The Quebec Factor "What ever beauty may be, it has for its basis order, and for its essence unity."
- Father Andre
It seems as though, whenever there is any discussion about Canada, one needs to speak specifically about Quebec, and how a change would affect the people of Quebec and their unique culture. This is because, unlike English Canada in comparison to the United States, Quebec does in fact have a distinct culture. Quebec has not only different customs and traditions, but also have a different major religion, different laws, and most distinctively, a different language.
As has been discussed in other sections on this site, Quebec's government is adamant about preserving Quebec's French identity. After all, the French were the first Europeans to settle in Canada, a colony the British acquired only later. So, much like Native Americans, the French feel they deserve special rights because their ancestors were on this land first. For the most part, the French got these rights because the British were very wary of losing more land after the disaster (to them) of the American Revolution. This is why Quebec to this day retains its French Civil Laws, and is allowed to govern itself with more latitude than most other provinces.
Quebecois feel this need to protect themselves, in no small part because of the fact that they are surrounded by 300 million English-speaking North Americans. So when one walks into Quebec, (s)he will notice nearly all government signs are in French only. Even France itself is more open to the English language. In Quebec, nearly all stop signs say "ARRET"; in France, they say "STOP". In Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia and other provinces, many provincial signs are labeled in both English and French, despite the fact that they are all English dominated areas. In Quebec, all provincial signs are in French only. In fact, Quebec even has a "language police" which enforce Quebec's strict language laws (see CBC Language in Quebec Backgrounder). All commercial signs in Quebec must contain French lettering that is at least twice as large as any other language. This would seem strange to most, since Canada is supposed to be a bilingual country. However, Quebec holds a lot of power in Canada's parliamentary system, and Quebecois tend to vote for one (or two) parties en masse, rather than splitting among the many parties that Canada has.
In the past this has been used in favor of the federal party, the Bloc Quebecois. This party's single mandate is separation of Quebec, from Canada. The climax of the separation issue came in 1995. The voters of Quebec were asked to decide "Should Quebec separate?", and the answer was almost as close as the 2000 US election. The "No" side won a 50.6% majority, with a difference of only 26,750 votes, out of over 4.7 million votes cast (see CBC Newsworld Flashback: Quebec Referendum). The federal government argued that Quebec would have needed more than 50% +1, but if the separatists had received a majority, they would have had real grounds for declaring their own nation.
Quebec separatism has since then receded, but it is far from gone. The separatist Parti Quebecois still holds a large number of seats in the provincial government, and the Bloc Quebecois still hold the majority of Quebec's seats in the federal parliament where it is the third largest party in Canada.
This forces the question, if Quebec can barely stay within Canada, how could it be a part of the American Union? The only real answer is, Quebec would need to join and sign onto the US Constitution freely and willingly. In Canada, many of the problems with Quebec separatism are rooted in the fact that Quebec never gave its consent to the Canadian confederation. Many Quebecois still see themselves as a defeated nation in a country that they were forced to join. This is why no Quebec government has ever signed the Canadian Constitution. However, if Quebec were to become a State within the United States of America, they would have to do so voluntarily. They would have to join with the understanding that they would not be catered to, or treated specially; they would be equal members in a strong and united Union, nothing more, and nothing less.
The fact remains that Quebec stands to gain as much as the rest of Canada does in joining with the United States. Quebec, with its high unemployment, high debt and high taxes would see all these negatives shrink within a larger Union. Quebec often boasts how it does more trade with the United States than with the rest of Canada, and obvious benefits would arise from not having to deal with trade barriers that exist at international boundaries.
Economically, Quebec stands to gain as much as the rest of Canada. However, what about Quebec's special needs? What about the French language? What about protecting Quebec's distinct culture? These are obviously issues that would need to be dealt with between the US and Quebec governments. However, it is not unprecedented for individual US states to protect their cultures. When the Louisiana Territory was divided and Louisiana was admitted as a state in 1812, it was given special rights to protect its French heritage (See CODOFIL). When the Republic of Texas joined the Union in 1845, being its own country, it was given many liberties, and special rights to protect its culture (See THC). When Hawaii entered the Union in 1959, it was also given special rights to protect its distinct and different culture (See HCPA). Surely, Quebec would be free to protect their own culture and heritage within the confines of the US Constitution, which provides liberty and equality for all.
In the end, what we have in common is far greater than what differs between us. If Hawaii with its different culture, ethnic groups, traditions, values and completely different original language could grow and prosper within the United States, then so can Quebec.