going around the Panama Canal, or relying on more-extensive global warming.

The new Canada could get transit rights through Quebec or through the US - just as the US uses transit rights from the lower 48 to Alaska through Canada. Both the US and Quebec would have strong incentives to cooperate with Canada on this because it would be in their economic and strategic interests to do so.
10.15.2008 9:52am
John Thacker (mail):
For what it's worth, the Conservatives in Canada have for recent history generally been the "provincial rights" party (not that such a term is used) against the more centralizing Liberal Party. The western provinces have also had grievances against the federal government-- however, many of the grievances are aimed at perceived special treatment for Quebec, so it's difficult for the Conservatives to prosper too much by actually giving provinces what they want, particularly since Ontario swing opinion seems to be devoted on giving Quebec whatever it wants, except for leaving Canada, in the hopes of keeping Quebec from leaving Canada.

The last Tory majority government had a lot of Quebecker members who were sovereigntists at heart. One strong reason why the government cracked up were the two attempts to adjust Canadian federal-provincial relations in a way to satisfy Quebec; both attempted federal-provincial accords became unacceptable to Canadians in other provinces and were not ratified by all provinces, as needed.
10.15.2008 10:07am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
I may be wrong on this, but could US policy also be part of this? I seem to recall that past US policy was to not accept the results of Quebec independance referenda. Ticking off your biggest trade partner and military big brother doesn't seem like a good idea.
10.15.2008 10:22am
Canuck (mail):
Levy essentially right - except to note that among moderate to right voters the view may be changing. In short, reasonable people up here [the non-socialists] are growing sick and tired of Quebec, their endless whining and the way their self centered political concerns keep screwing up our national elections. Among my associates the fact that we have to constantly pander to Quebec's 'sensibilities' is really starting to piss us off. So, Levy is right, to champion a separate Quebec would probably be political suicide - but I'm not at all sure that if the Gauls were to hold another referendum that the response in much of the country wouldn't be "go ahead, leave. Make our day".
10.15.2008 10:25am
A.S.:
Canadian-based political scientist [and former Volokh Conspirator!] Jacob Levy makes a good point in the comments: Being a "federalist" party in the Canadian sense (that is, anti-secessionist) is the sine qua non for support in English Canada...

I guess the basic idea is that nationalism trumps ideology.
10.15.2008 10:36am
sbw (mail) (www):
Volokh Conspiracy seems to be wandering more now than when I first started reading it for its insight into legal matters.

Just sayin'.
10.15.2008 10:40am
Tracy Johnson (www):
I think losing sovereignty of the St. Lawrence seaway would be a the major issue. The loss of subsidies could be made up with transit duties through Quebec's sole possession of that waterway.

I don't believe the volume that passes through the St. Lawrence could be made up with free transit rights through the U.S. Rerouting to the South to U.S. ports of material goods would still be cost prohibitive (unless of course fees Quebec may impose also happens to be cost prohibitive.)

Of course what do I know? I'm only a Geographer.
10.15.2008 11:00am
therut (mail):
I think the USA should covertly fund and support western secession to liberate them from the socialists. They deserve freedom also.
10.15.2008 11:09am
Ilya Somin:
I seem to recall that past US policy was to not accept the results of Quebec independance referenda. Ticking off your biggest trade partner and military big brother doesn't seem like a good idea.

No, the US position has always been that this is an internal Canadian issue. Certainly, the US wouldn't try to force Quebec to stay in Canada if the English Canada didn't.
10.15.2008 11:12am
Dave Ruddell (mail):
Ilya, one point that also applies to the previous thread, is that the federal party is the Bloc Québecois (BQ) and the provincial party is the Parti Québecois (PQ).

I would also echo Tracy Johnson's comments; I'd bet if geographical contiguity weren't an issue (say, if Québec were Newfoundland), there might be less opposition to secession. Of course, there is a Newfoundland secessionist movement...
10.15.2008 11:16am
Blackadder (mail):
I've had thoughts similar to Prof. Somin with regard to the British Tories and the secession of Scotland. Were Scotland to secede, this would strengthen the political prospects of the Conservatives, who have never been very popular in the North. Yet they are staunchly opposed to having Scotland go its own way, probably for reasons similar to those outlined by Prof. Levy.
10.15.2008 11:19am
Joseph Somsel (mail):
I worked in Toronto for a few months back in 1998. Canadians are so nice! Yet, once at a bar, the subject of Quebec came up with a couple of "blokes" and I was astonished at the passionate anger directed at the Frenchies. I thought I was in Northern Ireland or Bangladesh.

But two issues needed to be added to this discussion. First, how does one split up the federal debt amongst the sucessionist provinces? On a per capita basis, the burden on Quebec would be crushing but who would want to give them a break?

Second, Alberta. This province is already at odds with its neighbors (and far more conservative) since it produces so much of Canada's energy, lots of which already goes to the US. If Quebec splits, Alberta will not be far behind.

