Puigdemont had planned to speak in Quebec earlier this month about his experiences as a leader of the Catalonian independence movement – including his spearheading of the region’s 2017 unilateral referendum on separation from Spain. His schedule was to include a visit to the province’s national assembly.
For more insight on the issue, Radio Sputnik spoke with Dr. Andrew Dowling, Senior Lecturer in Catalan and Spanish History at Cardiff University and author of the book ‘The Rise of Catalan Independence: Spain's Territorial Crisis'.
Sputnik: The Canadian government blocked Carles Puigdemont's visit days before the former Catalan president was to travel to the country at the invitation of a group advocating Quebec's independence. What could be the possible reason behind this decision?
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell has quite a hard line against Catalan independence and he has been personally quite active in trying to, if you will, counter the narrative of Catalan independence.
Sputnik: In your view, how can Carles Puigdemont's experience help in the case of Quebec's sovereignty?
Andrew Dowling: Well, I think many people have often seen the case of Quebec and Catalonia, as well as Scotland, as part of similar issues in kind of Western European societies with, if you want, internal issues [concerning] independence. So I think it will be taken quite badly by the Quebec movement for independence and sovereignty. It will be seen as almost an insult to that particular movement as the central government in Canada has blocked Puigdemont. He may actually be able to overturn it because they have launched an appeal with the Canadian High Court.
Sputnik: How much of an impact can this move have — blocking Puigdemont from a visit to Canada? And how can it impact Quebec's independence movement?
Sputnik: Why do the people of Quebec want to declare sovereignty? What are the main arguments behind this will?
Andrew Dowling: Well, you know, Canada is a mostly English speaking country. 80 per cent of the population of Quebec is French speakers. So it has traditionally been very much about culture and identity. It is also a strongly Catholic territory; most of Canada is traditionally Protestant because it is Anglo-Saxon Protestant. So I think essentially it is a linguistic reason. And also, if you want, sovereignty means that decisions are taken more locally rather than by the central government.
It is a claim for greater self-government rights over economic and cultural policy but is also a society that attaches great importance to its French cultural identity.
Sputnik: How will this move by Canadian authorities influence overall relations between Quebec and Canada?
Andrew Dowling: As I mentioned, it's quite likely to be interpreted quite negatively by the Quebec sovereignty movement. However, the Quebec sovereignty movement is only achieving around 30 per cent in the polls at the moment. So I think we have to see how it plays out and whether the Quebec sovereignty movement can use this issue as a mechanism to criticise the Canadian government, which they certainly will do. I think we will have to wait and see whether that criticism of the Canadian central government will have any impact on Quebec's society and in voting and political behaviour.
Sputnik: But the president of their pro-sovereignty group said that in Quebec's name the Canadian government instils in us who is welcome and who is not.
Andrew Dowling: Absolutely, that's the Quebec sovereignty movement. But the Quebec sovereignty movement is not currently the dominant political force in Quebec. So as I said, it is only achieving around 30 per cent of votes. It has dropped substantially since its highpoint in the 1990s. So they are very unhappy. I think we have to see whether this, if you want, this affront to Quebec as they will claim it, has any traction and whether they can use the mileage to rebuild the case for Quebec's independence.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.