French Faces Uncertain Future in Canada


Pierre S. Pettigrew, The New Politics of Confidence, Stoddart, 1999, review by Howard Cukoff:

an independent Quebec would face a decline of prestige and presence in our (forgive me) global economy. Quebec would lose its geographical bridge to the once and future burgeoning Pacific Rim. Pettigrew is also correct to point out an often-overlooked matter. Quebec carries on an extensive interprovincial trade which would almost certainly be disrupted in the wake of secession.


Pettigrew holds that the federal system is flexible and adaptive, qualities which effectively position the country to compete in contemporary market conditions. Flexibility is enhanced by the constant squabbling between federal and provincial jurisdictions, since the levels of government compete to provide better services and a better economic climate. These advantages would be lost in the centralized model of government an independent Quebec would follow. As examples, Pettigrew mentions the bureaucratic bungling in Quebec’s manpower training department, which the province wrested from federal control a few years ago, and the short shrift municipalities get in Quebec. Pettigrew maintains that the Quebec government is inept at regional development and has been unable to arrest the decades-long decline of the city of Montreal.

As Pettigrew sees it, the sovereigntist movement is parochial and out-of-step with economic reality. Nationalism is about much more than economics, needless to say. The French fact in Canada has entered a demographic crisis. The proportion of francophones in the country is declining, and political power (in a democracy, at least) follows the demographic trend. The insecurity of francophones both in Quebec and in the Rest of Canada (where the cultural assimilation of francophone communities is a critical danger) – of which the sovereigntist movement is one expression – is real, the future of the French language and culture is not assured.

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