[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.