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Québec’s 2018 provincial election: lessons for Hong Kong-Beijing relations

2018/9/12 — 15:08

一度高漲的魁北克獨立運動近年轉趨淡化。(網上片段截圖)

一度高漲的魁北克獨立運動近年轉趨淡化。(網上片段截圖)

編按:加拿大魁北克省議會將於 10 月 1 日進行選舉,來自魁北克的政治學者杜方思(Jean-François Dupré)撰文指,過往主張魁北克獨立的魁北克人黨(Parti Québécois)近年亦趨向淡化其獨立旗幟,可見魁北克人對於自己的身份和自主權開始感到安全,以致他們不再覺得有推進獨立的必要。杜方思認為,加拿大聯邦政府對魁北克省採取法語、英語文化並存的方針,以及容許魁北克省進行兩次獨立公投的做法,可堪現時緊張的中港關係借鏡。

The ongoing election campaign in the predominantly French-speaking Canadian province of Québec points to important changes in Québec politics and society. For the first time since the 1970s, sovereignty is not a prominent campaign issue. Instead, the Parti Québécois has virtually suspended its calls for independence, and it is now struggling to retain its place as a top contender for power.

The fact that Québec independence is no longer a major political force does not mean that Québec identity has been waning. And it doesn’t mean that Quebecers are finally embracing a strong Canadian identity either. Quite on the contrary, it is precisely because Quebecers feel secure with their identity and their autonomy that they no longer feel the need to promote independence. Put simply, they are no longer supporting independence because they don’t feel they are being imposed a Canadian identity. They are satisfied with the progress Québec has made as a nation within the Canadian federation. Quebecers have internalized their independence.

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In Hong Kong, recent years have seen a reverse phenomenon, with localist and independentist parties making their entry on the political scene.

As I have argued in a recent co-authored paper comparing the emergence of self-determination claims in Hong Kong and their radicalization into secessionist ones in Catalonia, secessionist claims typically emerge or become strengthened as a result of a rigid response by the state to a region’s moderate demands.

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In Hong Kong, the “831” Decision of 2014, in which Beijing made clear that Hong Kong’s democratization would not take place anytime soon, was a transformative event that radicalized the opposition and led to the articulation of self-determination and independence claims. These claims were countered with an even firmer response from Beijing, which is now invoking national security as a justification to ban pro-independence parties and to further constrain Hongkongers’ freedoms and liberties. There have been pressures, for instance, to ban mere academic discussions of Hong Kong independence on campuses.

In Catalonia, these dynamics of polarization and radicalization have escalated all the way to the suspension of Catalonia’s autonomy status by the previous Partido Popular-led Spanish government, although the recently-elected leftist government in Madrid has since backtracked on many of the state’s repressive measures.

Quebecers’ demands for self-determination were handled in a markedly different manner by the Canadian state. First, the federal government’s reaction to the rise of Québec nationalism in the 1960s was not to suppress Québec’s identity and its culture, but to enshrine the idea of Canadian biculturalism by adopting a state-wide policy of official French-English bilingualism. Although the federal government did invoke the War Measures Act when terrorists from the Front de liberation du Québec stepped up their use of violence by kidnapping political figures, it did not repress organizations that advocated achieving independence through peaceful and democratic means.

This doesn’t mean that Québec-Ottawa relations haven’t been conflictual. In fact, Québec-Canada relations have featured their own reactive logic. Québec’s own response to Canadian bilingualism was to proclaim French as its only official language. In 1980, the Parti Québécois-led government held the first referendum on independence (which the federal government did not forbid), but lost its bid for “sovereignty-association” with 40.4% against 59.6%. When the Canadian constitution was patriated in the early 1980s, Québec felt excluded from negotiations. This, together with the failure of other negotiation rounds aimed at satisfying Québec’s claims for recognition as a “distinct society” within Canada, led to the second independence referendum in 1995, in which the independence option lost with less than a 1% margin (49.4 vs 50.6).

There are many differences between Québec and Hong Kong. But there is one point from which lessons can be derived. In Canada, individuals, parties and provincial governments have been allowed to advocate and promote independence, and Québec even held two referenda on independence. Politicians, government officials, journalists, scholars, students…just everybody has been allowed to discuss these issues freely in any part of Canada, even in a partisan manner. Most children brought up in Québec after the 1960s have never sung or heard the Canadian national anthem in schools. Rarely have they been encouraged to celebrate the Maple Leaf flag or any aspect of Canadian identity or history. And yet, Québec nationalism as a political force is now at its lowest in decades.

Beijing has done just the opposite of Canada, and the result is expectedly divergent from Québec’s.

Canada has not conceded to all of Québec’s demands. But the state’s willingness to respect Québec’s right to self-determination, including its right to hold referenda on independence, and to negotiate with Québec’s authorities in a generally fair, transparent and democratic manner, has enabled it to contain Québec nationalism in an effective, constructive and civilized manner.

Similar observations could be made on Scotland, where the 2014 referendum on independence from the UK resulted in a victory (55.3%-44.7%) for the status quo.

The best way to deal with a dissatisfied and insecure population is to accommodate it and to give it sense of security. If Beijing is serious about stabilizing Hong Kong and earning the respect of its population, it needs to start acting like a responsible and respectable government. Love and respect cannot be earned by force. Coercive measures like patriotic education and the National Anthem Law are only bound to backfire and feed antagonism.

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