It takes a lot to offend me. But on July 1, Canada Day, I read a column in The Ottawa Sun by John Robson on why he thinks Quebec should just leave Canada already.
Filling in for Ric today, I interviewed Robson about what I saw as an angry, irrational rant that many perceived to be anti-Quebec. You can listen to our chat by clicking play to the right. Below is my rebbutal to his column.
The separatist straw man rises
Sovereignty is not a pressing issue for most Quebecers at the moment. That may seem counter-intuitive, but I assure you, unity debates in this province are restricted almost exclusively to the fringes and between perpetually outraged pundits, desperate for attention.
Canada Day was, for Sun News columnist John Robson, the perfect occasion to pick a fight with Quebec. He went on an incoherent tirade, citing various grievances and outdated stereotypes, making the argument, essentially, that La Belle Province should leave because it doesn’t love Canada enough.
It was an offensive piece on many levels. The timing was certainly odd. Over the weekend, most Canadians were enjoying the extra time off and celebrating this wonderful country in a wholesome, apolitical manner. If there was one weekend a year when the appetite for unity debates would be at its very lowest, it would have been Canada Day weekend.
The rant begins: “Happy Canada Day. We don’t care if Quebec leaves.”
Robson should care if Quebec leaves if for no other reason than a drive to the Maritimes and back would require passing through four international checkpoints. There is also history, culture and a sizable chunk of the population that is fervently pro-Canada, but that is all collateral damage in his attack on the Québécois.
Criticizing government policy is one thing; I am the first to denounce the abysmal failure in leadership across all of Quebec’s political class. Robson, however, doesn’t take aim at government, but at nearly 8-million citizens.
“It's not a matter of being anti-Quebec,” he wrote. “It's a matter of being fed up with Quebecers' alternating disinterest in and hostility toward us, and refusing to treat their contempt as justified.”
That clarifies things. Robson doesn’t hate Quebec. He just hates that Quebec hates Canada.
He bases his argument on the notion that Quebecers want to separate and are hostile toward the Rest of Canada. That is a nonsensical premise created by a writer who is completely out of touch with the Quebecois mentality. In my lifetime, sovereignty has never been supported by a majority of the population. It peaked during the 1995 referendum at 49 per cent and has struggled ever since.
Recent polls put the separatist Parti Québécois at 33 per cent (separatism tends to be less popular than the PQ as many “soft nationalists” vote for them based on the rest of their social-democratic platform). In fact, few polls on separation are taken these days in Quebec because so few people are interested in that debate. With a corruption inquiry, crumbling infrastructure, a tuition debate and $250-billon in debt, we have more urgent matters to deal with. The virtual sweep of the NDP in Quebec, some argue, is also evidence of our collective boredom with sovereignty. It is, at the very least, a deprioritization.
The Quebec reality is far-removed from the place that Robson describes. Our mentality, borne from “socialists, relativists and whiners,” he argues, has corruptedCanada. Again demonstrating his articulate prose, he suggests the whiners “take your complaints to people who care in some loser place like the UN.” He stopped short of suggesting that we eat our own boogers and have cooties.
Thankfully, there’s progress in the battle against those nasty Quebecois: “The newfound respect for the military, for example, celebrating our tradition as fighters for freedom while official institutions like OC Transpo observe ‘wear red Friday.’” He is onto something there. We tend not to be receptive to superficial military boosterism.
Shameful, gratuitous insults are laced throughout Robson’s piece: “Happy Canada Day. And if your ‘national’ day was last week (he’s referring to la Fête nationale on June 24), we don’t want to hear about it.” And this interesting analogy, painting Canada as the devoted boyfriend toQuebec, the ungrateful b****: “We’re a good partner and frankly a good catch. But she’s still either cold or shrill.” I’m not sure if the characterization speaks more to his insensitivity toward Quebecers or women.
His childish sentiment is summed up with, “this is a great country so love it or leave it.” Unfortunately, adults contemplate politics in a more complex manner. Being critical of one’s nation is, of course, a form of patriotism; one far less superficial than waving a flag or attaching an adhesive to your car’s bumper. Some Quebecers can have trouble relating to the rest of Canada, as can Albertans, Aboriginals and other cultures that make up the Canadian tapestry. But the leap from disinterest to disdain is significant. And most Quebecers – even most separatists – harbour no ill will toward other Canadians.
(This is worth repeating: Most separatists don’t hate Canada. They would just prefer being citizens of an independent Quebec. If you don’t believe me, trying asking one.)
In the world of shock punditry, nuance is often ignored in favour of simple black vs. white, good vs. evil narratives suitable for an audience that values partial nudity on page two over information. Most Canadians, I would hope, accept that Quebec’s role inCanada will continue to be more complex than Robson’s ‘take it or leave it’ premise. He has succeeded in igniting a marginal unity debate, but the separatist straw man is easily torn apart when you realize how inconsequential that debate now is for the vast majority of Quebecers and Canadians.