Related to the US, if the liberal NE states think they are sending too much of their tax dollars South and West, let them vote for smaller federal government. Their big government philosophy works for their politicians but not for their voters. In the South, one still hears "damned Yankees" but mostly they laugh at the idiots who mismanage themselves while the South is ascendent.
10.15.2008 11:29am
Roundhead (mail) (www):
I am a Canadian who lives in Ottawa, Ontario, right on the border with Quebec -

There is really no `rational' purpose why someone - a Conservative or no - wants their country to stay together.

There is, however, an inaccuracy in the following observation:
*Francophone Quebec nationalists and the Anglophone western Canadians who form the base of the Conservative Party are bitter political enemies.*

but this is wrong: Quebec nationalists (they are by definition francophone) and Anglo-Westerners have in fact cooperated fruitfully in the past (under the government of Mulroney from 1984-93), and they do so to a certain extent now.

Quebec nationalists are REALLY most bitterly opposed to federalist francophone Quebeckers, just as Anglo-Westerners despise people from Ottawa or Toronto - who are also Anglos - for their ideology, just as federalists despise natioanlists, and Torontonians despise Albertans.
10.15.2008 11:31am
A Law Dawg:
In the South, one still hears "damned Yankees" but mostly they laugh at the idiots who mismanage themselves while the South is ascendent.


I'm A Law Dawg and I approve this message.
10.15.2008 11:39am
John Thacker (mail):
Quebec nationalists (they are by definition francophone) and Anglo-Westerners have in fact cooperated fruitfully in the past (under the government of Mulroney from 1984-93), and they do so to a certain extent now.


Yes, but. Eventually the contradictions did cause them to split. The Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords were not accepted in the West, and Preston Manning and the Reform Party got their start fighting the Charlottetown Accord. The Liberal Party tepidly supported it (as necessary to keep the Quebeckers satisfied) but were in general relieved over its defeat. Since they didn't propose it, they could sit back while the Westerners blamed the Tories for Charlottetown and went for the Reform Party, while the Quebec nationalists decided to abandon the Tories and join the Bloc, realizing that the rest of Canada would never agree to their demands.
10.15.2008 11:47am
LarryA (mail) (www):
I would respectfully suggest to Canada's Conservatives that giving your adversaries what they want is sometimes the best way to achieve your own goals.
There’s also the “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it” approach. It would be really interesting to watch Quebec function as an independent country. From a safe distance, of course.
10.15.2008 11:50am
Sean E:
Two excellent posts Ilya. I'm always pleasantly surprised when Amercians write so knowledgeably about Canadian politics.


"So maybe the right strategy for Conservatives would be to increase the likelihood of Quebec secession indirectly by opposing Quebec demands for increased subsidies and other concessions from the central government..."



Unfortunately, the short-term impact of this would most likely be for the party to bleed support in Quebec, and also Ontario, making it very difficult to stay in power long enough for there to be any real impact.


First, how does one split up the federal debt amongst the sucessionist provinces? On a per capita basis, the burden on Quebec would be crushing but who would want to give them a break?


There would certainly be a lot if issues to work out, the debt being large among them. In addition, many Quebec native bands, which are under federtal jurisdiction and already pushing for self-government, have taken the position that they would not become part of an independent Quebec. If Canada is divisible, why not Quebec? There are some Englinsh enclaves that feel the same way, but would be in a weaker position to force the issue than the natives.


Second, Alberta. This province is already at odds with its neighbors (and far more conservative) since it produces so much of Canada's energy, lots of which already goes to the US. If Quebec splits, Alberta will not be far behind.


Actually, I think Quebec secession would greatly increase Albtera's role within federation and would make Alberta secession significantly less of an issue. Not that it's much of an issue currently. There were more rumblings a few years ago when virtually all of the West was voting Conservative but Ontario and Quebec kept returning the Liberals to power. I haven't heard much about it for the past couple of years.
10.15.2008 11:55am
Rohan:
You know, wanting our country to *break up* doesn't exactly strike me as a conservative notion, regardless of how much "intellectual" sense you think it makes.

It's kind of like a marriage. I rather doubt a conservative's first instinct on encountering troubles is to propose divorce.
10.15.2008 12:21pm
jeffryhousetoronto (mail):
Canadian Conservatives don't support the secession of Quebec because electoral calculations are not the only element in political life.

The national interest is also considered occasionally.

No doubt US Conservatives would support the secession of say, California, Illinois, and New York States, because it would help in the Electoral College.

In Canada, though, even English Canada, Quebec is an essential building block of national identity and national cohesion.

I am glad Prof. Somin admits that he isn't an expert on Canadian politics. I have rarely seen such an uninformed piece of speculation anywhere.
10.15.2008 12:22pm
Canuck13652 (mail) (www):
I agree that this is a deeply uninformed posting.

Canadian Confederation is deeply fractious. The provinces tend to be generally at each others' throats 24/7, and about the only thing they tend to agree on is attacking the federal government.

