Quebec : Anti-Separatism

I do not usually write about topics that are laid on concrete terms, and I do not usually talk about regional topics. I am well aware that most of my readership is American, since atheism and Objectivism are movements that are both primarily American in nature. However I do hope that I have some Quebecois readers who can give me some feedback on this text.

I want to say right away that I am not a federalist. I properly identify myself as anti-separatist because I am against the separation of Quebec from Canada. I do not think that our current federal system is adequate, to say the least. The disgusting mixture of socialism and democracy that both federal and provincial governments have force-fed us for the last half of the century has done a great deal of damage in regard to the separation problem. I want to expound later on my solution to federalism, but being an Objectivist, I have no doubt you already know what I am thinking.

First of all, some interesting indicators. Separatism is mostly a french-canadian affair – this would seem to indicate some undercurrent of racism or at least a cultural element present. It’s also worthy to note that the “national” day of celebration in Quebec is called “St-Jean-Baptiste”, and has a religious origin (a religious version of the summer solstice).

What are the arguments invoked for separatism ? I see two main themes here. First of all, there is the preservation of the French-Canadian culture. The second problem is the economical disparity between provinces, as regulated by the federal government.

I must admit I am biaised against the French-Canadian culture. I do not mean that the F-C culture has no positive points, quite the contrary. Its art is still greatly influenced by its French Romanticism origins. There is also an admirable presence of humour and sense of community in the F-C culture.

On the other hand, its language is long-winded, heavy and difficult to learn. Whenever it is actually a beautiful language is debatable. It is also not a language used in many industrialized countries. Québécois literature and movies is mostly oriented towards the past, and when it is on present time, takes a radical turn towards naturalism. In politics, the government that Quebec presents at the moment is a model of socialism – taxation, social programs, government subsidies, a bloated bureaucracy as well as a blatant disrespect for rights.

The french culture, and especially its language, are judged worthy of preservation by many people. Although I do not concur with them, I have no reason to suppress their judgment in that matter. But I do have a problem when fundamental rights (like the right to property and the right to free speech) are destroyed in order to artifically maintain a cultural unity, as is done presently in Quebec. It seems that separatism is promoted in order to further this enforcment. How else could it help preserve the french-canadian culture ?

In short, we already have the freedom to choose the culture and language of our choice. The only thing that furthers the cause of the French-Canadian culture is blatant enforcment, like language laws. Separatism would only give the provincial government more means to enforce their cultural ideals. This seems to me like an advanced form of tribalism – as if the proper political action in this case is to equate the ethics of culture with following tradition or societal values.

The alternative to the immorality of censorship [1] is cultural freedom. I think that ultimately, cultural freedom is a superior alternative to censorship, for the same reason that capitalism is a superior alternative to collectivism : not only is it the only system that respects our rights, but it also permits progress, in the form of competition. Culture is merely another “product” that we adopt to certain ends, the difference being that this one is free of use. Given free competition between cultures, the best and most useful cultures will survive (this has been shown consistently throughout history). If the French-Canadian culture is not sufficiently adapted to our growing society and world market situation, tough luck. Who would want to cripple his own country by forcing it to adopt a detrimental culture and language ? For me, the notion of protecting one’s culture with laws is not only an invalid end, but also uses invalid means.

Now, about the unfairness of the federal system. I do not pretend to be an economist, merely a philosopher. This seems to me as an economical issue. Nevertheless, according to the 1999 Federal Budget, federal transfers (CHST, equalization and TFF) to Quebec represents 30% of the total transfers budget (UPDATE 02/’00 : 31% according to Department of Finance Canada, March 25 1997). That does not of course include other less important transfers like the Millenium Scolarships. One could invoke the reverse of this argument – after all, Quebec governments fund nationalist organizations.

The real issue is whenever separating from Canada is justifiable on the basis of this argument. If separation occurs, all taxation taken from Quebec citizens would be controlled by the Quebec government. Would the provincial government be more capable in using this money than the federal government ? I doubt it. Even taking into account Canada’s consistently bad administration, Quebec’s political actions still look terrible. I realize that I am oversimplifying things, but that’s how I see the situation presently. Perception of Quebec as being treated unfairly could be (but is not necessarily) the result of selective thinking, focusing on perceived unfairness in certain cases, but not noticing unfairness towards other provinces in other cases. This would require a more thorough economical analysis than I can provide.

At any rate, I do not believe that separating from Canada is a desirable solution in this case. Opposing the dubious advantage of having one’s own government control taxation money, we have the advantages of being in the geopolitical entity of Canada, as well as benefitting from free commerce with other provinces. Both advantages are not necessarily as precisely countable as federal transfers, but it seems to me that, at a cursory glance, the advantages of the present system would outweight the disadvantages. I would tend to think that trying to change minor points in the current system, if necessary, would be a better solution. After all, we are not talking about billions of dollars here – Quebec’s total transfers of CHST, equalization and TFF for 1998-1999, which represent the majority of federal transfers, represent approximately 11 billion dollars.

The advantages of separation are dubious at best. On the other hand, the current system of federalism is fueling separatist ideals and dissatisfaction. I do not believe that there is any federalist solution to the degradation of Quebecois culture – nothing short of total censorship laws will stop the possible, or seemingly inevitable, loss of French-Canadian culture to the competition. But I do believe there is a solution to economical dissatisfaction. More precisely, I believe that a Libertarian Federalism system would successfully alleviate separatist misgivings against the federal’s economical policy. It seems to me that the main problem is about federal transfers. But with a consistent Libertarian government (actually there is presently a Libertarian party competing at the federal level), there would not be any such thing as taxation or federal subsidies. That is, of course, if said party actually holds its promises, which as always can be doubted. There is no doubt in my mind that a libertarian ideal in power would solve this economical dilemma, since there would remain nothing for separatists to fuss at, excepting the cultural aspect of course.

[1] For more about rights as the proper political basis, see “From ethics to politics”.