Canada’s Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s latest threat to punish provinces that allow private health care clinics to charge fees for medically necessary procedures is a reminder why regionalism and secession are so vital to our freedoms. In his response, unfortunately, Gilles Duceppe failed to put the remote dictator who manages our personal and local affairs on notice. Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Quebecois and the torchbearer for secession in Canada, chorused about the federal government’s cuts to the health care monopoly, but failed to remind the PM to butt out of provincial affairs.
As Clyde N. Wilson writes in Secession: The Last, Best Bulwark of Our Freedoms, “Federalism is not when the central government graciously allows states to do this or that; that is just another form of administration. True federalism is when the people of the states set limits to the central government.” Imperfect as they are in defending provincial autonomy, Gilles Duceppe and his Bloc Quebecois and to a lesser degree Canada’s centrally co-opted provinces, are all we have to countervail the federal government.
The political thought that prevails in the US, Canada and other Western democracies is aimed at legitimizing the modern, centralized nation-state. With exceptions, the general consensus among jurists is that unless subject to persecution, people must “achieve self-determination within the framework of their existing state,” to quote the Supreme Court of Canada.
The analogy may be a tad strained, but as I see it, secession is the political complement of the right of free association. I may freely choose with whom to associate. Why then must my right to dissociate be predicated on some or another violation against me? Even if my actions are based on pure whim, I have the right to terminate an association whenever I desire (so long as I fulfill any contractual obligations I may have incurred, naturally).
Similarly, if it detests the central government, an entirely understandable sentiment, then Quebec should be granted an unconditional “political divorce” sans alimony, of course. As Mises Institute scholar David Gordon points out, to hold a purely functional view of government–where it secures individual rights, and nothing more–means that we ought to be able to dissociate from it without song and dance, much like we would from any other hired help.
In stipulating how the question of constitutional change in Quebec can be settled, the Supreme Court advances the puzzling “clear majority on a clear question” notion. This would imply, for instance, that 60 percent majority in favor of secession is somehow more equitable than a majority of 51 percent.
With reference to these ratios, what makes it fair to coerce the “no” vote into accepting secession when it forms 40 percent of the voters, but not 49 percent? The fact that fewer people are forced to comply with the majority, doesn’t change the act of coercion, a point that leads back to the essence of secession.
In Secession, State & Liberty, Gordon further ventures that “secession arises from individual rights”. The right to withdraw is defendable on the basis of individual–not group–rights. Therefore, should a group wish to secede, it can’t resort to mob or democratic tactic, and force individuals or minorities within it to comply with majority rule. The implications for Quebec are clear. It needn’t await an “enhanced majority” to secede. But when it does, it must not compel naysayers to join. Extending this principle, should every individual have the right to secede from government? Logistical difficulties aside, you bet.
The Bloc articulates well Quebecers’ aspirations for cultural independence. Its social-democratic platform, however,—every bit as centralized and statist as that of the Grits—detracts from its power as a force for local sovereignty.
Persist as it does in justifying a centrally planned and overregulated economy, the Bloc’s economic policies signal that it will encourage in Quebecers the same pathological dependence they now have on the federal government. Needless to say, it would be economically ruinous, if, following secession, Quebec clung to trade barriers such as tariffs and other forms of protectionism.
Sovereignists must be commended for rejecting the intrusion of the central bureaucracy into affairs that should be exclusive provincial purview. They must be condemned for seeking to consolidate as much power as possible internally. What makes the federal government so intrusive is its size. Government size and overreach are inseparable.
By mimicking this, all the Bloc will have achieved at the end of the day is to replace for Quebecers one empire with another, closer to home. Still, let’s hope Quebec prevails and leads the way with a “local Renaissance”. Quebec is all we’ve got.
©2000 By Ilana Mercer