But that's not an argument for separation, which more than just Quebec routinely threatens. At the end of the day, apart from hardcore Bloc Quebecois voters who actually believe in separatism (as opposed to those who vote Bloc knowing it will never happen), the overwhelming majority of Canadians are exactly that: Canadian. Quebec is as much a part of Canada as any other part. That emotional connection simply can't be pushed aside by some sort of silly economic calculus. If it could, there's more than just Quebec we could cut loose.

Canadian Confederation is a bumblebee--it shouldn't work, but it does. It is one of the oldest federations in the world and, in fact, one of the oldest continuously sovereign democracies in the world. Its death has been predicted over and over and over again, yet currently it's deeply prosperous, weathering the economic crisis far better than any other western country (see this week's Economist). Quebec is an integral part of all of this, and no matter what they say in moments of frustration (or lubricated in a bar), I think most Canadians would mourn the loss of Quebec and everything it brings.

And it is those sentiments, not silly conservative (small-c) theories, that drive the political calculations of the left and the right.
10.15.2008 12:35pm
Un Canadien errant:
I would just like to note that while both the Canadian and Quebec governments believe Quebec has a right to secede, the Quebec government believes a simply majority in a referendum is all that's required to begin secession. The federal government, on the other hand, requires "a clear majority" under the Clarity Act, which is taken to mean something greater than 50% + 1. So the interpretation of any referendum result is likely to be contentious.
10.15.2008 12:40pm
Canuck13652 (mail) (www):
Tracy:I think losing sovereignty of the St. Lawrence seaway would be a the major issue. The loss of subsidies could be made up with transit duties through Quebec's sole possession of that waterway.

I don't believe the volume that passes through the St. Lawrence could be made up with free transit rights through the U.S. Rerouting to the South to U.S. ports of material goods would still be cost prohibitive (unless of course fees Quebec may impose also happens to be cost prohibitive.)


Given that for the bulk of its length the St. Lawrence Seaway is in exclusively Canadian territory, I don't think that's a major concern.

Moreover: Under the Supreme Court's ruling in the Separation Reference, while Quebec in theory has the right to leave, it has to do so under very strict constitutional principles, including the rule of law and the interests of other Canadians. That is, it has to negotiate its departure--there is no unilateral declaration of independence option. The Federal parties have hinted that if Canada is divisible, so is Quebec. Presumably Seaway rights would come into question (along with the Island of Montreal).

[For those needing background, the original Quebec (aka Lower Canada/Canada East) was a narrow strip on either side of the St. Lawrence. The vast northern area wasn't added till much later, and the First Nations that inhabit it voted overwhelmingly against separation and their interests would need to be taken into account.]
10.15.2008 12:46pm
PubliusFL:
"Thus, arguments to the effect that the principle of secession is inherently dangerous because any province could use the threat of secession as leverage probably don't explain Conservative opposition to Quebec independence. Canadians (at least most of them) have already accepted that principle."

That doesn't mean the precedent wouldn't be dangerous. There can be a big gulf between what's legal in principle and what's practically thinkable. For example, you can accept that people have a right to withdraw their bank deposits, but when confidence in the system starts to get shaky it still might be a good idea to discourage them from doing it, because once they get started confidence can drop further and things can get out of hand.
10.15.2008 12:52pm
BRM:
What the hell would the Maritimes do if Quebec seceded?
10.15.2008 1:15pm
PLR:
I have just as much enthusiasm for provincial rights as I have for states' rights.

Free markets, good. Diseconomies of scale, not so good. Political dissension, different subject.
10.15.2008 1:15pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
An independent Quebec means the break up of Canada with unpredictable results. Now that "Canada" is now a different "Canada" it would lead to Ontario v. the West v. the Maritimes. Alberta, for instance, might decide to separate itself. After all, the US would guarantee the security of all of old Canada in any event. Too much uncertainty.

Now, should it be the policy of US conservatives to encouage Quebec to secede? A break up of Canada might lead to US teritorial expansion into western Canada. It would connect Alaska and open up huge resources with relatively little population.

Manifest Destiny lives!
10.15.2008 1:19pm
Cornellian (mail):
I thought a conservative in the classic sense would oppose Quebec separatism simply on the grounds of sticking with the devil you know. It's all well and good to claim that a Canada without Quebec might pursue more free market policies, but that would have to be balanced against a vast array of possible negative consequences resulting from separatism. There is no way to be sure (or even confident) of how Quebec secession would turn out, and it might turn out very badly, both for Quebec and for the remainder of Canada so why support it?
10.15.2008 1:22pm
PLR:
Now, should it be the policy of US conservatives to encouage Quebec to secede? A break up of Canada might lead to US teritorial expansion into western Canada. It would connect Alaska and open up huge resources with relatively little population.

