If the separatist Parti Quebecois government calls an election “soon, soon” – and if, as many expect, they win a majority government – strap on your seat belts. We are 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.” I’ve never agreed with them. 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.
Politically, the circumstances favour the separatists. Here are just a few of the reasons why:
- Statistics Canada notwithstanding, most Canadians and Quebecois do not feel that a robust recovery is underway. They know, as I wrote in the Sun on the weekend, that they are still only a couple pay cheques away from living on the street. To nervous Quebec voters, Canada does not seem to be thriving any more than Quebec is. Why not give it a try?
- 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 They have been replaced by a passionless, Western anglophone Prime Minister who is reviled in Quebec, a novice Liberal leader who lacks any support off the island of Montreal, and an NDP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 political culture/stature of each of the federal political parties has changed. Conservatives quietly wonder if Canada wouldn’t be better off without Quebec; Liberals have zero – zippo, zilch – strength on the ground in Quebec anymore; the New Democrat caucus is mainly made up of former Bloc and Parti Quebecois supporters, who will not lift a finger to save Canada. Not good, not any of it.
- As a Conservative friend told me at lunch this week, it is a fact that Canadians themselves cannot be counted on to 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 being revisited, yet again. I do not know if he is right, but he is not wrong when he observes that Harper/Trudeau/Mulcair do not have any of the populist political skills of Trudeau Senior and Chretien to rally average Canadians.
- All of the symbols of Canada – ranging from things as simple as Canada Post offices to the flag – have been disappearing in Quebec over the years. 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 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 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.