03.08.2014 10:45 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: whither thou goest, Quebec?

[This is a reworked/expanded version of the post I wrote a few days ago. Quite a few of you claimed to like it, so I worked it into 625 or so words. Cheers, W.]

Now that Quebec’s separatist government has called an election – and now that there is a very real prospect of the Parti Québécois seizing a majority in the National Assembly – strap on your seat belts. We’re in for another bumpy ride, Canada.

In recent years, of course, it has been become de rigueur for the commentariat to declare that the separatist movement was “dead.” Some of us vehemently disagreed with that assessment. When your politics are entirely about identity, and long-nurtured grievances and humiliations, you never give up.

Separatist longing is unkillable, because logic has nothing to do with the desire for a separate nation. If it did, we wouldn’t be hearing – once again – about the likelihood of another Quebec referendum. It is a matter of the heart, not the head. Party platforms come and go; dreams don’t. They’re eternal.

Politically, the circumstances favour the separatists. If you survey the political landscape, and take a hard look at all the players, you’ll see why.

· Quebeckers aren’t bullish on Canada: Statistics Canada notwithstanding, most Quebecois (like most Canadians) do not believe that a robust recovery is underway. They know (as this writer suggested on this page last week) that they are still only a couple paycheques away from living on the street. To Quebec voters nervous about their economic prospects, Canada does not seem to be thriving any more than Quebec is. Pauline Marois’ argument is dishonest, but compelling in its simplicity: economically, we derive no benefits from Canada – they are pulling us down. Why not try some economic independence, for once?

· Canadians aren’t bullish on Quebec: As a smart Conservative friend told me at lunch this week, it is a fact that Canadians themselves cannot be counted on to automatically rally in support of a united Canada, as they did in 1980 and 1995. Instead, they can be expected to respond with anger and/or indifference to the sovereignty issue again being revisited. Maybe. But he is certainly not wrong when he observes that Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair do not possess any of the populist political skills of Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien to rally average Canadians. And none of them, my friend observed, has ever fought a referendum before.

· The federalist giants are gone: The great separatist-slayers of the past – Chretien, Trudeau the Senior – have left the scene. They have been replaced by a passionless, Western anglophone Prime Minister who is reviled in Quebec; a novice Liberal leader who lacks any real support off the island of Montreal; and an NDP leader who clearly sympathizes more with sovereignty than federalism. Who, then, will speak for Canada, in the coming confrontation?

· The federal political parties aren’t ready or willing: The political culture/stature of each of the federal political parties isn’t what it was. Conservatives quietly wonder if Canada wouldn’t be better off without Quebec. Liberals have zero strength on the ground in Quebec. And the New Democrat caucus is mainly made up of former crypto-separatists. Not good.

· To many Québécois, Canada herself is a myth: Over the years, all of the symbols of Canada – ranging from things as simple as Canada Post offices to the flag – have been disappearing in Quebec. Quebeckers, therefore, can’t be condemned for wondering what their federal taxes pay for. Watch their newscasts: their world does not extend past the Ottawa River. Canada is an illusion, to most of them.

None of this is to say, of course, that the separatists are without their own problems. Marois, in particular, is no populist firebrand like a cane-wielding Lucien Bouchard was. She is no Rene Levesque.

But politics, like comedy, is all about timing. And, presently, the timing favours the separatists.

Thus, my prediction: our preoccupation, in the months to come, will not be Crimea or Syria or Iran or the Central African Republic.

It will be Quebec.



  1. Ryan Spinney says:

    Any seperatist sympathizers in the NDP cacus. left after the Unity Bill (Claude Patry). The rest are federalists and committed to federalism.

    If that doesn’t convince you, this should. If Quebec seperates they lose thier jobs and penisons. .

    But Mulcair is right, the focus should be on making Canada a more desirable place to stay in, in order to get Quebec to sign the constitution and avoid future referundums.

  2. smelter rat says:

    One can imagine all of the exploding heads at SNN today.

    • Warren says:

      You have no idea.

      • Lance says:

        Is that FORMER boss?

        • Lance says:

          I only mention it because I’m sure that “former” aspect will be bandied about a lot in the next while by people looking to make excuses.

      • Coelocanth_Jones says:

        The “controversially Canadian” network whose head ran for the separatists, the social democratic nationalists who ran an arch-conservative media head as a candidate. I must admit, I’m quite tickled by it all

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:


        This is no surprise to me. After all, I’ve called for Peladeau vs. Labaume after Pauline calls it quits. Remember he said no at least three times and yet the story just wouldn’t die out…

  3. Lance says:

    “Canadians aren’t bullish on Quebec”.

    No kidding! When it comes to Quebec separatists raising the spectre of separatism, you know what I hear mostly nowadays?

    This – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWweqP_ZWbg

  4. Matt says:

    There was a story on 680 News here in Toronto yesterday Harper has had discussions with Mulcair, Trudeau and the Premiers to come up with a united federalist response should Marois achieve a majority.

    I doubt Mulcair will be of any assistance though.

    • david ray says:

      Separatism. First as tragedy then as farce and now as larceny. Follow the money. It’s always about the money.

