Beyond Yes and No: Provincial Autonomy and the Future of Quebec

By Dumont, Mario | Harvard International Review, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Beyond Yes and No: Provincial Autonomy and the Future of Quebec


Dumont, Mario, Harvard International Review


The nation of Quebec has been an established nation of the Americas for more than 470 years. It is the principal home for francophones on the continent. Before, and particularly since the birth of the Canadian confederation in 1867, Quebec has affirmed its personality and historical rights, proudly and firmly asserting its identity as a minority people.

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It has been 138 years since the people of Quebec officially entered Canada. Quebecers have always affirmed a fierce will to live in a world where their differences, their language, their culture, and their own institutions distinguish them from the rest of the country.

The year 2005 will allow Quebecers to remember, among other things, the ongoing struggles of a francophone population trying to survive on an English-speaking continent. The coming year marks the 25th anniversary of Quebec's first referendum on secession from Canada in 1980, as well as the tenth anniversary of the 1995 referendum--two events aimed at allowing Quebecers to decide the course of their political future, at home and abroad.

Quebecers have twice asked the democratic question of whether or not it is preferable for Quebec to become an independent, sovereign country, and the sole master of its political and economic destiny, along with all matters involved in such a decision. On both of these historic occasions, a majority of Quebecers chose to stay in Canada. On May 20, 1980, the "No" side rallied 60 percent support against breaking from Canada. On October 30, 1995, the result was 51 percent against independence to 49 percent in favor of independence, with a narrow margin of 54,288 votes between the two sides.

This virtual tie should have been a cause for reflection among federal government representatives who, though visibly shaken by the outcome, refused to modify their approach concerning Quebec, instead choosing to continue pursuing a policy of economic and political intervention in provincial affairs.

But the historic claims of Quebecers are not unreasonable, nor are they incongruous. They affirm the undeniable realities that led to the recognition of claims by the Catalans of Spain and the Scottish inside the United Kingdom. Like Catalonia and Scotland, Quebec deserves its right to be different.

In the context of diversity, while affirming a unique cultural, social, and political identity, and establishing the desire of Quebecers to remain associated with Canada, ADQ (l'Action Democratique du Quebec) was born in 1994 to undertake the fight for recognition of Quebec's autonomy in an authentic confederation.

Quebecers have officially and historically demonstrated on two occasions, both in 1980 and 1995, their choice for a decentralized Canadian confederation respecting the spirit and the letter of the Canadian constitution, most notably in matters regarding the jurisdiction of all levels of government. On these two occasions, Quebecers have indicated their frustration with the federal government's encroachment upon Quebec's constitutional rights while also claiming Quebec's fair share of federal funds based on its share of the population and its jurisdictional autonomy.

For the ADQ, it is not pertinent to call for more referenda. Rather than hope for a "yes" answer to a question to which Quebecers have already answered "no" twice, or worse yet, to receive a third "no" vote, thus further weakening Quebec, it is time to examine new approaches to the advancement of Quebec's autonomy.

The Autonomous Way

The ADQ suggests that the reinforcement of Quebec's autonomy will come about through significant political actions that enable the development of a Quebec identity, both within provincial society and beyond its borders. To this end, we propose to endow Quebec with a constitution that embodies the values and principles that define it. One fundamental gesture that will express the attachment of Quebecers to the autonomy of Quebec is the designation of the province as "the autonomous state of Quebec. …

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