US neoconservatives, sure. Break up nations into discrete little ethnic enclaves that can easily be dominated. Free trade works better that way.
10.15.2008 1:39pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I say Quebec and Vermont should form a new country and implement all of the liberal Socialist policies that they want to the fullest. That would be fun to watch.
10.15.2008 1:47pm
Visitor Again:
Because if Quebec were not part of Canada, the greatest hockey club in the world would no longer be able to go by the name Club de Hockey Canadien. The Montreal Canadiens would become what?
10.15.2008 1:51pm
Roundhead (mail) (www):
*Eventually the contradictions did cause them to split. The Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords were not accepted in the West, and Preston Manning and the Reform Party got their start fighting the Charlottetown Accord.*

But the nationalist Quebeckers were against Charlottetown, as well, if I remember correctly.
10.15.2008 2:00pm
CSCanadian (mail):
Thacker beat me to the point that the last Conservative majority government was a West-Quebec alliance under a Quebecker Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney. Until the arts funding and juvenile offender controversies, it looked like increased support in Quebec for the Conservatives would hand them a majority.

One reason for that aliance is that Quebec tends to want more autonomy, as does the West (which was angered by Ontario and the rest of the country seizing its energy revenues during the last big fossil fuels boom), so there can be agreement between conservatives and Quebeckers on decreasing the size of the federal government, cutting federal taxes (creating room for increased provincial taxes in some provinces), and so forth.

Personally, I have always been attracted to a breakup of the country, followed by integration into an EU-type structure. The Eastern provinces, which have their economies greatly distorted (subsidizing high unemployment and inefficient activity) by federal programs, might do particularly well in such an arrangement.
10.15.2008 2:01pm
James Gibson (mail):
I agree with Brian G, give Quebec Vermont if they both leave Canada and the United States.
10.15.2008 2:02pm
A Law Dawg:
I agree with Brian G, give Quebec Vermont if they both leave Canada and the United States.


I'll trade Vermont for the Maritimes or Alberta any day.
10.15.2008 2:07pm
A Law Dawg:
The Montreal Canadiens would become what?


The Montreal Ex-Canadiens.
10.15.2008 2:08pm
Cornellian (mail):
I'll trade Vermont for the Maritimes or Alberta any day.

I'll throw in a second border state as a bonus for Alberta - instant energy independence!

Why don't politicians spends any time talking about reasonable policy options like this?
10.15.2008 2:20pm
Nathan_M (mail):

Now, should it be the policy of US conservatives to encouage Quebec to secede? A break up of Canada might lead to US teritorial expansion into western Canada. It would connect Alaska and open up huge resources with relatively little population.

But do US conservatives really what to add 25 million voters where the Conservative Party supports a national gun registry, gay marriage, state-funded abortion on demand, and the thing that stops them from getting a majority is that many Canadians are worried they are too social conservative for us?
10.15.2008 2:21pm
A Law Dawg:
I'll throw in a second border state as a bonus for Alberta


North Dakota, I barely knew ye!
10.15.2008 2:28pm
A Law Dawg:
But do US conservatives really what to add 25 million voters where the Conservative Party supports a national gun registry, gay marriage, state-funded abortion on demand, and the thing that stops them from getting a majority is that many Canadians are worried they are too social conservative for us?


That depends. How much oil is there?
10.15.2008 2:29pm
Nathan_M (mail):

That depends. How much oil is there?

Enough to make a moat around all the polling places in the former Canada every four years, if that's what you're driving at.
10.15.2008 2:45pm
Un Canadien errant:

Because if Quebec were not part of Canada, the greatest hockey club in the world would no longer be able to go by the name Club de Hockey Canadien. The Montreal Canadiens would become what?


The Canadiens would still be the Canadiens. The name comes from a word for the French settlers in Quebec.
10.15.2008 3:02pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Le Québécois Montréal?

Or

Le Montréal Québécois?

(Don't know French grammar, but I think at least "Le" is correct.)
10.15.2008 3:08pm
Kevin R (mail):
North Dakota, I barely knew ye!


Might want to be careful, I hear North Dakota has obtained nuclear weapons.
10.15.2008 3:16pm
Holmwood:
A few thoughts. (I use "Conservative" here, with a capital C, to mean supporters of the Conservative Party of Canada).

- The main reason Conservatives don't support the breakup of their country is simply the idea of conserving: radical change such as the dissolution of a nation is the province of... well... radicals. A libertarian might well be happy with the dissolution of Canada; a true Canadian conservative (lower case C) would not be.

Moreover, Conservatives are patriots, despite the Liberal party's constant attempts to paint them otherwise. Would the Republican party support Mexico annexing California? It would mean a huge drop in electoral votes for the Democrats!

Come on, why don't Republicans support Mexico annexing California?

You get my point, I trust.

- I'd also like to briefly correct the notion that the government would have let Quebec depart if there had been a "yes" vote in the 1995 referendum. The question was so opaquely phrased that no government would have allowed independence on the basis of that vote. There would have been a second federally sponsored referendum with a question along the lines of "Do you want to separate from Canada and have Quebec become an independent country". It's worth noting that the Supreme Court held that there was an obligation to negotiate, but no obligation to automatically allow separation.