    • Coelocanth_Jones says:

      The one person of the aforementioned group who served as a federalist MNA and Anglophone rights advocate will not be of much assistance?

      • Matt says:

        Considering he has already been given a chance to speak publicly about a possible PQ majority and refused saying yhe NDP will remain neutral, no he won’t be of any assistance.

  5. Marc-Andre Chiasson says:

    With the entry today of millionaire Pierre Karl Péladeau, President of Quebecor and Sun Media, as a candidate with the Marois team, there now appears to be a coalition of the left and the right within the Parti Québecois for a new push toward independence…or at least toward a new deal with the ROC. It also kind of takes away Couillard’s trump card that the Liberals are the only provincial party focusing on the Québec economy and that the the Péquistes are poor business managers. Interesting times…and strange bedfellows.

    • Swervin' Merv says:

      Since Péladeau’s Sun News Network didn’t get all it wanted from the CRTC last year in its mandatory carriage cable application, this is one way to take the ball and go home: “maîtres chez nous.”

    • david ray says:

      what are we being distracted from again?

  6. James curran says:

    No Federal Party would ever want to be accused of saving the country again…..er, I mean sponsorship again.

  7. Steve T says:

    Your latter point is the most important one, but one that works against the separatists. Quebec doesn’t need to formally separate – they have carved out a “unique society” already, while still enjoying all the benefits of being in Canada.

    There are the draconian and ever-increasing language laws, the “values” charter, the lack of a Canadian flag in many places within the province, and countless other examples. Combine this with the constant pandering by federal politicians (remember when Harper declared the Quebecois a “nation” within Canada?), and you’ve essentially got all the perks of being a separate country – yet with the perks of being a Canadian province.

    Sadly, this is probably the main reason that Quebeckers will vote against sovereignty. They know that, for many years now, they’ve been able to have their cake and eat it too.

  8. steve says:

    People thought I was crazy when I said in 2002 that Steve Harper’s end game is to be the first Republican Governor of Alberta. Well now his Republican loving ways are right out in the open. The US style manipulation of electoral regions and laws to help him in 2015. Changing the way judges are selected to potentially put Vic Towes on the supreme court. What seems like a very cosy relationship with a media empire headed by a closet separatist. Real Canadian conservatives should be outraged, and should be sending separatists Steve packing.

    And if you thinkZ its hard to find a babysitter now, just think of the consequences of Vic on the top bench?

  9. JeremyR says:

    I argued in a published post just after the 2012 election that sovereignty in Quebec was on the wane. I premised my arguments on the fact that the PQ, after years of LPQ rule, mired in scandal, could only eek out a threadbare minority as evidence. I also pointed to the rise of the CAQ, and the ballot box question being determined more closely along the traditional left-right axis.

    I do not wish to do a u turn, and I still do believe that passion for sovereignty is down. But as Warren correctly points out, so too is francophone passion for Canada significantly on the wane. Quebecers, and I say this as a Montrealer with family still residing there, treat Canada more and more with indifference.

    And add to the mix a shift of power to the West, and a PM and neo-con CPC party that is virtually anathema to Quebecers and their collective sense of self.

    Support for sovereignty is now at a rather dormant 40%. But as history has shown, the PQ have no problem dredging it up based on somewhat imagined, exaggerated grievances.

    Let’s hope this is not the beginning of a third wave to Quebec independence. But whereas I was more bullish on Canadian unity back in 2012, I am less so as witness to the unfortunate unraveling of recent QC political developments.

  10. Bill Dever says:

    I think any prudent Canadian will see the sound wisdom in boycotting any business interest where Pierre Karl Peladeau holds ownership. No longer should we tolerate any form of national media being in the hands of someone whose intent it is to fracture Canada.

    Boycott all of Sun Media (channels and newspapers) as well as the cable carrier Videotron. Mr. Peladeau has declared his intent, I think we should all respond by denying his businesses income.

  11. Elisabeth Lindsay says:

    I have a question…….re: Quebec finances….I understand that Quebec receives 16 billion more than it contributes to Ottawa.

    How then can they say that they are getting a raw deal?

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:


      Anything short of independence is a raw deal for them. But BINGO for David Ray. Cash is indeed King and as long as the tap keeps flowing with AB and BC bucks, a separatist referendum victory will remain a pipe dream and dear Pauline bloody well knows it.

  12. Stephen J says:

    Warren, I’m concerned about persona muta Justin and his paternity leave from the political stage while Canada is faced with national and international crises.

    Mulcair, Goodale and Leblanc are all in their place in the HoCs during QP and making their presence felt. Meanwhile Justin is in the nursery on diaper duty. For God’s sake, it’s their third child and leadership obligations must be met! Get out of the nursery and back to work!

    I suspect Justin may have taken a long walk in the snow and come to a final conclusion. How can he reappear in the HoCs to resume his leadership role when he is acting so juvenile? Perhaps Liberal backroom strategists have told him to best take a time out and tend to the family while others cover for his absence after his Ukrainian gaffe.

    Justin’s credibility, authenticity, competence as a national political leader has been damaged with his untimely absence from the HoCs. How can he show his face now and be taken seriously. He can’t.

