Rumours, death, exaggeration


Quebec separatism has been eulogized more often than any other political movement in Canada. After the March 2007 election, in which the PQ garnered the smallest share of the votes since it burst onto Quebec’s political scene in 1970, it was tempting to write it off again. But after replacing André Boisclair, Pauline Marois seemed to have rallied the troops behind her no-referendum vision. She’s spent the past year closely stalking—at times, even leading—Jean Charest and Mario Dumont in the polls, and had seemingly united the often fractious party. But old habits die hard among PQ members—and the infighting is back.

François Legault greeted reporters outside a PQ caucus today with a surprising statement, saying he thinks the sovereignty issue should join a referendum campaign on the political backburner:

“People are saying: wait before making a big change. Isn’t there a way to solve the problems in health care, in our schools, the anxiety over the economy?” says Legault, who would rather draw a plan for good government.

“Unfortunately, we might need to do this in two steps. We first need to rebuild confidence and put forward an alternative, some governance projects,” he added, repeating that “it needs to be understood that there’s no appetite for the presentation of a collective project.”

The usual suspects—Marois, Turp—were quick to denounce Legault’s statement. But it will no doubt prompt a good bit of dancing in the Rest of Canada on separatism’s well-trodden grave.

It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that Legault’s idea of gaining confidence through good governance isn’t exactly new to the PQ: Claude Morin proposed a similar approach before the party had ever been in power. The étapisme strategy was even made explicit in the 1980 referendum, what with its unusual question that begged yet another. And despite Marois’s overtures to party hardliners over the course of her first year as leader, she’s also shown a pragmatic streak that might compel her to privately accept Legault’s take while publicly denouncing it.

Still, debate over the national question has never been about subtleties. So let the dancing/mourning begin, I suppose.