|Montreal, May 11, 2002 / No 104
by Harry Valentine
Recent public opinion polls undertaken in Quebec indicate a decline in support for sovereignty. Recent by-elections revealed a decline in support for the Parti québécois. Strong sovereignty support still exists in certain regions of Quebec, as was evident by the election of a second member from the Parti de l'Action démocratique to the Quebec Assembly, a party that is not committed to separation and would prefer a decentralized Canadian federation, but does not reject it outright either. In the 1995 referendum, its young leader Mario Dumont sided with the YES.
During a previous era, the dream of an independent, sovereign Quebec invoked strong emotion and had an almost religious fervour to it. This was especially the case in regions where the major proportion of the population were blue-collar francophones employed by predominantly anglophone industrialists. Following the post WW2 years, Quebec's blue collar workforce saw themselves as being oppressed economically, politically and culturally by the province's anglophone population. Freedom for the pro-sovereignist francophone population meant freedom from anglophone economic and political oppression and freedom from anglophone cultural domination and assimilation.
Sovereignty for Quebec's labour movement and their pro-independence allies meant self-determination for francophones in the political, economic and cultural spheres, in a land they could call their own. The dream of an independent sovereign Quebec was born in a smokestack manufacturing economy which depended on a large, blue-collar labour force. Technological progress saw automation displace thousands of blue-collar workers from manual labour jobs and changed the way in which people work and in which they can earn a living.
Alvin Toffler's book, Megatrends and its sequel, Megatrends 2, gave a vision as to the types of technological and economic change that could be expected to occur. The development and evolution of an information sector in the world economy was one of the predictions. It was made at a time when such an economic sector was practically non-existent. The political impact such an evolution has had on Quebec and on its citizens was beyond the control of either the federal or the provincial government.
The segment of Quebec's population who were most affected by the changes caused by the evolution of an information sector in the economy were entering high school after 1980. During their school years, they were exposed to the new telecommunications and information technologies on which the evolving economic sector would operate. They were also exposed to potential opportunities they could realise for themselves in that evolving economic sector, as they entered their adult years.
At the present day, tens of thousands of Quebeckers of mainly francophone origin who hold university level degrees have become the driving force behind the most dynamic, most vibrant and most powerful sector in Quebec's evolving economy. As a collective force, they have acquired control over Quebec's economic destiny. They have achieved this without any regulatory protection from either the federal or provincial governments. The provincial government has acted sensibly, by extending tax breaks to information sector companies opening in Quebec.
Quebec's earlier dream
Quebec's earlier independence movement had envisioned francophones acquiring control of Quebec's economy, then guiding the evolution of the province's economy, while preserving the French language and culture. The revolution in telecommunications technology has given Quebec greater access to French culture. Regular television programs from France can be broadcast directly into Quebec while French language chatrooms are available on internet programs like MSN. Advances in the information and telecommunications technology sectors now offer concerned Quebec francophones an alternative to the threat of anglophone cultural annihilation. Efforts to preserve the French language and French culture in Quebec can now be assisted by these developments.
The vision of private people working together by freedom of choice and acquiring the means of their productive efforts through voluntary exchange was the vision offered by the evolving information sector, not by any political manifesto. The vision of Quebeckers acquiring greater control of their economic destiny as well as acquiring the means to preserve an enduring French culture in Quebec, is beginning to be realised.
A substantial segment of Quebec's francophone population has already achieved a high level of economic power and economic independence in the unregulated information sector economy. They achieved this while Quebec is still a province inside a federal Canadian political system, even though that federal political system had very little to do with the megatrends that caused the development of an information sector in the world economy in the first place.
The Marxist based dream of an independent, sovereign Quebec originated in the province's Catholic clergy and labour union movement. While this vision was relevant for a Quebec of an earlier time, it now needs extensive revision to reflect the socio-economic changes that have occurred in the province over the past three decades. Ottawa's own reluctance to divest itself of powers that could be transferred directly to private citizens at large, through the process of economic deregulation, is what adds legitimacy and credibility to secessionist movements in Quebec and in Alberta. This would ultimately be the cause of any future resurgence of pro-sovereignty support in Quebec. Perhaps it may be left to Mario Dumont to develop a revised vision of an independent, sovereign Quebec.
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