Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who Cares About an Independent Quebec?

Yesterday, I got into a conversation with Quebec separatist on twitter, which led to this blogpost about Option Nationale.  One of my assertions was very undeveloped:
The Francophones have won every battle except independence.  And if they become independent, Quebec will lose.  It will lose the subsidies that Canada provides, it will lose cache in the rest of the world, since no one really cares about Quebec that much besides some old nationalists in France.
So, the question du jour is: who would take Quebec's side as it struggles to become independent if a referendum was won by the separatists?  And I do mean struggle both because a Harper government might not be such a friendly bargaining partner as the assets AND debts are divvied up and because starting up a new country is as easy as separatists dream.

Supporting Quebec in this struggle will be, dare I say it, viewed in Canada as being anti-Canadian.  Taking sides in a separatist conflict does, indeed, require taking a side.  The other side will get upset.  Thus, any country that supports Quebec in this imaginary future will risk upsetting Canada.  One might say, who cares about Canada?  But the reality is that countries already have relations with Canada (including that part that happens to have the oil) and benefit from those relations.  Potential supporters would have to consider damaged relations with Canada as part of the cost of supporting Quebec.

Given that supporting a separatist Quebec would not be a cost-free lark, who would be willing to risk these costs?  The separatists would say France.  Sure, common linguistic ties would suggest that France would support Quebec (as my first book would also predict).  But France has bigger fish to fry over the next decade, such as pulling the EU and its own economy out of the current fire.  The funny thing is that Sarkozy, who was leading the right-wing at the time, was not a fan of the Quebec project.  The socialists, Hollande, usually do not play nationalist cards so much.  And there is another target of French nationalism much closer to home.  Why score points on a situation that is not in the hearts and minds of French nationalists (that would be Quebec) when you can focus on immigrants at home? 

France is far less concerned with the defense of the French language (check out their stop signs) than Quebec.  So, will France support Quebec?  Perhaps.  It might be hard to oppose, but what would this support consist of?

Who else would support a separating Quebec?  The US?  Mais non.  The US would not put its virtual body in the way, but it is clear that the US likes Canada whole and not falling apart.  Quebec nationalists say that NAFTA would apply to them, so no real transaction costs for US-Quebec relations.  Sure, right.  Um, no.  The US would have something to say about that, and Canada, as a partner to NAFTA (which Quebec would not be) might use admission to NAFTA as leverage. 

Anyone else matter in this?  Again, I have a hard time figuring that out.  Perhaps some nationalist can convince me of their dreams of the relevance of some other actor who might support a Quebec independence drive in a meaningful way.  The good news for such folks is this: Quebec will not have to resort to arms to separate from Canada so external support really is not that important.  The real issue would be the bargaining process between Quebec and Canada over a variety of issues.  Quebec would have some leverage, but Canada would have much as well.  Ah, but we can dream of a friction-less settlement, right? 


Anonymous said...

Quebec nationalists can likely count on emotional support from mighty Wallonia, another franchophone nation struggling for identity in a multilingual society.

So they have that going for them. :D

Anonymous said...

Wallonia, or more likely Flemish nationalists (the folks who actually want out of Belgium). So yes, a handful of separatist peoples (Catalans, et al) would sympathize. Since they lack sovereign states, it'd be entirely symbolic.

Might be able to count on slightly more consequential support from some more leftist Latin American governments, especially those that don't need to worry about energy imports. So that's Venezuela and co. Perhaps a few recently independent ethnonational or postcolonial states. So that gets you a nod of support from Kosovo.

But that's gotta be about it. It's hard to imagine national governments anywhere else regarding the dismemberment of Canada as much more than an additional foreign policy headache -- just one more thing to worry about.

That goes for much of Europe, and certainly Asia. Bear in mind how China tends to react to separatist precedents of any kind.

R. William Ayres said...

It surprises me how often people violate the "glass houses" rule and side (symbolically) with the people on the "other side". Greek Cypriots have been very supportive, for example, of Palestinians - even though they are the powerful party on the island, from whom Turkish Cypriots would like to separate. I never did figure that one out.

On the whole, states of consequence (the powerful in the system) tend to oppose separatism, because they like the status quo. So that suggests, as Steve said, that PQ or others are unlikely to find much support abroad.