The rest of my (sorry if it's overly long) post will look at the issue of US conservatives supporting the secession of Quebec.

Apart from the idea that supporting the breakup of a close ally is a pretty hostile move, I don't think it's in US interests to have a far less stable (and far more left wing) regime on any of its northern borders. Quebec nationalists during the Cold War spoke very positively of the Soviet Union, citing Ukraine with its seat in the UN as a model for Quebec Canada relations. Go figure.

A nationalist, charismatic, Hugo Chavez-style leader of an independent Quebec is not so outlandish a thought.

To flip it around, should Canadians (conservative or otherwise) support the annexation of large parts of Texas, California, Arizona, the entire South West by Mexico on the grounds that this will likely weaken the US, leaving chances for Canada to pick up pieces?

I don't think such a policy would cause many Americans to view Canada in a friendly fashion, just as support for Quebec secession would cause extreme hostility from all Canadians.

Right now, I'd guess about 38% of Canadians firmly support the US (the Conservative vote share last night), with some of the rest being weak supporters, and some being as anti-American as Code Pink Democrats.

(It's worth noting that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 Canada and IIRC India were the strongest global supporters of the US according to an international Gallup poll. Whether George W. Bush's "The US has no closer friend than Great Britain", followed by near total ignorance that the third largest (excluding Iraqis and Afghanis and terrorists) losses in the combined Iraq and Afghanistan operations were Canada's caused a decline in that support, who knows. The tiresome references to Soviet Canuckistan may or may not have contributed as well. It's above my paygrade to say; I'll simply vote present on that question).

But make no mistake: every one of those US-supporting Canadians loves his or her country dearly. And if Americans started making noises about supporting the breakup of Canada, you better believe US support would descend very rapidly to zero.

If it came to selling resources and trading technology with a democracy that wanted to destroy Canada, or dealing with a dictatorship (China) that executed a hands-off policy on our internal affairs, most would far rather deal with the Communists than Americans.

I don't think Bill Clinton was a great President, and most of his foreign affairs achievements were largely based on many years of work by other foreign leaders. But he got the issue of Quebec separation right, in simply saying he liked Canada and would hate to see a neighboring country break up.

Regards,
-Holmwood
10.15.2008 3:18pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Hugo Chavois!
10.15.2008 3:33pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

The Canadiens would still be the Canadiens. The name comes from a word for the French settlers in Quebec.


Uh, no. "Canada" comes from an Iroquois word meaning "village", which the French misunderstood as being a place name.
10.15.2008 3:36pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Although all major parties accept in principle the right of Quebec to secede, for some factions, and probably for the Supreme Court if the issue reaches it, there is a major unsettled question, namely how much of Quebec has the right to secede. The problem is that the Parti Quebecois intends that all of the current province of Quebec would secede, but that most of the Indians and Inuit who are the primary inhabitants of Northern Quebec, wish to remain in Canada. Quebec is generally regarded as having been particularly hostile to aboriginal rights. For example, the Government of Quebec has argued in court (and lost) that in contrast to the rest of Canada, aboriginal people in Quebec retain no aboriginal rights whatsoever. Language has been a contentious issue since the native people in the North mostly have English rather than French as their European language and object to the government policy of the imposition of French.

The upshot is that if the PQ were to succeed in winning a referendum, there would remain the major political and constitutional issue of whether all of Quebec could secede or whether the new nation of Quebec would have to consist of the mostly non-native south. This is not merely an issue of Quebec pride: the loss of the natural resources of the North would have a significant negative impact on the economic viability of an independent Quebec.
10.15.2008 3:48pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

A break up of Canada might lead to US teritorial expansion into western Canada. It would connect Alaska and open up huge resources with relatively little population.


I'm afraid that you will find that the level of enthusiasm in British Columbia for incorporation into the United States is very low. If Northern California, Oregon, and Washington were to secede from the US, BC might be interested in being part of "Pacifica", but there is no way that BC would join the US as it stands.
10.15.2008 3:51pm
Un Canadien errant:
Bill is right in that the word Canada is originally Iroquois. Subsequently, the French settlers then adopted the word Canadian to describe themselves.

And Tracy, I just checked with the francophones in my office, it would be Les Québécois Montréalais.
10.15.2008 3:57pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
It's worth noting that there are strong economic efficiency arguments against secession which may not appeal to a libertarian but would to other sorts of conservatives. Essentially, national union creates a sort of free trade zone where tariffs are low or nonexistent and goods and services can move freely across borders, with resulting gains under the Law of Comparative Advantage.

When a political subdivision secedes, it can erect barriers to both trade and migration, increasing transaction costs and depriving both newly-formed countries of the benefits of free trade.
10.15.2008 4:12pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Kevin R. Said:

Might want to be careful, I hear North Dakota has obtained nuclear weapons.

