I SPENT THE DAYS following the recent Quebec election in Norfolk, UK, with a bunch of academics and journalists, and tried to raise the alarms set off by the return of the Parti Québécois to power.
“Actual secession is not on the table—yet—but there are worrying trends in culture and language policy,” I told them. “And they took down the Maple Leaf in the assembly.”
“Is it true that Canada’s economy has actually been okay since 2008? ” the English wanted to know.
“Pauline Marois will certainly make Stephen Harper’s life miserable,” I said. “Will Thomas Mulcair and his sizable Quebec caucus skew federalist, or see PQ sympathy as a way to undermine the Conservatives in Ottawa? ”
“What’s the population of Canada anyway? ”
“This business about veils and religious symbols is ominous,” I went on. “You sometimes feel the rumble of nascent racism in Quebec. And the police are practically paramilitary.”
“Is the median family income higher there than in the States? ”
“And then there are all the structural problems,” I insisted. “Crumbling infrastructure, high dropout rates in schools, underfunded universities, corrupt businesses, and a shrinking tax base. People say Quebec is the Greece of Canada. You know, Greece? ”
“Hey, do you get to vote in the American election? ”
Some international perspective is all it takes to remind you that the only thing more boring to the world than the enduring mystery of Canadian identity is the eternal question of Quebec’s future. But I am old enough to remember a time when Quebec separatists offered the closest thing Canada had to serious political violence. The very existence of the Front de libération du Québec served to satisfy the “issue envy,” as Mordecai Richler called it, that ever afflicts peaceable, well-ordered Canadians when they view gritty world affairs. Our very own terrorists! Suck on that, America!