Is There a "Norway" in Quebec's Future? 1905 and All That

By Fossum, John Erik; Haglund, David G. | Quebec Studies, Spring-Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Is There a "Norway" in Quebec's Future? 1905 and All That


Fossum, John Erik, Haglund, David G., Quebec Studies


The latest provincial election in Quebec has certainly shuffled the electoral cards. But the vote of 26 March 2007 has done more than that, for the surprising surge of Mario Dumont's Action democratique du Quebec (ADQ), coupled with the lackluster showing of the Parti liberal du Quebec (PLQ) and the dismal performance of the Parti quebecois (PQ), has raised new questions about the very constitutional future of Canada. Some analysts and policymakers (including and especially Prime Minister Stephen Harper) take comfort in the recognition that, between them, the two provincial parties that went into the campaign promising not to hold a referendum on sovereignty took 71% of the total seats, and 64% of the total vote, as against a PQ that did pledge to hold a referendum if it came to power, but only captured 29% of the seats on 28% of the vote, in its worst performance since 1970. (1) From these results, they draw the conclusion that the sovereignty challenge has, once and for all, been laid to rest, and that Canada can finally get on to matters having less to do with whether it shall survive as a coherent federal entity and more to do with how it should best conduct its political and economic affairs. According to this reading, the Quebec vote of March 2007 constitutes a major turning point in Canadian politics, one from which there can be no going back to the status quo ante, characterized as it had been for more than a generation by existential doubt as to whether Canada would have any long-term future.

Not everyone, however, is so sure that the national-unity issue has been chloroformed. Indeed, when the skeptics do their own calculations, they end up with a radically different assessment of the March vote. They observe that the ADQ and PQ totals can be aggregated to reflect a commitment to a profound revision of the Canadian constitutional status quo, so that parties guaranteed to demand more for Quebec from the rest of Canada (the ROC) garnered between them 62% of the seats, on 60% of the vote--and this does not include any of the share captured by the PLQ, which may be the most "federalist" Quebec party, but is so only in a Pickwickian sense. Thus if the skeptics are correct, and we think they may be, then the only certainty about Quebec's near-term future is that in a context in which little is certain, there can be much analytical value in resorting to analogies, to see whether something "comparable" might help us better to contemplate the coming years. This is precisely what we propose to do in this article, which advances the thought--rather bizarre, at first glance--that there may be utility, when we think about Quebec's political future, in having recourse to Norway's political past.

But why, out of some 191 other sovereign states in the world with which to compare it, do we choose to highlight Norway as a potential referent for developments related to Quebec's relationship with the ROC? We do so for two reasons. First of these is the assertion that Norway can and does serve as a useful referent for the Quebec debate because its experience brackets, though in reverse chronological order, the range of options that have so consistently surfaced in discussions of the province's future. On the one hand, Norway's separation from Sweden in 1905 might be taken as a model, for those who want to make the argument, that separation can be both (relatively) painless and something easily survived; on the other, Norway's existence as a European state in the twentieth century has revealed that one really cannot leave one's neighborhood, by which we mean that if separateness is what seemed to distinguish Norway at the start of the twentieth century, what characterized its political situation by the end of the twentieth century was nearly the reverse--an ever-growing web of institutional and other sorts of cooperative and integrative relations binding Norway more closely to Europe, including to the one European state, Sweden, from which it had so famously thought it was "separating. …

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