So I’m sure your workplace has been buzzing with the news that the New Flemish Alliance won the most seats in the Belgian election this weekend. No? Anyway, the New Flemish Alliance is dedicated to breaking Belgium into its constituent French- and Dutch-speaking parts.
I find this interesting because Flanders, the richer, more populous, Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, is the part that wants to leave, while the French-speaking Walloons are trying to keep the country together. The Flemings are tired, they say, of propping up the backwards economy of their Walloon neighbours.
In Canadian terms, it’s as if the English-speaking provinces were trying to separate from Canada, while Quebec desperately offered constitutional reforms to try and entice us to stay.
The Flemings have been running Belgium for the last thirty years – there hasn’t been a Prime Minister from Wallonia since the 1970s. Therefore you’d expect the Walloons to be the disgruntled ones. (By contrast, we’ve had Prime Ministers from Quebec for about 35 of the last 40 years.)
I guess the Flemings are still mad because back in their grandparents’ day, the Walloons were on top. The king spoke French, the government was conducted in French, the top universities taught in French. In the 1960s, around the same time Canada began to promote the inclusion of French at the federal level, Belgium did the same for Dutch. But unlike their counterparts in Quebec, who continued to lag behind the rest of Canada in the production of wealth, the Flemings were already well on their way to becoming their nation’s economic elite.
A half century on, the old grievances have long since ceased to be relevant, but the Flemings continue to nurture them – the same way many French-speaking Quebeckers are still convinced that they’re being oppressed by rich Anglos.
Less than one per cent of French-speaking Quebecers believe francophones out-earn anglophones, according to the poll…
Yet it’s a fact: If your mother tongue is French, you earn $2,000 a year more, on average, than an English-speaking Quebecer.
Most Quebeckers seem to have concluded that independence would be more trouble than it’s worth, what with haggling over the debt, setting up their own currency, renegotiating all their trade deals, and so on. But let me make a bold prediction, based on the Belgian example. Should Quebeckers ever become wealthier than English Canadians – wealthy enough that they can plausibly argue we’re dragging them down – they’ll be gone faster than we can say Pierre Eliot Trudeau.