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Quebec Vote Signals Canada's Split

How most of the media got it wrong.

By Rafe Mair 2 Apr 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. Mair's website is http://www.rafeonline.com. His latest book, Over the Mountains, should be at your bookstore.

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Charest: Whose saviour?

It's a pity that the Toronto Globe and Mail doesn't read its own Jeffrey Simpson before it writes idiotic editorials saying that the Quebec election has postponed the next referendum. Simpson has for once got it right. The election showed how far francophones in Quebec have moved away from the rest of Canada.

Here's how it turned out:

Liberal 48 (loss of 26), ADQ 41 (gain of 35), PQ 36 (loss of 10)

Popular vote: Liberal 33 per cent (1.3 million votes), ADQ 31 per cent (1.2 million votes), PQ 28 per cent (1.1 million votes)

This means that by a count of 77-48 the seats went to those who see some sort of sovereignty for Quebec as desirable and inevitable. On popular vote its 59-33 per cent.

Any who think that Mario Dumont and his followers would vote "no" in another referendum should have their smoking habits checked.

Moreover, Simpson, who can do simple number work that his employers can't, points out that nearly all the Liberal votes came from non-francophones.

Harper's huge gifts

The mistake that the G&M and others make is equating a provincial election vote with a decision on sovereignty or, to avoid that awful weasel word, separation. How many times does the Parti Québécois have to say that they will (if in power, of course) hold an election when the moment is favourable?

And, dare I ask it, how many times do I have to say that it would be better for national unity with either the Bloc or the ADQ in power rather than Charest?

Look what's happened since Charest, the saviour of the nation, took over power in Quebec. Quebec has been given the green light to be represented and heard at international conferences as if they were a country. Quebec has been given a huge gift of both money and constitutional power by the Harper government. Worst of all, perhaps, Quebec has been recognized by Ottawa as a "nation."

All this was done so that Mr. Charest could be sustained in power. How possibly could a PQ government have got more?

The federal governments of both stripes did what Pierre Trudeau would never countenance -- they bribed with "status" as well as money. That was why Trudeau opposed both Meech Lake and Charlottetown and why, for what little it's worth, I opposed them. More importantly, that's why voters of British Columbia by almost 70 per cent rejected the Charlottetown deal in 1992. It may not be the reason everyone gave but anyone with a gut that senses bad things knew that the deal, for whatever the reason given, stunk because it would have made Quebec something different, in legal terms, than other provinces.

History lesson

It’s been said that you can only see ahead if you can see the past. On the Quebec issue, only the willfully blind, which is to say all the Central Canada controlled press including the Winnipeg-based CanWest, plus most of the country's politicians, could miss the clear signs. Let's follow the progression.

When the 1867 British North America Act was passed, the leading Quebec spokesman, Sir George Etienne Cartier made it clear that a new Canadian nationality was the result. Unfortunately, Quebec didn't integrate in a mercantile sense and she became a province of doctors, lawyers, farmers and priests.

This state of affairs continued until 1960 when Duplessisism and Roman Catholic influence was driven from the political scene by Jean Lesage who demanded that Quebeckers be maîtres chez nous -- masters in our own house.

In 1976, one of Lesage's former colleagues, Rene Levesque and his party, the Parti Quebecois, gained power by demanding "sovereignty-association." Thus the state was ratcheted up from quiet, pastoral Christian Quebec to a point where some sort of Quebec sovereignty was fashionable to demand.

Then came the watershed moment after the 1980 referendum, with wording that would confound an Oxford don of English, was defeated on straight linguistic lines. Pierre Trudeau brought the Constitution to Canada without Quebec's signature. If matters had been left alone, allowing wounds to heal, the tactic might have worked. Quebec lost its challenge in its own Supreme and Appeal Courts and before the full Supreme Court of Canada unanimously. Every judge that heard the matter, being a majority francophone, rejected Levesque's claim that the federal government and the other provinces didn't have the power bring in a new constitution without Quebec's consent.

Mulroney's folly

Quebec separatists then got lucky, for who should appear on the scene but Brian Mulroney who knew a good short term political stratagem when he saw one?

Mulroney, who is only on bare nodding terms with the truth at the best of times, promised Quebec a new deal. Canada would be "made whole" again he said without bothering to consider that it already was that and would stay that way for a good while if no one threw the merde into the fan -- which is exactly what Mulroney did. We know what happened. We had the hugely divisive Meech Lake accord (sic) followed by the Charlottetown accord (even siccer).

This double header did one thing if nothing else. It established the term "distinct society" firmly into the political lexicon. We now had Quebec, moving from a pastoral mostly submissive position, to "maîtres chez nous" and followed by a "separatist" government to stage 4, the last steps to nationhood. Hugely assisting that last step was Jean Chretien. In 1996 he gave Quebec its coveted veto over constitutional change and agreed that the federal government, notwithstanding the Charlottetown Accord, would henceforth treat Quebec "distinct society" status.

By that time it might be argued -- and I would -- that Quebec had all but got sovereignty-association. If they hadn't, they got it when Michael Ignatieff called for Quebec to be styled a "nation" and Stephen Harper in a brilliant political move that will prove to be fatal to national unity, confirmed that Quebec was indeed a "nation."

The political hairsplitters, of whom Canada has a surfeit, argued just what the word "nation" actually means without considering that the political answer is "whatever most Quebec francophones think it means."

Now to top it all off, Harper, emulating Brian Mulroney, has handed a bunch of taxpayers' dough at Quebec City while admitting to a fiscal imbalance that didn't exist.

Brace for separation

That's where we are today as a Quebec minority a government will be formed by Jean Charest in a legislature -- oops, sorry!, National Assembly -- where 77 of the 125 seats are held by separatists with some, the ADQ, being a little more patient than the others.

How long now will it be before the time is ripe for a referendum on sovereignty which, for most francophones, will be a slam dunk?

Though nothing but death and taxes is inevitable, Quebec separation is close. Though, God knows, I was no fan of Trudeau, he understood that yielding to Quebec's demand for powers to distinguish it from other provinces, was classic appeasement and would lead to the consequences that sort of appeasement invariably spawns.

The worst of it is, when the inevitable happens, there will be no plan in place to deal with what's left over.

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