PERFECT FEDERALISM -- INCLUDING QUEBEC?

By William Markiewicz

Perfection is an abstract concept. Still, we can compare federalism's degree of success in various countries. At first sight it may seem difficult because each country has its own specific conditions. But conditions don't play such a big role in contrasting Canada's not-so-successful federalism, born in rather good conditions, to Switzerland's quite successful federalism, born and maintained in rather poor conditions. The secret of the Swiss success may lie in what they don't do rather than in what they do. Paraphrasing Confucius, the best authority is the invisible authority.

What probably makes Swiss cohesion so stable is their lack of preconceptions - just total pragmatism. Nobody in Switzerland ever thought of trying to make a united Swiss culture or introducing multilingual policy. There are some multilingual inscriptions in official places, but so few that nobody even looks for them. Neither does anybody try to turn the Swiss population into polyglots. Take the train, for instance, from Geneva to Zurich and the moment you step off the train you find yourself in a totally different cultural and linguistic ambience. Only the lack of borders and the same money convinces the traveller that he is still in the same country. The people within this small Swiss territory live separate lives by language, religion and community, and nobody, by any means, tries to "mix" them. The federal government doesn't even consider those things its business and the people are certainly happy not to feel the federal government over their heads. In the army, officers and soldiers often don't understand each other and this sometimes produces humorous situations. But, as everybody knows, the Swiss army functions pretty well.

In Federal Council, the Federal Councillor doesn't have to know the language of any group but his or her own. Speeches are simultaneously translated. And their general prosperity keeps all the Swiss cantons as good neighbours. Each canton is really like a mini-state with its total internal autonomy jealously preserved. But, to the outside world, it is still one, indivisible Switzerland. Summing up, there is no separatism in Switzerland because they are already as separate as they can or want to be.

Switzerland, being small, it is tempting to compare it to a living cell; endoplasm comprises all the internal parts and ectoplasm which is really the boundary of the cell, is like a skin which protects the cell from bursting as well as from external aggression. The federal system is the ectoplasm. It gives unity and hardly intervenes at all in the interior life processes. Just as the cell's ectoplasm and endoplasm are made to be unified forever, so in Switzerland there is no way to secede. Secession would be purely symbolic anyway as they couldn't be more free than they already are. The U.S.A. is in a similar situation because the states are quite free from each other and the right to secede is also forbidden, as we know from its Civil War.

Canada is held together by historical momentum, by its peace and, until now, its prosperity. Because of its climate and vast horizons, Canada has developed its own life style as well as political style. Canada displays a temperate face compared to its more dynamic, aggressive southern neighbour. The outside world sees it as a sort of oversized Switzerland. Cohesion is still wacky because Canada resembles an insufficiently inflated balloon; too few people in a huge territory. Canadians from different provinces don't know each other very well so mutual contact is weak and business exchanges go more on a North-South than an East-West axis. Also in Canada there is no precise separation between "ectoplasm" and "endoplasm;" the Federal government is a little bit too intimately linked with the life of the respective provinces and on the other hand, it is perhaps a little too easy in Canada to secede. Nowhere do we hear more about secession than here.

The idea that any part of Canada has to separate in order to resolve its problems seems senseless because Canada is universally recognized as the most free society that can be. Quebeckers cannot be more independent linguistically than they already are. The only argument for separatism disappeared long ago. So, separatism should be handled within the area where it belongs, i.e., the purely emotional one. Logic and emotion are like oil and water - they don't mix.

Quebeckers are passionate people; they either love Canada like Chretien and Trudeau, or hate Canada like Parizeau and Bouchard. The majority of Quebeckers are trapped between those two extremes and, in conflict with their nature, they remain undecided, apathetic, a very uncomfortable state for them as well as for the rest of us. The issue of separatism has become a politicians' game and Damocles' sword.

I think that the federalists can win only if they are able to break this shield of apathy and to dig deep into Quebeckers' subconscious where love for Canada glitters - I've had the opportunity to check on it. They know deep down that they are part of the heritage. Instead of arguing with separatists and trying to convince Quebeckers that it is in their interest to remain in Canada, I would propose shock therapy. The federalists should clearly and, yes, brutally, declare to Quebeckers: "Canada is neither a burden nor a gift to be accepted but a privilege to be deserved. You can deserve it only by loving it. Let's remain united by love for this country. No marriage of reason, please."

Once I read an anecdote, apparently true, about Russia right after the Bolshevik Revolution. In one village, the Bolsheviks transformed the local church into an anti-religious museum. The peasants were invited to the opening - it was at Eastertime. The crowd applauded the speeches and laughed at the anti-religious jokes. Then the commissars asked if anybody had anything to say or add. One man stood up.

"Who are you comrade?" asked the Commissar. "I am a priest," answered the man. "What do you have to say?" The commissar was uncomfortable. "Only three words: Christ is risen!"

At these words, the crowd fell to its knees. The commissars left on tiptoe.

I see an analogy between that time and place and the situation in Canada now. In the fight for souls, one word that hits the target is more powerful than speeches. Now is the time to help people to find what they hide within. When I visited Quebec, I realized that people, old and young, make a distinction between the Canada buried in their souls -- that of their ancestors, and the Canada of today -- that of the politicians. In my view it's necessary to help them to realize that those two Canadas are one and that, listening to the Sirens' call, they risk losing both. Instead of competing with demagogical enemies, I would like to see posters, as for instance, "The world needs Canada and Canada needs us" and so on. I think that this is the best way to send the separatists to the attic of History. But allowing them to act like solicited, spoiled primadonnas makes things worse for everybody. Look at the opera "Carmen": after her lover, Don Jose, gives her all he can, Carmen leaves him anyway.

For the federalists, winning the Referendum will simply not be enough. The very idea of separatism creates a psychological scar - frontier. A province governed by an anti-Federalist government that still remains Canadian is a paradox that speaks very well about Canadian democracy but is not good for the country as a whole. Whatever concerns the whole country is not a Provincial matter only. The Bloc Quebecois in Ottawa, Parti Quebecois in Quebec -- it's like an anti-Semitic Party in Israel and an Anti-Semitic Opposition in the Knesset. If the Quebeckers reject Separatism, they must also reject Separatist parties and this has to be a very clear condition that Canada should require from Quebeckers. You cannot stay in Canada with one leg only -- I don't think it will be too much to ask.


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