There’s a recent article in the Global Post examining the actions of the Conservative Party government in Canada and the fallout from its increasingly unpopular policies, particularly in the autonomous province Québec. This time last year the nationalist movement in Québec looked like it had taken a major step backwards with the collapse in the vote of the province’s Bloc Québécois (BQ), the nationalist party at the federal level. There were very real worries that this would have a knock-on effect on its sister party, the Parti Québécois (PQ), which operates at the provincial level within Québec itself as it faced its own troubles (many of them down to internal rivalries or debates about the party’s future direction).
Now things have turned around somewhat after a period of considerable (and at times turbulent) change within Franco-Canadian politics. BQ is no longer looking the spent force some believed (or in the case of Canadian federalists, hoped) it to be, and may be ready for a comeback as some Québécoise voters seem to be already disenchanted with the federalist National Democratic Party (NDP) who they unexpectedly turned to in droves last year, in preference to their traditional BQ loyalties. At a local level some polls are predicting a strong showing for the PQ in expected provincial elections in Québec this year or next, and the target of retaking the government of the province may be back in the party’s sights again.
Meanwhile the Canadian federal government under right-wing Tory leader (and unapologetic Amerophile) Stephen Harper, celebrating a year in power on the back of a parliamentary majority, is continuing to enact a series of measures that seem almost purpose-designed to aggravate the traditional centre-left and social-democratic impulses of Québec’s population, both nationalist and federalist in nature.
“Harper celebrated his anniversary with a speech vaunting policies he said will “sustain the economy of tomorrow.” Many in Quebec beg to differ. They see an attempt to remake the country into an austere capitalist bastion, where the interests of Big Oil trump environmental concerns, where “tough on crime” means soft on gun control, and patriotism involves reverence to the British monarchy.
It’s a version of American Republicanism meeting the European welfare state. The difference is that in Canada, the clash involves a province the federal government estranges at the country’s peril — one that has already held two referendums on independence, the last one, in 1995, coming within a few thousand votes of making Quebec a separate country.
The warning signs are many, some coming from high-profile “federalists” — the term used for those who want to keep Canada united. The most noteworthy is Justin Trudeau, a federal politician from Quebec with the opposition Liberal Party. His father, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was a long-time prime minister and stalwart in the battle for national unity.
“There is a way of viewing social responsibility, openness to others, a cultural pride here in Quebec that is necessary to Canada,” the younger Trudeau told the public broadcaster, Radio Canada. “And I always say that if I ever believed Canada was really the Canada of Stephen Harper and we were going against abortion and going against gay marriage, and we were going backward in 10,000 different ways, maybe I’d think of wanting to make Quebec a country.”
The statement made headlines across the country, largely due to Trudeau’s pedigree. He’s also touted as a potential future leader of the Liberal Party, which last ran the country from 1993 to 2006. That ended when Harper first gained power with a minority government.
Separatist forces in Quebec sang hallelujah, while some federalists were shocked. In a later interview, Trudeau didn’t back down.
“The separatist option is not the bogeyman it used to be,” he said. “You ask me what the bogeyman is? It’s the one sitting in our prime minister’s chair right now.”
Quebec’s independence movement grew out of the so-called Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, a period when the province’s French-speaking majority shook off cultural domination of the Catholic Church and economic domination of the English-speaking minority. Since then, support for sovereignty has rarely dipped below 40 percent, and politics have been decidedly left of centre.
Harper spent years wooing Quebec, recognizing that winning many of the province’s 75 seats in the federal House of Commons has historically been the ticket to majority government. He even passed a law describing Quebec as a “nation” within Canada.
For almost two decades, Quebecers sent left-wing separatists with the Bloc Quebecois to parliament. Then, in the May 2011 federal election they suddenly gave most of their seats to the federalist New Democratic Party, which has socialist roots. Conservatives won only six seats in Quebec, but formed a majority government by capturing Ontario and the Western provinces. And the clash of visions began.
Needles to say, Harper’s fascination with the British monarchy — restoring the “royal” designation to Canada’s air force and navy, hanging the Queen’s portrait in federal buildings and celebrating her diamond jubilee — doesn’t go over well in Quebec. It’s a province where license plates read “je me souviens” (I remember) — a reference to England’s 1759 victory against France in a battlefield near Quebec City, which turned Quebec into an English colony.
The most bitter fight is over Harper’s new crime law, which imposes minimum mandatory sentences and gets tougher with young offenders. Quebec’s government, which prefers to stress rehabilitation and a more lenient approach to young offenders, has been scathing in its criticism.
“I don’t recognize myself in this Canada,” fumed Quebec’s justice minister, Jean-Marc Fournier, after a recent meeting with his federal counterpart.
All this is music to the ears of Quebec separatists, already honing their arguments for a provincial election that could come this year. “Quebec no longer exists for Ottawa,” said Bernard Drainville, a key politician with the Parti Quebecois, which held two independence referendums when it was in power.
Harper’s majority government has only been in power one year. Already, many fear his greatest legacy may be the breakup of the country.”
- Québec Nationalism On The Rise Again? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Québec Independence – Only A Matter Of Time? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Hebert: Harper’s alienation of Quebec just what the Liberals need – Toronto Star (thestar.com)
- Ignatieff insists remarks on Quebec were taken out of context (theglobeandmail.com)
- Celebrate the Charter, but don’t forget the scars of patriation (theglobeandmail.com)
- Kelly McParland: Mulcair and the separatists, a love story (fullcomment.nationalpost.com)