Confederation Has Never Been Easy


We often hear about how badly Québec has been treated within Confederation, usually by francophone nationalist writers, politicians, journalists, and union leaders. They always focus on the status of the French language and how it’s supposedly not respected in Canada.

One only has to examine the history of our country to realize that we as Québecers are one of the most privileged peoples of Confederation, and our rights have been enshrined in constitutional legislation since 1774 with the Québec Act.

Looking back to the origins of Confederation, we can start with Nova Scotia separatism. What? I thought that Québec had a monopoly on that? Well, guess what, back in 1867, when Canada had barely come into being, the first Members of Parliament from Nova Scotia, all but one, were from a separatist party called the Repealers. They felt that Nova Scotia’s traditional economic ties were with Great Britain, the Caribbean, and the USA. By joining Canada through Confederation and the Intercolonial railroad, which was to link it with Québec and Ontario, the Repealers were convinced that Nova Scotia would lose out economically and become less prosperous as a result.

As such, the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Mac Donald, dealt with the situation by inviting the leader of the Repealers, Joseph Howe, into his cabinet, and increased the federal transfer of money to Nova Scotia to pacify any unrest! Kind of sounds familiar to what goes on between Québec and the federal government today, doesn’t it? Remember the Bloc Québécois’ talk about fiscal imbalance? All that got solved, now Michael Ignatieff is courting the soft separatist vote in Québec in the hopes of wiping the Bloc off the map in the next election. It worked in Nova Scotia: We never heard of the Repealers after the 1887 election!

Other situations have arisen where different constituencies, either minorities, or provinces had conflicts with the federal government, and didn’t always get treated so well.

The Ukrainians, for examples, were treated like enemy aliens during WWI and 6000 of them were rounded up and sent to force labour camps inside Canada. Others who had been naturalized for less than 15 years lost their right to vote.

The Japanese, during WWII, were victims of outright ethnic cleansing by Canadian authorities. In BC all the Japanese-Canadians were rounded up, their fishing boats, houses, farms, etc seized and confiscated, and they were sent to internal exile camps on the prairies. The federal government only apologized and gave compensation recently.

The Sikhs of Canada, when some of the first of them arrived on our shores in May of 1914, aboard a Japanese ship called the Komogata Maru, were banned from even getting off the boat because of racist immigration officials and laws. Eventually, they persevered, only to become the cheap labour of BC for several generations, working as mill workers and farm labourers. But they saved up their money, and bought small stores, and with the money from those businesses, sent their children to university and became prosperous within three generations.

Westerners lived in envy of Québec and Ontario for generations, because the trade policy of Canada, discussed in another article, benefitted mostly those two provinces, forcing westerners to buy their goods from the east and sell their livestock and wheat to the east also.

Newfoundland still resents Québec over the Churchill Falls Hydro electric deal. In 1969 Hydro Québec got an enormous amount of electricity for less than 3 tenths of a cent per kilowatt/hour, with an option to renew for 25 years at 2 tenths of a cent per kilowatt/hour. One estimate calculates that if the current contract is not renegotiated soon, Newfoundland will, by 2016, not even have enough money to operate the hydro power station at Churchill Falls! And this is despite the fact that the Provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Québec came to an agreement in March 1998 for the development of a huge new hydroelectric project which promised to redress the inequities of the previous deal.

So it’s no wonder that a Premier like Clyde Wells said ‘NO’ to something like the Meech Lake Accord in 1990. No wonder. His province was the poorest in Confederation and was being taken for a ride by one of the richest.

So the next time you hear any nationalist spokespersons yapping about how badly Québec and Québecers have been or are being treated, just tell them to take a look at their history books!!! There’s an old expression in the English language: ‘You don’t know how good you’ve got it until you lose it all!’ Pis ça ‘c’est vrais!’ And it’s not son Eminence le Pape Péladeau II on TVA that’s telling you that, einh?

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