The question of Quebec separatism is laid to rest--momentarily--by the 59 percent non vote in the May referendum. But Jane...


THE QUESTION OF SEPARATISM: Quebec and the Struggle Over Sovereignty

The question of Quebec separatism is laid to rest--momentarily--by the 59 percent non vote in the May referendum. But Jane Jacobs' brief, heretical case for separatism--expanded from the 1979 CBC Massey lectures--is no less pertinent or provocative today. To Jacobs--a Torontonian since the late 1960s--separatism is an emotional, not a practical, issue: a matter of how one identifies ""the nation."" It stems, she believes, from the growth of Montreal (and its regenerative effect on the whole province), and the subsequent greater growth of Toronto--drawing away migrants, institutions, and private enterprise from Montreal and dooming it, in the Canadian pattern of ""colonial"" economic development (investment in resources, not manufacturing), to stagnate as a provincial capital and drag down the Quebecois. On its own, she maintains, Quebec could not do worse and might do better--as, in history's one example of a peaceful secession, Norway has done since it gained its independence from Sweden in 1905. This example--which Jacobs develops with justifiable glee--leads her into the economic viability and vitality of small states, the economic inconsequence of a large domestic market. (""Only 15 percent of what we in Canada sent to Norway is processed and manufactured goods, but half of what Norway sent us is processed and manufactured goods""--from farm machinery to fishing equipment to skis, for all of which Canada has a big domestic market.) So size is not an argument against separatism--which would have the benefit for the Canadian nation, Jacobs goes on to contend, of resolving the ""insoluble problem"" of combining duality (of French and English Canada) with federation (of ten ostensibly equal provinces). Finally, and perhaps most searchingly, she considers guilt over maintaining ""two solitudes,"" over failing to resolve differences, to be antiquated: better diversity--and the energy it unleashes--than hypertrophied centralization. Whatever the structural flaws in her argument, Jacobs is a bold, original thinker who might even--for once--kindle American interest in Canada's perennial quandary.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1980