NOTE DE VIGILE - THE QUESTION OF SEPARATISM, QUEBEC AND THE STRUGGLE OVER SOVEREIGNTY DE JANE JACOBS
UNE RÉÉDITION... ENFIN !
Pour marquer le 5e anniversaire du décès de la grande urbaniste et libre penseur, Jane Jacobs, Baraka Books est très fière d'annoncer la réédition de son important livre, The Question of Separatism, Quebec and the struggle over separatism. La nouvelle édition est enrichie de l'interview intégrale que Madame Jacobs m'a accordée chez elle en 2005, un an avant son décès ainsi que d'une nouvelle préface qui situe ce 3e livre dans l'ensemble de son oeuvre. Notons que c'est le seul de ses sept livres qui n'était plus disponible depuis le milieu des année 1980.
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_ Baraka Books
_ 6977, rue Lacroix
_ Montréal, Québec
_ H4E 2V4
[->2310] By HENRY AUBIN - Jane Jacobs was the most influential expert on North American cities of our time. Her critique in the 1960s of the razing of old neighbourhoods and constructing of apartment towers built support for more traditional, humanscale development. Many of us forget, however, that in delivering CBC's Massey lectures in 1979, a year before the first sovereignty referendum, she focused on Montreal and declared its prosperity would increase in an independent Quebec.
Sovereignists still sometimes invoke the icon's name to rebut those who say sovereignty would batter this city's economy. Jacobs's reasoning, however, has been largely overlooked. Her expanded book on the subject, The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty, came out shortly after the 1980 referendum and copies have been hard to find.
To make her view better known, a new edition of the book is coming out next week. The publisher is Baraka Books, which is headed by writer and former Parti Québécois candidate Robin Philpot. The book includes Philpot's interview with Jacobs in 2005, a year before her death at age 89. In the interview, she stands behind everything she wrote. The U.S.-born author, who moved permanently to Toronto during the Vietnam War (to keep her sons from being drafted), also acknowledges that she knows Montreal "not well: " "I've been there a few times."
The question of sovereignty's potential effect on Montreal has been taboo among sovereignists. Leaders of both opposition parties at city council, sovereignists Louise Harel and Richard Bergeron, clam up on the subject. With luck, the revived book will spur debate.
Let's look at Jacobs's case. She starts by noting that Montreal is becoming a mere regional centre with scant economic creativity. If Quebec remained a province, Montreal would join Winnipeg and Edmonton as one of Canada's "passive regional cities, generating no innovations." Such cities are primarily "service centres for the exploitation of resources from their hinterland."
Only by becoming the largest city in a separate country, she says, could Montreal become "a creative economic centre in its own right."
How, three decades later, does Jacobs's thesis hold up?
--Her book ignores the ef-fect of the anglo exodus, which had already been under way for several years when she wrote it. Actual independence would, of course, enlarge the outflow (and not just of anglophones). Although many sovereignists might welcome this from a linguistic perspective, Jacobs's thesis focuses on the economy, not language. Such a flight would mean less manpower (including knowledge workers), fewer well-paying taxpayers, less capital.
--Political uncertainty ac-companying rising sovereignist sentiment also shrinks foreign investment and the number of newcomers from abroad. This is not a short-term thing. After 1976, when the Parti Québécois came to power, it took eight years for migration (that is, the balance of people moving in or out of Quebec, either internationally or interprovincially) to get back to the earlier level. Later political strains caused a 10-year dip starting in 1993. Achievement of sovereignty would cause a deeper, longer decline.
With time, Montreal's economy has become more dependent on immigration to maintain an adequate pool of both workers and consumers. In the early 1970s the number of births per woman in Quebec began slipping below the level (2.1 births) needed to maintain the population's size. The trend still continues (it is now at 1.7 births). The last thing Montreal's economy needs is less immigration.
--With time, Montreal has hardly become the stagnant service centre that Jacobs predicted. Richard Florida, who has succeeded Jacobs as one of North America's best-known urban experts and who has studied Montreal in depth, concluded in 2008 that "more than one third of the Montreal-area workforce comes from the creative class - scientists, technology workers, entertainers, artists and designers, as well as managers and financial types - putting it in the top 10 per cent of all regions in North America, and a global leader."
One thing holding Montreal back, he says, is "overbearing" local and provincial government. Government structures here "are fragmented and filled with contradictions - complicated and clumsy. Hardly anyone who isn't involved fulltime can understand them."
In a 2004 study, a prestigious international body, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, made a similar diagnosis of the Montreal region's weak economic performance, blaming much of it on "over-complicated institutional mosaic." The region includes 14 municipal regional counties (MRCs) and five provincial administrative regions, each of which has its own economic-planning arm. Ignoring the OECD, authorities two years later added 19 Montreal boroughs and the agglomeration council to the hodgepodge.
Jacobs was wrong. Canada is a distraction from Montreal's real difficulties. They're made in Quebec.