We'll all try to stay serene and calm
When Alabama gets the bomb!
10.15.2008 4:12pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Kevin R. Said:

Might want to be careful, I hear North Dakota has obtained nuclear weapons.


O - KAY! Yah, shore, you-betcha!
10.15.2008 4:19pm
Cameron:
Thacker and CSCanadian hit upon the salient issue when you've already taken Levy's point into account.

As Levy mentions, there's no electoral point in picking on Quebec.

So Tories instead look to making alliances with nationalist Quebeckers, as both have an interest in reducing the power of the federal government. The Tories would like to reduce social spending and government intervention, while the Sovereigntists/Nationalists (the numbers and terms are fluid) similarly dislike Federal intrusion into areas where they feel Quebec should have autonomy.

The way to square the circle is for the Feds to get out of certain programs, while the tax room is given to the provinces, so Alberta can cut those taxes while Quebec can keep the money and deliver those programs themselves.

Many feel Harper would like to pursue something like this in the future, but even it jars against many Canadian ears, as you can only keep this coded for so long until the Tories are heard to be attacking the social values many Canadians hold dear.
10.15.2008 4:26pm
JPG:
I may be the first French Canadian from the province of Quebec to step in the discussion, I hope readers will find my perspective interesting. My apologies for the long post.

First, I have to say I was amused to read Mr. Somin's post. I always find entertaining to read uninformed's takes on our very, very complex constitutional problem.

On a more serious note, I must state my surprise that so few commenters have insisted so far on defining Canadian nationalism in regards to Conservative politics, and Canadian identity as a whole. What is Canadian identity made of? Allegiance to the Queen? Universal health care system? Hockey? My guess is that many Canadians still believe the national dualism is a great part of the national differenciation with, say, the Americans. Dixit our former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson pointed out: "Whenever a Canadian is being asked what the difference is between him and an American, he should answer in French".

Ironically enough, the linguistic and cultural traditional dualism is at the same time a matter of tension and isolation (often refered to as "the two solitudes" pohenomenon) while it solidifies the sense of national identity.

Also, it should be noted that secession isn't much of an issue for a vast majority of my fellow Quebeckers. The first referendum (1980) wasn't about separating from the rest of the country as much as proposing the Rest of Canada (ROC) a confederative association. The second referendum (1995), as one commenter justly mentioned, wasn't clearly addressing an unilateral secession either, as the question asked could have been read in different ways. In fact, less than 30% of Quebec's population support an unilateral separation from the ROC.

However, a great majority of Quebeckers strongly support constitutional changes, favoring a greater provincial autonomy (to the American readers benefit, the Canadian Confederation is, in fact, a much more centralised federation than the US).

What does Quebec want? To sum it all, a true confederative association with the ROC, with greater powers granted to the provincial governent(s). Status quo not really being an option. But separation? Merely a threat to be taken into account in last resort, especially if another trudeauesque government is to fatten Ottawa's policies even more...

As of now, few Quebeckers relate to the major federal political parties: the Liberal and Neo-Democrats are obsessed with centralization whereas Conservatives are often pictured as dogmatic social conservative control freaks. No wonder the Bloc Québécois crowd still floods the Commons...
10.15.2008 4:46pm
JPG:
Un Canadien errant... honni de ses foyers... wrote:

And Tracy, I just checked with the francophones in my office, it would be Les Québécois Montréalais.


Les Québécois de Montréal, or Le Club de Hockey Québécois de Montréal would sound more accurate. But I would opt for the Habs anytime!
10.15.2008 4:55pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Thanks!
10.15.2008 4:57pm
John425:
Why don't we see if the western provinces want to join the USA? I suspect that more than a few of them would go for it.
10.15.2008 4:58pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
The main reason Conservatives don't support the breakup of their country is simply the idea of conserving: radical change such as the dissolution of a nation is the province of... well... radicals. A libertarian might well be happy with the dissolution of Canada; a true Canadian conservative (lower case C) would not be.

Moreover, Conservatives are patriots, despite the Liberal party's constant attempts to paint them otherwise. Would the Republican party support Mexico annexing California? It would mean a huge drop in electoral votes for the Democrats!


Exactly, Holmwood gets it.

In many ways citizenship trumps politics.

Even though I favor a far greater reduction in the size, scope and power of our national government than many of my fellow citizens, breaking up or off part of the country would be too high of a price to pay to achieve that goal.

Also there is something unseemly about cheering on the breakup of one of your neighboring countries. We have a lot of shared history together and with the exception of the War of 1812, it’s generally been a pretty good one with the usual bumps and arguments that you have with your neighbors. Talking about breaking off provinces or States is as vile as helping your neighbor’s kid run away from home or having an affair with their spouse.

You just don’t do that sort of thing.
10.15.2008 5:11pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

I'm afraid that you will find that the level of enthusiasm in British Columbia for incorporation into the United States is very low.


If Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan would become US states, we would just take over the NW teritory and Yukon. Who would stop us?

