Maclean's cover story: The epic collapse of Quebec separatism

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The real enemy of the sovereignty movement is simply the march of time


Before the Parti Québécois imploded, Pauline Marois danced. On a chilly April night just over a week before the election, the PQ leader was in her element: on a stage, on her 65th birthday, in the arms of Jean-Pierre Ferland. Her favourite singer, Ferland crooned the words to his song T’es belle (“You’re beautiful”) in her ear and through a microphone to the roughly 2,000 PQ faithful swooning along in front of her. Members of Marois’s family, including her 88-year-old mother, watched as the pair sashayed back and forth in the blue light of Montreal’s Théâtre Telus.


“T’es belle,” whispered Ferland to Marois at the end of the song. Outside, well-wishers lined up in vain around the corner for a chance to get in. Inside, there was barely enough room to dance. Sweaty and festive, it was less political rally than fervent love-in for Quebec’s first female premier. “What a present,” Marois said afterward, her eyes rimmed with tears.

It might as well have been her swan song. Nine days later, the Quebec electorate handed the Parti Québécois its largest electoral defeat, in terms of the popular vote, in 44 years. It is arguably the largest moral defeat in the party’s history. Losing to the dreaded Liberal Party of Quebec, which was chest-deep in political scandal hardly 18 months ago, is difficult enough; losing to rookie leader and unalloyed federalist Philippe Couillard is that much worse. And losing an election that the PQ itself framed as a treatise on secularism and the survival of the French language is, quite frankly, catastrophic.

Sovereignty isn’t dead, but the movement is in serious trouble. In this week’s issue, Quebec bureau chief Martin Patriquin looks at the future of sovereignty in Quebec and where the PQ goes next after such a dismal failure. Look for this week’s issue on newsstands, or on your tablet.

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Video: The story behind our cover story

  1. > The PQ itself is at a crossroads: the Party stands for one idea, separation of Quebec from Canada and this election proved, clearly, that over 75% of the electorate does not want to hear about another referendum or separation.
    > What does Quebec want? Well, it used to be protection for the French language but after almost forty years of Bill 101 the French language is secure and this happened inside Canada, too. So, what do the people of Quebec want now? They what every Canadian wants; it’s right there in our “motto” and that is Peace, Order and Good Government.
    > This means good, permanent, well-paying jobs. This means healthcare that functions better than it does at the present time in some areas, great schools, great teachers, great neighbourhoods. It means keeping public debt under control, moderating excessively and unnecessarily large governments across the country. It means welcoming good people from all over the world who want to come here and live with us as we live.
    > At this point the PQ is basically a one note symphony and few are listening. The new Liberal Party Premier Philippe Couillard intends to mend the relations with all Canada that have been so badly effected by successive PQ governments. One Canada, one citizenship, one passport for all Canadians.
    > During this campaign this writer wrote hundreds of postings to support the “idea” that is Canada and against the close-minded policies of the PQ. Good sense has prevailed.
    > Common sense has prevailed in the people of Quebec. This election has clearly shown one thing: the Quebec electorate by 75% has rejected any further talk of another referendum or separation from Canada. The French language is secure now and the people here in Quebec see this every day.
    > The new Premier Philippe Couillard has an excellent team including three doctors and three highly respected world-class economists to deal with the key to his victory: improved healthcare and improved economy. He has already stated that he intends to restore Quebec’s place in Canada and restore relations with all Canada.
    > With the strong support in this election from all regions of Quebec he is off to a strong start. With wise decisions we can expect a Liberal government not only for the next four years but a strong chance of a second term. The PQ can only offer separation and the people clearly have rejected this path.
    > One Canada, one citizenship, one passport ! Montreal, Quebec, Canada

  2. And the worst part? A local city councillor is reigniting the fuse. The 514 isn’t going to get any peace, we’re still stuck with the national question, and our rotting roads are still nowhere near the radar.