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History Table of Contents
1991 Summer Conference
 
Summer Conference 1991
Growing up on the Edge: The Emerging Generation and Canada's Future

Que veut le jeune Québec?

ANNE LEBEL,
Advocate, Quebec Ministry of Justice

My sister went to summer camp last year. She's 12 and speaks perfect French, but has an Anglophone accent. For the first few days she was completely alienated, because some of the other campers were saying, "we don't want these stupid English people in our camp" and, "we're trying to get out of your country anyway." These were young people – 11-year-olds. Do you think kids tend to repeat what they hear at home?

Yes. The French question in Quebec is very much tied in with a perceived threat – real or unreal – both to their sense of being, their sense of national identity.

It's been said that Quebeckers, young and old, had more of an identity than Canadians; were more sure where they were coming from?

I teach psychology at a CGIP in Quebec. The students with whom I'm working are thinking about the usual problems that most people have at their age. It's a little discouraging that they don't pay enough attention to their national identity. The topic doesn't come up in conversation. It doesn't seem to be a big preoccupation.

Is it because they don't have a problem with it; they know who they are?

Well, some of them do. The vast majority is much more preoccupied by the fact they might not find a job. The economy is low and it's very difficult.

Do high school students talk about the problem of Canadian unity?

It doesn't seem to be a big part of the preoccupation of students at the CGIP.

Our press is always negative. They want to hear about people ripping down flags and standing on them. They don't want to hear about people throwing their arms around each other and enjoying each other for what they are. So, I blame the press for a lot of the situations that we have. Is your press as negative as the anglophone press?

I am tempted to say, no, but I don't read the anglophone press. The information I have is through French journalists.

The country's in such rough shape that politicians must realize if they don't have the referendum quickly, things could start to crumble economically. Do you think people will be concerned about their jobs and will say, wait a minute, it's better if we continue to stay in Canada?

I think you make the assumption the government wants independence. In my experience dealing with the government, I find they are very strong federalists. The problem is they want – or the population wants – to be brought into Canada in some way or another. And they have not been able to achieve that.

It's the youth in Quebec who will be left with the burden of a separate country if Quebec separates. Yet, young people would have no voice in whether or not Quebec separates.

The assumption you're making is that the youth of Quebec – given the uncertainty with separation or the result of separation – would be prefer the status quo until they get a chance to make the decision.

I don't want Quebec to separate, but I don't know what we can do to help it so we can all stay together. At the same time, I feel ignored; not necessarily just myself or youth I speak to, but youth all across Canada is being ignored – just as some are being ignored in Quebec. It's one the two questions that don't arise in school: Quebec and natives. No one ever made the effort to ask what I thought, or whether I care.

We brought together 300 youth from across Canada and they presented questions about unity. We had them from all across the country and we had the prejudices and the anger, we had the French-speaking and the English-speaking and we had those that refused to speak the other language or try. On the first day they were screaming at each other. By the fourth day they were hugging each other. And they wanted to find out what the other side had to stay. Nobody understood Bill 101 and suddenly somebody said, I never understood that. That shed light on the fact and they went away with an open mind saying they would think about it. The most important thing to keep in mind is English is not an endangered language in this country and the Anglophone culture is not under attack in the way the French culture is, and I think that has to be protected; that's the number one issue. That's not to say I don't think anybody in Quebec should be allowed to speak or learn English.

There's the impression that language and culture are the issues; that if we can solve these issues, Quebec would be satisfied and they'd stay within Confederation. How do you get the message to the youth the of Canada this has to do with a sense among the Quebecois that they've been oppressed for decades?

What the Quebec youth want is much more than preserving their culture. That's not discussed any more. They say we're running out of dialogue, we're going to have a communication or we won't be part of it. They're not prepared to discuss any longer. We're not at the stage of trying to convince people; we're at the stage of taking this – for our own destiny, which means there might have to be a round table and negotiate a way to cope with the future together, but I think there is a lot of time to try.

You're talking about the French and English coming to a happy compromise or solution for both parties, but underneath all that are you thinking: What about Canada, not what about Quebec, not what about Ontario, not what about Vancouver, what about Canada? Is that a question: What about Canada?

I think I'm being honest saying that in my group we're saying we've had a very bad marriage with Canada. At this point, I don't very often hear kids saying, what about Canada?

At the very least, then, you are describing sovereignty association as the only possible arrangement. That would be the least, and you go forward from there; some variety of sovereignty association?

If you look at what happened in 1980, Quebec voted to stay in Canada provided a new agreement was reached. A new agreement was reached under Meech Lake, which was ratified by Quebec and the rest of Canada, then it was turned down by Canada.

It seems to me (to bring up the analogy of a bad marriage) that we're just seeking a way to achieve a separation agreement that's as amicable as possible. I wonder what kind of new arrangement might be possibly acceptable to both sides?.

I think the Meech Lake process reflected a federal system that isn't working.

There's no question that Quebec can be viable. The fact that there would be some detriment in standard of living, I think, is a given. What's so hard to assess is to what degree the population is prepared to take a 10 per cent cut in the standard of living, and the fear that perhaps it may be more than 10. It might not happen immediately, it means your rate of growth would be lower than it otherwise would be, that your command over goods and services – to use the economic terms – would be less than it otherwise would be, except people wouldn't be able to buy as much for an hour's work. You'd work 60 minutes, but you'd only get 50 minutes of goods and services as a result. As to whether Quebec could then proceed on a growth path that was even higher than the Canadian growth path and, therefore, catch up – I don't know.

I would imagine there are many who feel particularly economically vulnerable about taking this chance. I don't have a good gauge on that at all.

I asked someone about it, and he said it's not being discussed. When you scrap it all away, he said, independence is enough. He suggests that the (economic) issue has already been settled.

If you can't get accurate information, people have to fall back to the question: If we do separate is there any reason we cannot survive. they look around and say we have an education system, an infrastructure, a democratic system, there's no reason we cannot be a viable country. That's a fallback answer, not an analytical one.