Separatism is back on the agenda -

Separatism is back on the agenda

Pauline Marois courts PQ hawks, and starts up an old Canadian debate

Separatism is back on the agenda

Photograph by Roger Lemoyne

As a general rule, Parti Québécois members are a restive lot prone to all-too-public displays of mutiny against whomever is at the helm. So it was no small feat for PQ Leader Pauline Marois to score over 93 per cent in her first confidence vote—the highest achieved by any Péquiste leader in the party’s history. No wonder the party’s congrès national in Quebec City this past weekend was more spirited love-in than any in recent memory.

Yet Marois arguably bought, not earned, her overwhelming victory. The party’s hardline faction has long been weary of Marois for a perceived lack of sovereignist sang-froid. Under her, former premier (and hard-liner darling) Jacques Parizeau said last fall, the PQ “uses the issue of sovereignty . . . as a baby’s rattle, something used once in a while to keep the militants quiet.” So the Péquiste leader doubled down, effectively allowing a broad swath of her platform to be dictated by the party’s language hawks—thus ensuring that language politics and sovereignist fist pumping will once again be front and centre in the lead-up to the next provincial election, expected in the next two years.

Marois’s victory also became campaign fodder for the federal election: Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe said “everything becomes possible again” with Marois’s victory, prompting Stephen Harper to suggest that anything less than a Conservative majority would be devastating to national unity. (Innovative Research Group’s Canada 20/20 online panel for Maclean’s and Rogers Media suggests a slim majority of Canadians believe him.) Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has accused Harper of using the issue to fear-monger.

The emphasis on all things language-related marks a new direction for the PQ, which has struggled to capitalize on the chronically unpopular Liberal government under Jean Charest. Until this past weekend, the PQ hoped to curry favour with Quebecers by emphasizing its history of good, scandal-free governance. The sovereignty issue, though not dead, was in deep hibernation.

Yet the Péquiste ranks­, unsatisfied with the PQ’s failure to mention sovereignty at every turn, shook the rattle themselves. Apparently, Marois has listened. Under new measures adopted at the congrès, a PQ government would apply Bill 101 to Quebec’s system of post-secondary schools. This means all francophone and allophone (neither French nor English) students would have to attend CEGEP in French. (Currently, Bill 101 only applies to primary and secondary schooling.) Delegates also endorsed the use of public funds for the study and promotion of sovereignty and extending the French language charter to businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Most dramatically, they came close to adopting a motion that would forbid all English signs in the province. Only after some last-minute wrangling was this struck down.

As for the chances of a PQ government, Marois isn’t popular with the electorate; the PQ, though, has made gains, and Marois seems to believe people will migrate to her party out of sheer Charest fatigue. But by reverting back to language politics, she risks the wrath not of her own party but of the voting public in general. The CEGEP measure, in particular, isn’t popular beyond a coterie of Péquistes and goes against the will of two-thirds of Quebecers who believe parents should have the right to school their kids in the language of their choice, according to a recent Léger Marketing poll. Both the Conseil supérieur de la langue française (a traditional ally of PQ measures) and Parizeau himself have panned the PQ’s CEGEP plan.

There may be a method to Marois’s madness, however. By appeasing the PQ’s fractious delegates in the short term, she is able to present the PQ as a force unified behind its leader. “Party discipline is strong for the moment, meaning the radicals will be kept silent as long as they think they’ll win the next election,” says St. Martin. “Then, the PQ will eventually trade ideology for power.”

Marois’s confidence vote puts a likely end to others’ leadership aspirations, including a rumoured run by Duceppe. “He’ll be a good number two in the PQ,” says St-Martin. “Marois will make him a cabinet minister, and he’ll be in charge of preparing the terrain for the next referendum.”

If there is another referendum. François Legault, who once declared Quebec “ungovernable” as a province within Canada, has apparently had second thoughts. The former PQ cabinet minister, who is itching to get back into politics, now says Quebecers should concentrate on education and economic development, not sovereignty. Polls have him far and away the most popular leader in the province—even though he doesn’t have a party, and hasn’t declared his intention to run.

The spectre of a PQ government, a likely strong showing by the Bloc Québécois­—and a former Péquiste who wants nothing to do with either: the next few years promise to be interesting for both Quebec and the rest of Canada.


Separatism is back on the agenda

  1. Oh god, what do you even say to this nonsense anymore?

    Forcing people to conduct business in a government approved language?

    Forcing families to send their children to government approved schools?

    Eradicating signs in foreign languages?

    Where does all this come from? Where's the personal freedom? How does real expressive culture arise in THAT environment?

    By all means I support the democratic right of communities to live their lives as they see fit, but be careful what you create for yourselves folks.


    • What is this foreign stuff, French was the first European language spoken in Canada. I love the French fact and trust it is never overpowered by the mass of Anglo North America, for all societies take measured steps to protect themselves. They take big measures to protect big treasures and small measures to protect small potatoes. I got 8 grandkids, 3 of whom have French as their first language as does about 25-30% of all Canadians, and I think it's wonderful.

