Douglas & McIntyre
Reconquering Canada

Book details:

October 2008
ISBN 978-1-55365-413-1
Paperback - Trade
5" x 8"
352 pages
Politics
$24.95 CAD

Douglas & McIntyre

Reconquering Canada

Quebec Federalists Speak Up for Change

Edited by: André Pratte
Foreword by: John Ralston Saul
Translated by: Patrick Watson

Excerpt / Additional Content

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The Introduction

For more than four decades, federalists and sovereignists have been debating the future of Quebec and Canada. After a string of endless and fruitless constitutional negotiations, three referenda, and innumerable gaffes and disruptions, the debate has now bogged down. The two sides continue to exchange the same dull old arguments, each holding rigidly to its own convictions.

Since the failure of the Meech Lake Accord some twenty years ago, the sovereignists have generally led the debate. They successfully made fun of the Charlottetown Accord and caused the whole country to hold its breath during the 1995 referendum.

They have considerably strengthened their voice by setting up a federal wing and they have pushed their opponents to the wall over the sponsorship scandal.

During this time, the federalists have never actually been able to advance their agenda. At first they thought that silence—the “let’s just get on with it” approach—would allow them to gain the upper hand over the sovereignists, but this strategy only brought things to a head. Then they thought they should make Canada more “visible” in Quebec, a plan that quickly went sour. The sponsorship scandal not only tainted the credibility of every proponent of Canadian unity living in Quebec, it also had a terribly demoralizing effect on them.

To make matters worse, a lot of Quebec federalists and Mario Dumont–style autonomists see the association between Quebec and the rest of Canada in much the same light as the sovereignists do. In their view, this relationship boils down to a list of endless demands, a systematic resistance to any federal initiative and a kind of isolationism, an indifference to what is going on in Ottawa and in English Canada.

During the past few years the political order seems to have been changing. The combined efforts of Jean Charest’s provincial government and the federal government have allowed Quebec to make some meaningful advances. The provincial election of March 2007 and the federal by-elections in September of the same year showed the sovereignist parties to be weakened.

What seems to be emerging is a willingness for renewed political dialogue. This is especially true on the federalist side, which for much too long has been content only to counter the arguments of the indépendantistes. The time is right for Quebec federalists to rethink their views, question their beliefs and get over their fear of speaking out.

The contributors to this book come from diverse political and professional backgrounds. However, they share four convictions.

  1. They appreciate that today’s Quebec is better off developing within Canada rather than trying to become a separate country.
  2. They believe that Quebecers need to change their approach to dealing with the rest of the country and their view of federalism, realizing that constitutional demands, while important, are not an immediate priority.
  3. They think that Quebecers would be smart to become more involved in the evolution of the country, to take full advantage of belonging to Canada rather than staying on the sidelines.
  4. They are convinced that Quebec now has in hand the tools it needs to meet the challenges it faces.

These are the convictions that these writers have tried to convey, each in their own style and according to their own personal and professional experience. The book is not really a manifesto: that is, the authors have not tried to come up with one common text. Each chapter is independent of the others: its writer is the sole author and the only person responsible for the ideas contained within it.

There will be those who call this a useless exercise, who claim that the sovereignist movement is already in retreat, but that would be to misunderstand the reason for our undertaking. This collection is not a denunciation of the sovereignists. It is a call to the Quebec Nation to reconceptualize Canadian federalism and to review the province’s relationship with the rest of the country.

André Pratte is the Editorial Pages Editor at La Presse.