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Canada: Hold-Out of Quebec Separatism Faces End of the Dream
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=49228"><span class="small">Martin Patriquin, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Sunday, 30 September 2018 13:47

Patriquin writes: "As a general rule, the streets are tidy and commuter traffic is wretched. And unlike most Montrealers, its citizens have enduringly and overwhelmingly supported the cause of Quebec separatism. But provincial elections on Monday are threatening the latter truism."

CAQ leader François Legault declared the idea of Quebec separatism 'dead' in 2016. (photo: Christinne Muschi/Reuters)
CAQ leader François Legault declared the idea of Quebec separatism 'dead' in 2016. (photo: Christinne Muschi/Reuters)


Canada: Hold-Out of Quebec Separatism Faces End of the Dream

By Martin Patriquin, Guardian UK

30 September 18


Provincial elections look likely to show there is no longer a desire to pursue sovereignty

he town of Terrebonne is a collection of shopping malls and housing subdivisions amid vast stretches of what used to be farmland a 40-minute drive north of Montreal.

As a general rule, the streets are tidy and commuter traffic is wretched. And unlike most Montrealers, its citizens have enduringly and overwhelmingly supported the cause of Quebec separatism.

But provincial elections on Monday are threatening the latter truism.

Terrebonne is one of the last few redoubts of the Parti Québécois, which seeks to extricate Quebec from Canada. But according to polls, the PQ candidate trails his opponent from the Coalition Avenir Québec, a self-declared nationalist party that is nonetheless comfortable with Quebec’s place in Canada.

All around Terrebonne, former fiefdoms of the PQ have either already fallen or are poised to be taken by the CAQ. Similarly, the CAQ wave will likely gobble up districts in and around Quebec City and engulf swaths of the province’s rural heartland – almost all of which were once reliably separatist.

The CAQ is vying to replace the governing Liberal Party of Quebec, which despite myriad corruption scandals has governed Quebec for all but 18 months of the last 15 years. Parti Québécois governments held referendums in 1980 and 1995 on the issue of Quebec sovereignty – and lost both. Now, in contrast to flourishing separatist movements in Catalonia and Scotland, both the PQ and its raison d’être look like spent forces.

“At a certain point you have to look at the numbers and realise that the dream of a separate Quebec is dead,” says Patrick Légaré, 44, who lives in Terrebonne.

Légaré once counted himself a true believer in the cause. He was a proud Péquiste for decades, and one of 2.3 million Quebecers who voted to separate in the 1995 referendum – only to watch his side lose by less than 55,000 votes.

After starting a family and becoming a high school teacher, his passion for sovereignty turned to resignation with the status quo. During this campaign, he volunteered to hang election posters for a local CAQ candidate.

“I’m part of the middle class. We haven’t had anyone in government in Terrebonne in a long time, and it shows in our lack of infrastructure. We need someone who can beat the Liberals – and it isn’t the PQ,” he says.

So unpopular is the cause of separation that PQ leader Jean-François Lisée renounced the idea of holding a referendum on the subject until a second mandate of a putative Péquiste government.

Despite this, his party has languished in the polls throughout the campaign and is now in a pitched battle for third place with Québec Solidaire, an upstart socialist party founded in 2006. The PQ’s diminished threat is the main reason why, for the first time in nearly 50 years, separatism isn’t a significant electoral issue.

The slow collapse of the movement lies in its demographics. Separatism began in the 1960s during Quebec’s “Quiet Revolution” – the bloodless overthrow of Catholicism and the Anglophone ruling classes that had both exerted an outsized social and economic influence in the province.

Early Quebec nationalists saw separation as a natural progression. Yet the movement wasn’t able to maintain itself through near-constant infighting and two lost referendums.

“To put it bluntly, old sovereignists are dying off and there simply aren’t very many young sovereignists to take their place,” says Claire Durand, a public opinion analyst at Université de Montréal. A recent IPSOS poll said only 19% of those ages 18 to 25 considered themselves separatists.

The CAQ has positioned itself as the receptacle of choice for disaffected nationalists. Lead by François Legault, himself a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister, the CAQ’s gains have come mostly at the expense of the Parti Québécois. A one-time diehard separatist, Legault declared the idea “dead” in 2016.

Legault has also criticised the current Quebec government’s immigration regime, suggesting the roughly 50,000 yearly new arrivals to the province have a detrimental effect on the French language and culture.

He has proposed French and “Quebec values” test for immigrants, with deportation from Quebec for those who fail either. (He has since backed off the deportation rhetoric – in part because citizenship is the jurisdiction of the federal government.) Critics say Legault is exploiting the collective fear of Quebecers for electoral gain.

“There is part of the population that has a tribal mentality, and Legault comes in with simple solutions and he asks nothing of his voters,” says Jean Dorion, a former politician and an enduring figure in Quebec’s separatist movement. Though immigration dominated both the rhetoric and the coverage of the campaign, many Quebecers don’t see it as a ballot box issue. A recent study by La Presse, the province’s main daily, said it placed well behind more pressing priorities such as the environment, health and the economy.

Légaré’s priorities are schools, infrastructure and an end to the Liberal reign — and that means bringing about an end to the PQ. “My vote for the CAQ isn’t from the heart, it’s practical,” he says. “We believe the dream for a country is dead and we just want to get rid of the Liberals.”

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