At the time this article was
written Henry Srebnik taught in the Department of political Science a at the
University of Calgary This paper was
presented at the Association for Canadian Studies in the united States
Conference n Boston in November 1991.
Since the breakdown of the Meech
Lake constitutional accord, both English and French Canadians have been engaged
in a process designed to see if the country can be salvaged as a recognizable
federal state, or whether the "two solitudes," to use the term coined
by Canadian novelist Hugh MacLennan, will indeed, after a century and a
quarter, choose to go their different ways.
In September 1991 the federal
government announced its new proposals for constitutional reform. As well, a
number of provinces have established commissions after the collapse of Meech.
But this essay will not delve into the minutae of the various federal and
provincial constitutional proposals, which may be modified beyond recognition.
I want rather to see if it is possible for the Canadian-Quebecois dilemma to be
resolved if both sides move towards the kind of "dualism" that, in
the Habsburg Empire, resulted in the 1867 "ausgleich" or compromise,
and the creation of the "Dual Monarchy."
Both of these admittedly very
different states - Canada and Austria-Hungary - had a similar starting point:
they were the products of empire, rather than the "national
principle." They were formed as a result of imperial acquisitions and the
conquest of ethnic groups distinct from that of the ruling imperial dynasty.
The lands that became known as
Austria-Hungary were cobbled together over many centuries by the German House
of Habsburg. Not until 1804, when the Austrian Empire was proclaimed by Francis
II, was there even a common state as such, as opposed to purely dynastic
By the mid-19th century, the
Habsburgs ruled over populations of Germans, Hungarian (Magyars), Poles,
Italians, Ruthenians (Ukrainians), Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Czechs, Slovaks,
and Romanians, among others. These peoples had ethnically-defined territories,
often historical kingdoms that retained ancient rights. The Habsburgs were Holy
Roman [German] Emperors and kings of Hungary, Bohemia, and Croatia, among
numerous other titles. Yet very often, as well, segments of these nationalities
lived in belts of mixed population, areas which would later come into dispute
as rival nationalisms–Italian vs. Croatian, Hungarian vs. Croatian, Czech vs.
German–clashed within the empire.
Within the Habsburg Empire, even
the German-speaking inhabitants viewed themselves as Germans, rather than
Austrians. As for the other peoples, they owed loyalty, if at all, to the
dynasty as such, and, if and when that diminished, were unwilling to assimilate
their own ethnic and linguistic identities into those of the German
Canada was the eventual union of
those North American possessions of the British Crown which did not revolt in
1776: Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island,
Newfoundland, British Columbia, and the Hudson's Bay Company's western and
northern territories, known as Rupert's Land.
These colonies were inhabited by
settlers from the British Isles, French Canadians, and various aboriginal
peoples, later augmented by the arrival of immigrants from all over Europe and,
after World War II, the entire world. Though most of these territories were
incorporated into Canada by the turn of the century, they remained under the
political, legal and ideological hegemony of the British Empire until well into
the 1940s. French Canadians were largely concentrated in the old New France—although
Quebec had a large English minority. The aboriginal peoples lost all meaningful
political sovereignty, and became concentrated on reserves.
There was little sense of Canadian
nationhood per se. British Canadians saw themselves as part of a larger entity,
the British Empire. (Since English Canada was in effect the creation of the
United Empire Loyalists, there was also no commonality of interest with the
English-speaking but secessionist American Republic.) French Canadians were a
people trying to survive as best they could under British rule. Later
immigrants (and natives) had little input in the development of Canadian
consciousness until post World War II.
The Habsburg Empire was a
multi-national state where the two dominant groups, Germans and Hungarians,
were each less than 25% of the total population. Loyalty to the state as such
was felt most strongly by what we might today call a nomenklatura–the higher
bureaucracy and army. Only slowly did nationalism begin to stir among the
peoples of the empire–and, like in Canada, it would often take the form of
cultural conflict and "language wars."
In 1848, various nationalities rose
in revolt against Habsburg rule, while Austrian Germans themselves sought
greater political liberties (and possible union within a greater German
The Habsburgs were pressured into
adopting the Kremsier constitution, declaring the various nationalities (and
their languages) equal and calling for the formation of a bicameral parliament,
the lower house to represent the people, the upper house the various lands.
But this liberal constitution never
came into effect. In the historic territory known as the Kingdom of Hungary
(the lands of the Crown of St. Stephen), the Magyars (who made up less than 50%
of the total population but who had long held a privileged position) proclaimed
a constitution in their own Diet. However, nationalists like Louis Kossuth
refused the other nationalities those freedoms Hungarians themselves sought.
This resulted in resistance on the part of Croats, Serbs, Romanians and
Slovaks, and the Habsburgs were finally able to defeat this attempt at creating
an independent Hungarian republic.
The Magyars did not give up. For
the next two decades, while the Austrian Germans tried to unify the monarchy,
the Magyars insisted, not on federalism, but on a Hungary distinct from the
other Habsburg lands, and itself centralized and unitary.
After 1866 they got their chance.
The Habsburgs were defeated by Prussia and were eliminated from German
politics. The weakened Austrian Germans, aware that the Hungarians would if
necessary side with the Prussians, in 1867 (the same year as Confederation)
agreed to the creation of a dualist political system in which the Hungarians
received almost complete independence within their historical frontiers; they
would also exercise a role in the larger polity far beyond their numerical or
economic strength. None of the other nationalities in either
"Austria" (i.e. the non-Hungarian lands of the Habsburgs, whose official
name was simply "the kingdoms and lands represented in the Reichsrat
[Imperial Council]") or Hungary were consulted. The "ausgleich"
was a deal between the Habsburg court and the Hungarian leaders.
The details of the ausgleich are
complex, so I will provide only a few of the main points. Three administrative
authorities were set up: There was to be a common head of state–Francis Joseph
I was now Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary–and a few areas of
jurisdiction that would remain under imperial control: the military, foreign
affairs (though both parliaments would have to approve international treaties),
and a few common financial matters. Three imperial ministries were formed for
these. As well, there were certain matters which, while not administered in
common, would be regulated jointly upon principles which had to be renegotiated
every 10 years: customs legislation, the proportion to be paid by each entity
of certain taxes and expenses, a common monetary and postal system, and railway
lines affecting both parts of the empire.
In order to deal with such
legislation, numerically equal delegations from the two respective parliaments
would meet in common once a year, alternately in Vienna and Budapest.
Everything else was now to come
under the jurisdiction of Hungary or the lands of the Austrian Reichsrat. Each
part of the empire would now have its own constitution, parliament and cabinet
(located in Budapest and Vienna, respectively), and official language. There
was no common citizenship, nor could either country intervene in the other's
Austria's constitution, much more
liberal than Hungary's, recognized some national and linguistic rights. Within
Hungary, despite the enactment of a Nationalities Law in 1868, which on paper
allowed minorities to receive education and conduct local governmental affairs
in their own language, by 1875 only the Croats retained certain very limited
autonomy. The policy would henceforth be one of cultural assimilation:
minorities wishing to adopt Magyar culture and language would be accepted, but
those wishing to develop their own would be repressed. Magyar was made
compulsory in all schools in 1883. By the turn of the century, over 90% of all
judges, county and government officials in Hungary were Magyars.
But even within the Austrian lands
there was conflict: Germans and Czechs clashed over who "owned"
Bohemia: after all, said the German inhabitants, it had been an historic part
of the Holy Roman Empire. But, countered the Czechs, these were the lands of the
Crown of St. Wenceslaus, as such a Czech entity. These quarrels would extend to
matters of language as well, including questions about the use of Czech or
German on street signs or on restaurant menus in bi-cultural cities such as
An attempt in 1871 to grant the
Czechs equal status to Germans in a federal Bohemia failed (partly because the
Hungarians, not wishing to alter the 1867 arrangements anywhere in the
empire, blocked it). There were also outbreaks of violence by Germans in
Bohemia and Moravia in 1897, when the government tried to introduce
bilingualism in the civil service–a move favorable to the Czechs, who were more
likely to know German than the reverse case.
Indeed, many Austrian Germans, now
no longer prominent in wider German affairs, and indeed fearing their own
decline within the Dual Monarchy itself (imperial ministries were no longer
necessarily under German control), began to declare pan-German sentiments, and
looked longingly towards the powerful German Empire next door. Some intellectuals
wanted a small, German Austria, attached to Germany by a customs union. A
nationalistic pan-German party was formed by Georg von Schonerer in 1885.
Germany discouraged such behavior, believing that a united Habsburg monarchy
better served Germany's interests than a fragmented group of successor states.
As for the Hungarians, despite the
ausgleich, demands for complete independence increased by the turn of the
century. Many wanted a separate Hungarian army with Magyar as the language of
command, and an end to the customs and monetary union with Austria. Even those
who continued to support the ausgleich constantly sought increased influence
and privileges in the empire as a whole.
The Hungarians also redoubled their
campaigns against minorities within their borders, especially against the
Croats. Even private schools for minorities were banned in 1907. The
minorities, said Hungarian Prime Minister Stephen Tisza in 1913, had to become
accustomed to the fact that they lived in a nation-state, "a state which
is not a conglomerate of various races." As already noted, the Magyars
also blocked whenever possible ethnic advances in the Austrian lands, lest
similar demands be made on them. They considered only themselves and the
Germans the two "peoples of state." They needed the Habsburg
connection in order to maintain their greater Hungary, while wishing to remain
free from Viennese interference.
The national discontent within the
empire led to its disintegration after World War I. Two tiny rump states, Austria
and Hungary, reduced to their ethnic boundaries, were all that was left to the
two ruling peoples of the empire. (The Hungarians did indeed find out they
could not leave the Dual Monarchy with all their territory.) Elsewhere,
successor states, based on the "national principle," emerged, though
often these, too, found themselves with recalcitrant or unwanted minorities.
All of these conflicts resulted in
sterile constitutional questions taking precedence over the promotion of
economic unity and industrial development. Towards the end, the state was held
together only by a vast body of bureaucrats.
The various constitutional
amendments now on the table in Canada are leading us towards a
"Austro-Hungarian" solution. But that begs the question: Would a
"Dual Canada" which made constitutionally explicit the notion of
"two founding nations" follow the same downward spiral as did the
Quebecois, certainly, show
ethnocentric tendencies not encouraging to anglophone and allophone minorities,
and seem more interested in cultural assimilation than pluralism.
Despite massive emigration since
the 1970s, there are still some 800,000 anglophones in Quebec, concentrated
mainly in Montreal, and they remain hostile to Quebec nationhood.
The allophones–some 630,000
people-fare little better. While in many ways more integrated into the larger
French Canadian society than are the anglophones (many allophones are recent
immigrants), they fear Quebec separatism almost as much and also wish to remain
In December 1990, a report written
by nine prominent members of Quebec ethnic groups said that In Quebec, racism
is alive and well and living under the guise of Quebec nationalism. As Quebec
moves toward becoming more French, it pushes aside and ignores other cultures,
which are not seen as valid. The Quebec concept of integration is really
assimilation. It also noted that Quebec identity has begun to be based entirely
on race, leading to expressions such as Quebecois "pure laine,"
literally, of pure wool, i.e. old-stock or "real" French Canadians.
While the Canadian federal civil
service employs approximately the same percentage of francophones as comprise
the overall population, Quebec's civil service is still overwhelmingly
francophone. Though francophones comprise about 83% of Quebec's population, the
provincial civil service was, as of March 1990, 99.3% francophone. Montreal's
own civil service is less than 1% anglophone–this, in a city where anglophones
still make up some 19% of the population.