BC could stay out if they want. They wouldn't though under those circumstances--Ontario is a long way off.


But do US conservatives really what to add 25 million voters


Only 33 milion people in Canada including Ontario and Quebec. So nowhere near 25 million voters in the West.

3 new states would equal 6 senators and 5-6 reps.

In the short run, there may be a leftward drift but over time Canadian conservatives would be more like US conservatives. {I hope}

In any event, it is the oil, gas, uranium, wheat etc, that I we want.
10.15.2008 5:21pm
New Pseudonym:

The Montreal Canadiens would become what?


They don't need a new name. They are already les Habitants, or les Habs.

Also, back in the days of the Cold War, North Dakota not only had nukes, it was the third strongest nuclear power on earth, with 2 Minuteman wings and 2 B-52 wings. Behind the US and USSR, but ahead of the UK and France.
10.15.2008 7:28pm
Blue-state liberal:
I think the U.S. should support Quebec independence. The last two times it almost happened, some in the Eastern provinces said they would want to join the U.S. if Quebec left. Then some in the Western provinces said they'd want to join the U.S. if the Eastern ones did. Once Quebec leaves, the U.S. should then support the expansion of the U.S., just as the E.U. continues to do in Europe.

What's more, while the U.S. ranges from red to blue, Canada only ranges from purple to blue. This, I think, would make a good combination. For instance, you can be pretty sure that had those provinces of Canada been part of the union in 2000, a certain U.S. president would have never been elected.

And, if Quebec ever came to their senses, we'd welcome them into our North American Union, a.k.a., the United States of America.
10.15.2008 8:13pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Manifest Destiny can bring Americans of all types together!


For instance, you can be pretty sure that had those provinces of Canada been part of the union in 2000, a certain U.S. president would have never been elected.


Maybe, but you are assuming that the unification would have no effect on Canadian views, only on American. Political views are not static nor do they always flow in one direction.

Ex-canadians would now have the NFL and NASCAR instead of curling and Canadian rules football. That cannot help but swing them to the right.
10.15.2008 10:21pm
sbron:

Come on, why don't Republicans support Mexico annexing California?


Republicans like McCain and Lindsey Graham effectively support such annexation by promoting amnesty and high levels of Mexican immigration -- it's called Reconquista.

Former Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado has repeatedly warned of California becoming a "Hispanic Quebec." There is some similarity between the Treaty of Paris ending the French and Indian Wars and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The former guaranteed French Catholics and the latter guaranteed former Mexican citizens a measure of self-determination. Guadalupe-Hidalgo for example is sometimes invoked to justify bilingual education. Unfortunately, both treaties left unfinished business. The reaction in Quebec was for most Anglophones to decamp to Toronto. California is now similarly losing higher-earning, higher-skilled non-Latinos to other states. Like Quebec, California has drifted decidedly leftward since the Reagan/Deukmejian/Wilson years.

Finally, both the more radical Quebecois and Mexican-American population share anti-Anglophone and anti-Semitic propensities. I am increasingly convinced there will be some realignment of borders and population but it is not clear in which direction.
10.15.2008 11:38pm
JPG:

Finally, both the more radical Quebecois and Mexican-American population share anti-Anglophone and anti-Semitic propensities.


I'd like you to elaborate on that point. The anti-anglophone sentiment in Quebec may be fairly easy to document (at least from an historical point of view, as Qc's nationalism has moved from an ethnic to a linguistic point of view), but the case of antisemitism in the Belle Province is harder to demonstrate. Even the most radical nationalists today are careful not to play the racism card. It is especially true considering the efforts of radical movements - such as the Société St-Jean-Baptiste and Mouvement souverainiste du Québec have - trying to rally French speaking sepharadic Jews to their cause.

Maybe you had a few exceptions in mind (the only one that comes to me, on top of my head being Gilles Rhéaume, a former president of the SSBJ, who had sympathies for the Hezbollah during the recent conflict in Lebanon). Historically speaking, besides a few members of the elite, like Lionel Groulx, were openly antisemite, but it wouldn't be wise to fall for the comforting myth that Quebec's nationalist elites are/have been more tainted with antisemitism than, say, its WASP counterparts.
10.16.2008 1:08am
Montreal1 (mail):
As an Anglo-Canadian living in Quebec I see this argument as being completely misinformed.

The conservative party does not argue for the succession of Quebec not because its political suicide, but because its not even a political option. Anglo's like myself have grown up with the very idea of dual-society. It is ingrained within our myths, history, institutions and traditions and constitution.

Canada exists today because a compromise was negotiated between the French Canadian province of Lower Canada and the Anglo-Canadian province of Upper Canada. The other provinces joined in order to not miss the show, or because it was the only alternative for the smaller British North American colonies. The very foundation of our society is based on this compromise between English and French.

For the Conservative Party to support Quebec succession would be an admission that Canada does not work and cannot work. A mistake.

