Seperatism for Quebec has gone into hibernation; it will take another generation or two to bring it out of the cave.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 8, 2014


While we held our breath Monday night, Quebecers chose to postpone their discussion on sovereignty and move on with their lives, largely shunning the two competing separatist parties for the federalist Liberals. 

 There are those who rationalize that the push for an independent Quebec may have been just a generational thing.  As the generation of Lévesque, Bouchard, Parizeau and Marois pass, the progressive leaders of Quebecs Quiet Revolution, so will the sovereignty debate they say.

 Outgoing Premier Pauline Marois mused that she had erred in raising the sovereignty issue during the campaign.  However, for a separatist party, committed to independence, to not have talked about their end goal would have been deceptive and dishonest.  And there were other factors for her failure, including a fractious campaign in which she played the desperate political leader, thrashing about, trying to blame somebody else for her inescapable tumble.

PKP with fist in the air

That fist in the air was the one thing the Parti Quebecois didn’t need – now they may have to live with Pierre Karl Peladeau as Leader of the Opposition.

It would be only fair to say that voters, concerned about a poorly performing economy and a soaring provincial debt, were looking for something more positive, and from a new government.  Many had tired of that divisive, some would say racist, Values Charterdebate which was offensive to the very way in which Quebecers see themselves, and typically are – respectful and fair minded.

The new Liberal leader, Couillard, was refreshingly open and unafraid to speak the truth about issues,  like the need for English in the workplace and Quebec society.  He spoke about bringing Quebec into Canadas constitution, closing the generational rift over the place of that province in Canada.  Of course, that will not be easy and he will face homegrown opposition, even if he can come to terms with the federal government and the other provinces.

 Make no mistake – separatism is not dead yet, and whether it comes back to life will depend on what we all do over the next four years.  The constitution is a good starting place, particularly as the governing Conservatives would like to amend the parts that pertain to the Senate anyway. 

Levesque losing

It was a bitter evening when Rene Levesque lost the first referendum. The separatists were to lose a second attempt to leave Canada years later.

 Quebecs economy is in critical need of rebooting with a national industrial strategy that would also benefit Ontario – a strategy which this government is reluctant to broach, preferring instead  to devote itself almost solely to promoting the export of petroleum.  

 A successful industrial strategy would necessitate reconsideration of our almost manic pre-occupation with international free trade deals, and renegotiation of some weve already signed, particularly those with nations that dont play by the same rules.

 Ontario could be purchasing more of Quebecs low-emission hydro power, rather than investing in more expensive and environmentally harmful gas plants.   And, speaking of inter-provincial cooperation and power, Quebec would benefit from addressing the unfairness in that dated Churchill Falls power deal, particularly if it would like access to more Newfoundland energy for its markets. 

 No doubt Quebec would feel more at home in Canada were we to get to know each other better.  Opportunities for this abound, including enhanced tourism, sporting events, and student and other exchanges which we often overlook, perhaps daunted by the prospect of dealing with the potential linguistic challenges.  And some of the answer there lies in language education within the school systems.

Marois losing

Several major political blunders cos the Parti Quebecois power in Quebec. It may take several decades – if ever – for a serious separatist movement to surface again in Quebec.

 Finally, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba have sizeable francophone communities, yet in this bi-lingual nation they remain officially unilingual English.  If a less well-endowed New Brunswick can afford official bilingualism, why cant these other provinces – at least in the longer term?  Language is a potentially fractious issue in nation-building.  One has only to observe the divisiveness that issue is causing in todays Ukraine.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.

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4 comments to Seperatism for Quebec has gone into hibernation; it will take another generation or two to bring it out of the cave.

  • Cora Slikker

    I am a soon to be new Canuck and one of the things I find charming about Canada IS the bilingual aspect. I am from Belgium originally, where there are no less than 3 language groups that have historically battled for dominance. The French speaking and Flemish (=Dutch) speaking mostly. Our neighbours to the north, The Netherlands, have a province that is bilingual. The Fresians. They are just proud of their heritage and all roadsigns are bilingual. Nobody is striving for independence, but all cherish their identity. I hope this will be true for Canada as well. I already think it is a pretty special country, so lets hope that the Canadians, whether French speaking or English speaking, do too and show the world that it is possible to live in harmony within the same country, speaking two languages!

  • Joan Turbitt

    I was pleased to hear that the Federal Liberals won the election in Quebec. Hopefully, we can now move forward from the very divisive and long standing separatist issues, along with the only one language French issue and all because as I understand it that they the French were here first. Does this mean that the Scots and Brits who were here at approximately the same time separated by I don’t know how long or short a period of time can have their own countries as well? NO. Why, none of them can because they were NOT here first, the First Nations Peoples of every description were here first. Using the logic of those who argue for separatism in Quebec and one language theirs then the First Nations Peoples should have their language(s) as official languages. I look forward to moving on and interacting with the peoples of Quebec in the many positive ways you mention Ray.

  • Gary

    Manitoba is officially bilingual in government services and has been for some time. Alberta funds a separate French language education in its schools.

    • Ray Rivers

      Thanks Gary – Indeed Manitoba was deemed bilingual when it became a province but shortly after declared itself English only. In 1985 a court ruling struck down its seventy-year-old English-only laws.