In March 1991, Cree Chief Billy
Diamond warned a House of Commons committee that his people might engage in
armed confrontation if the $12.7 billion Great Whale River (James Bay II)
project were to be launched. "We are distinct. We are sovereign. We are
autonomous," contended Diamond.
This has in turn generated much
anger among Quebecois, for whom Hydro-Quebec and the various projects in
northern Quebec have become secular icons of the Quiet Revolution, as well as a
means to economic development. Quebec Energy minister Lise Bacon warned the
Cree in October 1991 that the project would not be permanently blocked.
There are other peoples in Quebec
who might also opt for self-determination. Witness the extreme bitterness
between the Mohawks of Oka, Kahnawake, and Kanasatake and the Quebec government
in 1990. Before it was over, one Quebec provincial police officer had been
killed, and 3,700 Canadian troops deployed to keep the peace.
In English-speaking Canada, too,
there are voices calling for an end to policies designed to preserve ethnic and
linguistic diversity. There is massive discontent with federal policies
regarding official bilingualism and multiculturalism, which in many parts of
English Canada bears little resemblance to social reality. In the West, especially,
people think of French Canadian as simply another ethnic minority, rather than
as a "dual partner" in Canada.
If dualism does prove unworkable,
what are some other potential outcomes? A complete breakup of the country might
be economically extremely costly. Nor are there any guarantees that the
passions such a situation might unleash could be controlled.
Historians as well-respected as
Jack Granatstein of York University and Desmond Morton of the University of
Toronto have both spoken publically of the potential for civil war, especially
if Quebec's secession were to involve more than simple separation of the
province from Canada, but might also result in an partition or shifting of
borders between provinces to reflect ethnic and linguistic boundaries as
happened in Austria-Hungary.
Who, after all, has the right to
self-determination? If French Quebecois, then why not also the internal
minority of anglophones? Why not natives?
In March 1991, the Equality Party
(a newly formed Quebec anglophone-rights party) passed a resolution demanding
negotiations on the partition of Quebec should the province declare
independence. They called for "the establishment of new provincial
boundaries that will maintain the physical integrity of Canada." Presumably
a corridor south of the St. Lawrence River, running through the historically
English Eastern Townships, and perhaps also including anglophone parts of
Montreal, could become a new Canadian province. Some of the towns north of the
Ottawa River also have anglophone populations, and might consider joining this
new province, or Ontario.
Others have noted that the entire
Quebec north (the Abitibi and Ungava regions) was granted to the province in
1898 and 1912 by the federal government, presumably on the assumption Quebec
would remain in Confederation, and therefore should revert to Canada if Quebec
goes its own way. Most of the population there is aboriginal, and Ovide
Mercredi, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has said aboriginals would
resist severing this territory from Canada.
One of last year's best selling
books, Deconfederation: Canada Without Quebec, written by University of
Calgary academics David Bercuson and Barry Cooper, not only rejects an Austro-Hungarian
solution for Canada, calling instead for the departure of Quebec, but also
suggests Canada has a right to retain the far north, the South Shore of the St.
Lawrence, and perhaps even parts of the Ottawa valley and Montreal.
On the other hand Quebec
nationalists maintain claims to Labrador, which is an integral part of
Newfoundland province. Nationalists have never reconciled themselves to the
1927 ruling by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London awarding
the disputed territory to Newfoundland (then still a British colony), and
official Quebec maps and logos typically show the area as part of the province.
Also, might not the Acadians of New Brunswick wish to throw in their lot with a
sovereign French-speaking state, resulting also in a division of that province?
We know that once people begin to
fiddle with borders, violence often follows. Secessions may sometimes be
bloodless, but partitions are messy. A sovereign French Quebec may end up, like
Hungary, a much smaller state.
The dangers are clear. Another
referendum looms in Quebec–but this time, unlike in 1980, both major provincial
parties are prepared to see Quebec leave Confederation. So perhaps there are
lessons to be drawn for Canada from the Austro-Hungarian experiment, because,
as Keith Spicer stated in November 1991, "there are not a lot of chances
left for Canada."