    Whither goest Justin?

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Stephen J,

      You write about national and international crises. Funny, how it wasn’t a crisis while Canada slept soundly with Charest in office. But now, the shit will hit the fan if Pauline gets a majority. Well, obviously and too damned bad no one thought about preventing her election 18 months ago. No one did a thing to give Charest constitutional cover by way of a minimum of accommodation. So, now we get to live with the possible consequences…call it a failure of leadership — of statescraft, if you
      will. Try pinning that one on Justin. The buck didn’t stop on his desk, did it?

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:

        Stephen J,

        What about that other good Son of Quebec, living in Montreal? The guy is called Paul Martin, Jr. and he was born in

        • Stephen J says:

          Marois is forcing a provincial election for April 7th — silence from Justin.

          Peladeau declares his PQ candidacy — silence from Justin.

          What will it take to flush out Justin from his questionable paternity leave? Surely he should have come out and declared he stands against Quebec independence but his silence leaves that in doubt. Surely a loyal and principled leader would rise to the occasion and lead vocally against Quebec separation as Marois and Peladeau are promoting.

          All we get is silence from Justin. Doesn’t that make you uncomfortable?

          • Ronald O'Dowd says:

            Stephen J,

            Not at all. Federal rule number one is to never ever interfere in a provincial campaign. That would be suicide for any federal party that stupid. Sure, leaders can reiterate their faith in federalism and a united Canada but that’s about as far as you can take it.

            I think it important to hear something along those lines from each of the leaders before April 7. But as they say, timing is everything. Keep it short, but effectively convey your message to Quebecers.

          • Stephen J says:

            But didn’t Justin interfere with provincial election campaigns in the Maritimes and Ontario? Why is he persona muta on the Quebec election? Unless Justin and Mulcair are cooking up some kind of coalition to oppose the Marois sovereignty push in the upcoming election. I would think that citizens of Quebec would get involve in a critical provincial election that will determine whether Quebec stays or separates from Canada.

            Trudeau and Mulcair would be Canadian heroes if they derailed Marois’ bid to win a majority separatist government, and that would be a big plus for them in a federal election too.

  13. e.a.f. says:

    good essay.

    The things which the federal government once provided, aren’t there any more. The federal government has reduced its influence, over the years, by “fighting the deficit”. Keeping the nation together certainly has not been a goal for the Cons. Harper is not capable of dealing with a seperatist issue, he barely can deal with any of the issues. He lacks vision, beyond his own narrow view. The leaders of the other two parties simply don’t have the personality to deal with it and inspire people. Where once they got Charest to leave one party to go to the Liberals and win, no one is there. As time has passed, the quality of our politicians have diminished. If Quebec wants to leave, nothing short of military intervention will keep them in Canada.

    Given Harper’s treatment of Canadians, you simply can not blame people who want to leave Canada. If Harper went, and things improved who knows. Right now its like the rats leaving a sinking ship. Will Quebec make it on its own? who knows but would it get much worse than it is now? No,. Quebec has enough natural resources to go it own way. They won’t be burdened with a large Armed Forces, there might even be saving there.

    Quebec has changed over the past 30/40 yrs and so has the rest of Canada. In previous referedums the rest of Canada was not interested in having Quebec leave. Now, a different demographic, whose who may not even have much of an allegiance to Canada as a country and/or concept. Given how Czech/Slovakia split, and the Scots wanting to leave England, it maybe there is more of an attitude towards “the city state”.

    Harper maybe come known as the P.M. who not only defunded women’s groups, made life miserable for Veterans, closed government offices, but let Canada dissolve.

    Ms. M. is not capable of adequately running a country, but there has always been a lot of talent in Quebec and it will surface. They will make it as a country. Beyond Ms. M’s “ethnic” hatred, Quebec values charter, Quebec isn’t such a bad place. I’ve always believed that in the end, if Canada broke up, all that would be left of Canadian values would be in Quebec. I’ve always been a strong nationalist. I love this Country, but now, all these years later, I can understand if Quebec wants to leave. During previous referedums, the rest of Canada was not permitted to vote. Had I had a vote, it would have been to have Quebec stay. If it were put to a vote for all Canadians, this time round I would vote to let Quebec go. The Canada we have today, is not the Canada I grew up in. The federal “dream” is gone, along with our standard of living. The rate of corruption in our country has been picking up………

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Stephen J,

      Come on. Peladeau is an independantiste, first, last and always. Yes, he happens to be right-wing but he’s also a social-democrat! How many of those have you met in the CPC? I’ve met none.

  14. m5slib says:

    Remember when everyone was wondering about Trudeau mentioning Marois more than Mulcair in this year’s convention speech? Remember when he was the first to come out against the charter. Yes, he’s not JC or Pierre, but who is? Sometimes he’s proven to be ahead of the game.

  15. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Stephen J,

    Pauline is the new Mackenzie King: a referendum if necessary but not necessarily a referendum. Remember why Bouchard quit. He saw no prospect of winning one and given current conditions in Quebec, he was right. Nothing has changed in the interim.

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