      • Kind of missed my point there. I wasn't calling French a foreign language for pete's sake. Read it again.

        The PQ want to make it illegal for someone to put up a sign that isn't in French, whether it's english, chinese, german etc.
        They want to force small business owners to conduct their business in French, whether its a small family cornerstore run by that friendly Pakistani family down the street, or the local Souvlaki hut run by three Greek brothers. It's freaking ridiculous.

        I'm not sure how this limiting of personal freedoms helps anything or anyone.

        If the only way one can "defend" culture is by tearing others down, what does that say really say about your culture?

        Culture isn't even something to be "defended" in my opinion. It's something you live. It's part of your identity as a person. It's an expression of the self.

        How does forcing other people to keep their cultural expression in the closet anything but a stripping of rights and freedoms?

        These kinds of measures speak of fear and represents nothing more than a lashing out against that fear.

        • Nobody is forcing anybody. Immigrants are expected to eventually be fluent in either of the official languages and if your gonna settle in Quebec be aware it is a unilingual society who takes immigrants from the multinational Francophonie to which Quebec and Candad belong. Quebec mostly accomodated the Vietnamese boat people after America withdrew and the same is true with Haiti (hardly the same cultures as Quebec) but if one of your parents is Anglo you will go to an Anglo school if you wish. Culture is defended especially in Nova Scotia where a higher % can understand gaelic than in Scotland for all that is asked is that the opening salvo be in French if the visitor, tourist or otherwise cannot accomodate the language then work it out, don't loose the sale! All laws and bills are prepared in both languages, but the French copy is considered as legal. The friendly Pakistani or Greek thing is a canard, the Italian community seems to have thrived, but they do refer to multiple additions on a pizza as "all dressed". Truncated by odious laws about language I guess. I also guess you've never spent much time in Quebec, maybe just read the Francophobe Sun for references?

          • Errrr……..who orders 'tout garnie' pizza? I eat my pizza in the Plateau, not LIttle Italy….where if such a type of pizza existed, it would be called tout garnie, not all dressed.

  2. It appears the separatist movement (SM) is on the decline and its a who cares about whats on the PQ agenda. The people of Quebec have spoken before and it currently looks like the SM is not a mass movement there – instead it looks like a power grab by only a few.
    Today, the NDP has proven the weakness of the Bloc. The PQ and the Bloc are becoming more regressive/repressive to meet their ideals because they are boxed in – lack of interest in Quebec and the Supreme Court states federal approval required to leave the Canada Sovern – and they must respect the Law of Canada especially since they sit in the House of Commons!
    Thus, based on the courts it appears every other Canadian has to approve a change to the Canada Sovern – not just some power grabbers – and maybe Quebecers do not want to lose their right to the same Sovern? Oh and its kind of funny that Bloc Party states Quebec subsizes the Oil Sands – can they be taken serious?

    • Look furthere into it, Hydro Quebec go zip for it's costs to develope and market clean energy whereas Alberta got a ton of money. Per capita Quebec gets no more than any other Province by reason of the equalizaton payment scheme hammered out years ago when she an Ontraio were tops in wages. To-day both Ontario and Quebec get transfer payments based on that formula with the Maritimes the biggest benefactor of that scheme. Quebec contributes 20%+of all federal revenues and by reason of the recession is entitled to transfer payments. But for decades that was not the case especially when monies wre being thowns at the Tar Sands. So many myths about not toting thier own load has permeated, the truth takes some digging. They do many things themselves the rest of the country pays Ottawa to do and gets compensated for the costs accordingly which appears as charity/support….which is not the case.

      • Maybe U have good points here…but notwithstanding those,…the Tar Sands does not need Quebec or any province…and a federal Conservative gov. is more apt to support national projects like the Tar Sands either as partners or seed money. However, Quebec and Ontario get $$subsidies for their industries and they get the subliminal federal liberal party protection – strategic protection ( no other province gets that industry) and/or trading off. The liberals use the $$ from projects – like the Tar Sands – that they would not have invest in or supported, but then use the $$ windfall – eg OIL – to prop up Ontario and Quebec where the VOTES are.

  3. Layton Mania !

    Jack won the debates for me, no other leader can touch Jack as an average Joe Canadian you can TRUST.

    I was considering voting Liberal(ABHarperRegime), but when Jack mentioned the Liberal leaders lack of attendance it really hit a nerve for me, as I've always thought to myself that I just cant picture Iggy sitting their in opposition if he looses the leadership?, I think he'll be long gone back to his American home.

    The hardest working MP in Parliament, bar none.

    • I'm trying to be fair, but in all honesty, as soon as someone trots out that "when Iggy loses he's gonna go running back to Harvahd" thing, I immediately lose my ability to take anything else they say seriously.

    • This comment would mean a lot more to me if you hadn't posted it on like every article on the site in the last few days.

