Anglos should fill leadership vacuum, not just give up

Scowen's updated book points out need for people to fight for the community

Québec 2007 - le facteur «Canada»

[Reed Scowen, the former Liberal MNA, has just produced a revised edition of his controversial 1999 bestseller, Time to Say Goodbye->4812], which argued Canada should not wait for Quebec to win a sovereignty referendum. Instead, it should take the initiative itself and divorce Quebec, which he described as an ethnocentric spoiled child whose demands for more powers and money can never be satisfied.

This new edition, timed for the provincial election, shows the politically incorrect federalist has not mellowed.

Indeed, the last nine years have only given him new ammo.
Canada's recognition of "les Quebecois" as a "nation," he writes, is "just the starting point for an endless struggle over what it means in practice." The money the Harper government will give Quebec to deal with the so-called fiscal imbalance will only whet the province's appetite for more. And although Action democratique du Quebec's rise in the polls has come after the book went to press, that party's goal of "autonomy" is just a new version of the kind of special status Scowen says goes against Canada's interests.

He concludes: "The political uncertainty underlying the debate has seriously impeded the economic prosperity of (the rest of Canada). It has also hurt Quebec, which is slowly becoming economically irrelevant and ever more dependent on federal support." Scowen was successful in business before becoming Notre Dame de Grace's MNA, and after serving three terms as the province's delegate-general in London, New York and Washington. I can't fault his economic diagnosis.

The problem, of course, is with his proposed cure. He ignores non-economic contributions Quebec nationalism brings the rest of the country - albeit often inadvertently. To accommodate Quebec, the rest of Canada has become more open to cultural diversity than most Western countries. The need to appeal to Quebec's progressive streak has also helped Ottawa abolish capital punishment, for example, and stay out of Iraq.

As well, Scowen too rapidly dismisses the problems Quebec's departure might bring to the unity of the remaining country. The Atlantic provinces' isolation would be no big deal what with air travel and the Internet. And Alberta would never see Quebec's departure as facilitating its own exit no matter how wealthy it gets. Really?

But what is most alarming is Scowen's shrug at what his prescription would mean for English Quebec. He estimates 200,000 to 300,000 anglophones and "new Canadians" would leave Quebec, not to mention 50,000 franco-phones. These people would generally be of "exceptional quality" and, thus, boost Canada's economy. English Quebec would become a shell.

Scowen himself would be fine. He's well off and, at age 75, has no employer to lay him off. He can presumably mutter "I'm All Right, Jack" all the way to the burial spot he has picked out in the Eastern Townships.

He's bleak about the fate of the rest of us: "It's my strong impression that there is no one left in English Quebec today who believes that the anglo community has a promising future." I think that's overly pessimistic.

Still, his message is valuable. Going farther than he did in 1999, he says the English community's "leadership infrastructure has disappeared." He notes for example the demise of Alliance Quebec (which he once led) and the two sole anglos in Quebec cabinet, both in minor posts.

"Most people, when asked for a name (of a leader), might refer to the director of an anglophone educational institution, health centre or religious organization; these are competent people, but with public interests that do not go beyond their professional mandate." Sad but true. For recent evidence, look at how feebly Montreal Island's suburbs have lobbied Quebec for municipal powers in recent days.

I think the 2007 version of the book is valuable despite its short-sighted plea for divorcing Quebec, despite its cold willingness to cast English Quebecers adrift. It underscores the need for people with leadership ability to get involved in civic life.

Time to say goodbye? No, time for people to step up and fight for this community, not quit on it, Scowen style.

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