And since when did a state, that was not collapsing (Russia, twice), feel comfortable with letting parts of itself go? Decentralization and autonomy yes, complete withdrawal never. Spain, Britain, Ethiopia, Indonesian, India, Pakistan, to name a few, have all have fought separatism using different political and military means, but no matter the economic, human or political costs and consequences of keeping it together (Recently Georgia), to politically allow the country to break apart is unfathomable and a humiliation when it does happen. It is no different in Canada.

Successionism is not an economic or even a political question for a functioning state threatened by it, but a question of pride, history and culture.
10.16.2008 1:29am
Joe12345:
Sometimes I think, let us keep Montreal, and the rest of you can go without so much as a peep from me.

But then, as many posters posted above, "nationalism trumps ideology", and I once again feel like something would be greatly missing in this nation if Quebec were to leave. Why don't Canadian Conservatives Support Quebec Succession? Because this issue is settled emotionally, not logically.
10.16.2008 1:59am
David M. Nieporent (www):
And since when did a state, that was not collapsing (Russia, twice), feel comfortable with letting parts of itself go? Decentralization and autonomy yes, complete withdrawal never. Spain, Britain, Ethiopia, Indonesian, India, Pakistan, to name a few, have all have fought separatism using different political and military means, but no matter the economic, human or political costs and consequences of keeping it together (Recently Georgia), to politically allow the country to break apart is unfathomable and a humiliation when it does happen. It is no different in Canada.
As has been cited in these discussions, Czechoslovakia is a counterexample. It did not collapse; it simply broke apart amicably.
10.16.2008 5:39am
JPG:
As has been cited in these discussions, Czechoslovakia is a counterexample. It did not collapse; it simply broke apart amicably.

Right. Hence the eternal strategic dispute within the major separatist (or sovereignist, if you like) provincial party - le Parti Québécois (not to be mistaken with the federal Bloc Québécois). The PQ itself was formed when two nationalist parties merged in 1968:

- René Lévesque's Mouvement Souveraineté-Association, who seeked to form a new confederative association between Quebec and the rest of Canada

- Pierre Bourgault's Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale, who aimed for strict independance.

Hard and soft liners are still cannibalizing themselves to this day within the PQ. One's life expectancy at the head of the party generally is shorter than in most other parties.
10.16.2008 12:07pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Incidentally, according to the one true source of knowledge (Wikipedia), Singapore is the only country on earth which gained independence involuntarily.
10.16.2008 5:52pm
David Seibert (mail):
When I was in Montreal during the last referendum (physics postdoc at McGill), a number of conservatives there thought it would be fine for Quebec to secede, as long as they took Ottawa with them ;-).
10.16.2008 8:38pm
Quebecker:
That was an interesting reading, as I am a french quebecker and I strongly support the independentist mouvement of Quebec, I think I should add my point of view to this.

Why does Quebec want its independence? Because we mostly disagree with most Canadians policy and we want more power on how to manage our political and economic situation, and surely there is a big cultural difference between french canadian from Quebec and english Canada, which is why even some non-separatist Quebeckers still vote for the Bloc Quebecois in the last election in order to stop the Conservatives from gaining a majority at the parliement, because we feel the conservatives policy (about environement, Childrens criminal Laws and the list goes on) goes against what we beleive into (talking here as a quebecker and not as a separatist)... While most Canadian clearly support the conservatives policy, in Quebec we massively vote against them... I dont think you should see the 50 seat that BQ got as a threat to the Canada integrity, but as a clear announcement that we disagree on the policy of the Conservative Party.

That beeing said, a seperated Quebec would not mean closed border, ships will still be passing through the St-Lawrence, but instead of paying taxes to Canada to navigate on the St-Lawrence, they will pay the same taxe to Quebec.

The main point of all this separatist mouvement is to get more power, we, in Quebec, want to have more control on how our taxes are spended, we want more control to change the laws that are currently in the hands of the federal parliement so they better fit our society model, we want more power on how we manage our international relationship... to resume it, we want the powers that is currently in the hand of the federal parliement so that we can use them to model our society the way we think is best for us.

It's more than a cultural conflict, it's a matter of beeing in full control of our destiny and society. Canada and Quebec can still be strong economic partner even after an eventual separation.

A good compromise if the separation never happen would be to have a European Union like society, where each province have full powers on their policy (and taxes) and have a "Canadian Union" who have power similar to the European Union, that way each province will be able to do what they want while still beeing part of a Canada, I think most provinces will take advantage of such a model.

But Anyway, to come back on the subject, the independence of Quebec is not in the hands of the conservatives or any other federal party, it's in the hands of the Quebeckers themself, we just need to have a majority of Quebecker vote for it for this to happen, at the last referendum for the independence in 1995, Quebeckers vote against it at 50.58% while 49.42% voted for it, as a supportive of the independence, I dont need to convince Canadians outside Quebec that its a good thing, I just need to convince other Quebeckers that it's the way to go.

That was my 2 cents :)
10.16.2008 9:48pm