  4. No society is uni-anything completely. Ontario is supposed to be legally bilingual however she's multilingual with probably more Chinese speaking people than French. I don't get your point, a society can be officially French yet accomdate within the parameters of that society more than one language. Tell me have you ever been refused service from any level of govenrment in English? Legality and laws are one thing but every microcosm of society sets it's own ad hoc protocols.. Ever notice cops never broke into rock concerts to grab the grass so patently obvious? I've worked on a few campaigns and I'd have to think the Bloc ain't that smart in not reaching out but, they know their core and stick to it as does Harper. Guys like us are pure gravy to both. There is something about defiant in defeat, with magnamity in victory,….was it Churchill?

    • I think I better understand where you're coming from now. My point is that the BQ/PQ do a poor job of outreach, because they're afraid of alienating their rural and pure-laine base, especially after the ADQ scare from a few years back. So the French-English thing will never be settled by the current crop, and will have to wait until a new and broader grassroots sovereignty movement displaces them into the Yesterday bin.

      Until they resolve that tension they'll never be the truly cosmopolitian, sophisticated, internationally-credible force they aim to be (at least in their urban presentation).

      (Glad to see a new poster who's interested and engaged on the topic.)

    • I used to live in New York; there were Spanish language signs all over the place. Not everywhere, but a lot of places, esp. places like hospitals. Now I'm living in Montreal, where hospitals are legally prohibited from having signs in English unless they get a special dispensation from the province. I sort of get the reasons behind it, but think at some point it's gone a little too far.

      My big gripe, though, is with the "anglophone" exemption to Bill 101, which is far more narrow than most people seem to think. Even if your native language is English, you are still required to go to a francophone school unless your parents were educated in English *in Canada*. So, immigrants from the US, UK, Australia, Jamaica, etc., are required to send their kids to French schools regardless of the availability of English-language schools and parents' concerns about being able to help their kids with homework in another language.

      Drop this one provision, and I would be perfectly fine with Bill 101. But as it is, it is a huge part of why I wouldn't stay in Quebec long-term – I don't want my daughter to have to go to a French school when my French is not that spectacular. (Yes, I admit I need to improve my own French regardless.)

    • "In War: Resolution
      In Defeat: Defiance
      In Victory: Magnanimity
      In Peace: Good Will"

      I think this discussion is a matter of perspective lens. The PQ still sees themselves as in a war to protect les Quebecois from the Anglo hordes, miltant federalists defy every new language law because they recognize the defeat that is represeneted by 101's wide acceptance, soft federalists can afford to be magnamious (e.g. Conseil de langue superior, which has won overwhelming victory with primary/secondary schooling). And of course, last, but certainly not least, the overwhelming majority of Quebecois(e)s and Quebecors feel thtat the province is relatively at peace, and offer the good will of attending cegep in whatever language the student wants.

  5. If this is what Pauline is selling people aren't going to buy it. Support for separatism is dwindling and has been for years. You can have three Canadian nations (Alberta, Canada, Quebec) or one…

    • Don't forget all of the first nations, whose status as 'Canadian' is probably both historically and legally more ambiguous than les Canadiennes.

      • Many years ago, Liberal party leader John Stansfield Turner said, "If Canada is divisible, then so is Quebec."

        The big devil in the details is the First Nations. Most of Quebec, “New Quebec,” is aboriginal territory. Does anybody really think that the Innuit and Cree along James Bay want their children to be limited to French-language cégeps in the pursuit of higher education?

        Since the end of the Seven Years' War, the English have always had to deal with the French; Catholicism was recognized in Quebec before it was recognized anywhere else in the British Empire.

        However, the separatists have to deal with the First Nations.

    • Quebeckers have always wanted "sovereignty with association." But bear in mind, OC: a nation and a country are not the same thing. Canada is a different country from the U.S., but we have always had two nations, one that speaks English and one that speaks French, each one with differing perceptions of history as well as different cultures.

  6. Sursum;…maybe U have some good points here…but notwithstanding those,…the Tar Sands does not need Quebec or any province…but a federal Conservative gov. is more apt to support national projects like the Tar Sands either as partners or seed money. However, Quebec and Ontario get $$subsidies for their industries and they get the subliminal federal liberal protection due to such considerations as VOTE buying / strategic protection ( no other province gets that industry) and/or trading off. The liberals use the $$ from projects – like tar sands – to prop up Ontario and Quebec where the VOTES are.

  7. Until after WW2, the Tories could reasonably expect Quebec to fall into line under their banner. "Heaven is blue, hell is red," Quebeckers used to hear from the pulpit. Then Maurice du Plessis' Union Nationale split the conservative movement under the banner of separatism, and the Union ruled the province with an unbreakable padlock throughout the fifties. The Liberals under Jean LeSage freed the province from the domination of the Catholic Church during the sixties, but two of LeSage's lieutenants, René Levesque and Robert Bourassa became leaders of the separatist and unionist factions of what was once a united Liberal party. Now along comes Jack Layton. If the New Democrats get too big in Quebec, you can count on a separtist faction of the NDP emerging in La Belle Province, Pauline Marois or no Pauline Marois.

  8. Did anybody notice how old most of the people in that photo look? What are these baby-boomers going to do once they retire? I know! Wrench Quebec from the rest of Canada. Well, at least it will keep grandpa and grandma busy in their golden years.