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Colin Standish

False choices: Why we need a real referendum debate

When talk of Quebec secession flares up, I remember what it was like being a nine-year old child and growing up in my Eastern Townships village of Cookshire in 1995. The national unity debate for my friends and me was not fought on stages by waving passports: it was fought with clenched fists in the schoolyard and resulted in bloody noses, with ‘NON’ badges on the coats of children frolicking in the fallen red, yellow, and orange leaves of autumn, and with the tears of my best friend who sobbed and said that he would move away in the event of a ‘YES’ vote. My young classmates and I would waltz into school past the graffiti on the century-old bell-tower that read, “Va chier les Anglais.” (Loosely translated: “You English go f*ck yourselves.”) Much of Quebec’s 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 50 per cent plus one margin for victory, will lead to an independent Quebec. Sometimes we debate whether the percentage ought to be higher: 60 per cent, 75 per cent, or maybe more. But we need a new model for the discussion of Quebec (or provincial) succession or independence. The question is basically presented as a coin toss: yes or no. And if Quebec 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? Don’t the three referendum votes where Quebecers have rejected constitutional change in 1980, 1992, and 1995 count definitively? No: the coin is just flipped until they get the answer they want.… Read More