By Jason Menard
Monday’s landslide victory for the Quebec Liberal Party, while significant, should not be considered the death knell for separatism in the province of Quebec. In fact, if the right cards aren’t played, future generations looking back at this week’s election may see it as the watershed moment for a renewed sovereigntist movement.
The separatist forces within Quebec find themselves at a crossroads. Its leadership is aging and the youth of Quebec – and even some soft-separatists – have found a more comfortable fit within Mario Dumont’s Action Démocratique party.
The separatist movement is in dire need of an infusion of youth and fresh ideas to deal with the realities of the 21 st century. Ironically, it could be the actions of the new Liberal government that could provide that new infusion of youth.
Historically, separatism flourishes in times where the PQ is not in government. The party is better able to concentrate on its raison d’etre and not be bogged down with more difficult issues such as balancing a budget or improving health care.
A number of factors led to the PQ’s current loss, ranging from residual resentment over forced mergers, union disenchantment, and lack of faith in the leadership. The PQ was strongest with charismatic leaders such as Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard – suffice to say Bernard Landry did not captivate the masses in the same way as they, or even Mario Dumont, did.
However, the electorate’s political memories are short. These next few years of Liberal government are key. Mismanagement or public relations nightmares akin to those of their federal counterparts could spark a groundswell of disenchantment in voters, which could be quickly fanned into a blaze of anti-federalist sentiment within the youth of Quebec.
While good government may be the mantra, the reality of the situation is that the underlying causes of Quebec separatist feeling are still there. While French-English equality is greatly improved in the province itself, the essential fact of the matter is that French Canadians are still surrounded by an overwhelming sea of English. Consider the concerns Canadians as a whole have in protecting their culture from the overwhelming American influence, and now transfer that to an even smaller population of French-speaking people warding off the influences of English on their culture in this day and age where borders are disappearing courtesy of a number of influences, ranging from the Internet to Television.
If the provincial Liberals aren’t able to satisfy the needs of the masses, then we could see a startling reversal of fortune during the next election. Which is why it’s important for Jean Charest to separate himself (no pun intended) from his federal brethren and be almost belligerent in his efforts to bring to the fore the needs and desires of the Quebec population to the extent where he must be more pro-Quebec than even his PQ predecessors. Anything less, regardless of the intent, will be seen as a weakness by those soft federalists and separatists who donned Liberal red this election.
It is also important that the rest of Canada does not take an out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude towards Quebec. While the majority of people outside of Quebec may have finally breathed a sigh of relief, it’s important for Canadians across the country to continue to work towards improving relations with Quebec. They say a watched pot never boils, and by maintaining a focus on Quebec, federalists as a whole can work to prevent separatist sentiments from bubbling up.
By no means does this mean acquiescing to all of Quebec’s demands, but rather it does mean that we now need to move away from a confrontational style of negotiation between the provinces to a more open concept rooted in mutual understanding and support. There also needs to be a fundamental understanding and appreciation of the role culture plays in each society.
There are those that will apply the overly simplistic Darwinian theory on cultural survival, essentially stating that society should be able to be stand on its own two feet and survive on its own without outside aid. However, we live in a more enlightened age wherein it’s hopeful that we as a country have come to a point where we see how we benefit from being a bilingual nation, with two strong yet distinct societies living under one flag.
If Canada is truly worth working for, then now is not the time to rest, but to redouble our efforts as a whole for the future.
2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved