Why we need a real referendum debate: A childs’ perspective

Why we need a real referendum debate: A childs’ perspective

When talk of Quebec secession flairs up, I remember what is was like be a nine year old child in my small Eastern Townships village of Cookshire in 1995.

The national unity debate for my friends and I was not fought on stages waving passports or denouncing the wrong kind of voter: it was bloody noses in the schoolyard of children fighting with clenched fists the battles they saw grown-ups acting out, “NON” fabric badges on the coats of children frolicking in fallen red, yellow and orange leaves that autumn, and an uneaten ham sandwich on a cafeteria table in front of my best friend with his head in lap as he sobbed that he would move away in the event of a ‘YES’ vote.

My eight and nine year old classmates and I waltzed into school past graffiti, proclaiming in cement on the century-old bell-tower, “Va chier les Anglais.” [loosely translated as “You English go f*ck yourselves]. The lead-up to Halloween celebrations, an all important date on any childs’ calendar, were tame that year. The real world was scary enough.

With almost Monty-Pythonesque absurdity, children debated the future of Quebec and Canada in lunch-lines, said good-bye to each other for the last time, wondering where they and their families would find themselves the next morning.

My father closed the heavy door on our big black safe to protect stacks of American hundred dollar bills, not knowing what would be needed or valuable in coming days. My family and I sat by the TV and watched the scariest show we had ever seen into the wee hours of Halloween morning.

The Charter of Values election in Quebec has quickly become the Referendum 3.0 election.

It was awkward to see Marois skate around the issue in the first debate by stating repeatedly, “There will be no referendum… as long as Quebecers are not ready.” Her incoherence, duplicity, and vagueness on the subject was obvious.

The fact is, the PQ exists for one purpose only: to create an independent and French-speaking Quebec. While, at least Mme David was forthright with her intention to hold a referendum, Mr. Legault with his assurances he would not discuss the issues for a decade, and Mr. Couillard with his resolve to have Quebec remain a part of Canada (perhaps with a distinct clause added to the Constitution).

They were all in fact as intellectually, rhetorically, and legally duplicitous as Mme Marois.

Much of Quebec’s unrepresentative English and French-language political, media, academic and economic elite teach us to think within this paradigm: a question on sovereignty, no matter how obscure, with a fifty percent plus one margin for victory, will incontrovertibly lead to an independent Quebec. Sometimes we debate whether the percentage must be higher: 60%, 75%, maybe more.

The question is presented as a coin toss: yes or no. And if separatists do not get the answer they want, as René Lévesque reminded us after losing the 1980 referendum, there is always “next time.” Of course, by separatists’ own flawed logic, how can the only referendum that counts be the one that approves independence? Why don’t the three referendums where Quebecers have rejected constitutional change in 1980, 1992, and 1995 count definitively?

The coin is just flipped adnauseum until they get the answer they want. Back on the schoolyard, those were called ‘cheats.’

The entire debate is flawed. We are offered a false choice: a referendum or not on the future of Quebec, decided by a majority of Quebecers.

Provincial secession is far more complex under Quebec, Canadian and international law. Far more like a Rubix cube than a binary choice.

The fact is: Quebec has no right under Canadian or international law to secede unilaterally from the rest of Canada.

Editorials and opinion pieces represent the opinions of their authors.  LifeinQuebec.com maintains a socially and politically neutral ground for exchange of ideas.

Categories: Opinion, Politics

About Author

Colin Standish

Colin Standish has a law degree from Université Laval in Quebec City and a history and politics degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Colin was born and raised in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and is currently a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada nomination in Compton-Stanstead. He has learnt French in order to be able to study his chosen degree subject in the language.

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