Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Don't Count Sovereignists Out
The electoral bashing was as painful to the sovereigntists as it was satisfying to federalists.
Things went from bad to worse with the recent defection of four hard-line sovereigntists from the PQ caucus, ostensibly over the Pauline Marois' forced support of Bill 204, a law designed to shield the city of Quebec from any legal action in relation to its arena with Quebecor, but in reality a denunciation of the party's go-slow approach to sovereignty.
Falling polling numbers indicate that the party is now trailing the Liberals, an unimagined turn of events that few would have predicted just one month ago.
To make matters worse, Francois Legault finally announced that he will be launching his new party in the fall and appears to have more support than anyone else. It's abundantly clear that Quebecers are tired of hearing about sovereignty and referendums. Mr. Legault has cleverly positioned his party as nationalist, but has wisely excluded talk of the big "R" or the big "S"
It's heady days for Quebec federalists, with newspaper article after newspaper article heralding the final demise of the Quebec sovereignty movement, but before breaking out the champagne we would be wise to reconsider that conventional wisdom.
I am reminded of the famous retort that the famous American novelist and humorist, Mark Twain made after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal.
"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!"
No, there's little doubt that the movement has suffered a setback, but those of us in the federalist camp who believe that the movement will peter out and die are sadly optimistic and perhaps are viewing events through rose-coloured glasses.
Looking at the situation realistically and unemotionally, we must reluctantly admit that despite recent events, not much has changed over the last ten or fifteen years in terms of support for the sovereignty option.
Notwithstanding the election results and falling polling numbers, support for sovereignty remains remarkably resilient and at a level that should continue to make life uncomfortable for federalist Quebeckers.
Despite all the sovereigntist bad news, between 35% and 45% of Quebeckers still remain committed to the ideal of independence.
And so if support for the movement remains stable, it would be fair to ask what happened in the last federal election and what happened to the Parti Quebecois' fall from grace.
In a word - fatigue.
Quebeckers have come to realize that right now and for the foreseeable future, the votes for sovereignty are just not there and they are tired of fighting and losing.
The 50% plus one referendum rule is a double-edged sword. Lose by just one vote and Quebec sovereignty is a no-go, as we came to learn in the last referendum.
As the old saying goes, "Close only counts in Horseshoes and hand grenades"
In many respects Quebec is less ready for independence than it was in 1995 when the second ever-so-close referendum took place.
Since then, the province has accepted almost 400,000 immigrants who will massively vote NO in a future referendum. Quebec's finances are in disarray and the province has piled on tens of billions of dollars in additional debt. Dependence on Ottawa's largess via equalization payments is at a record high and public confidence in its institutions and politicians (of all stripes) is at a record low.
Many Quebeckers who remain sovereignist are also pragmatists who realize that Quebec is in a mess. They've decided that it's time to put the sovereignty option on the back burner and concentrate on the more pressing issue at hand, getting the provincial house in order.
It's a concept that the old sovereigntist guard led by Jacques Parizeau have difficulty accepting. Facing down their twilight years, he and his aging cohorts simply don't have the time to wait for conditions to improve and so they selfishly demand that Quebec give it that another roll of the referendum dice, with the odds stacked badly against them. This reckless attitude, afforded by the comfort of a secure retirement, had the Young Turks of the Parti Quebecois seeing red. Just last week, they sent a polite letter to Parizeau telling him to butt out of affairs.
Intuitively, most sovereignist Quebeckers realize that the option must be put on hold until conditions improve, not necessarily sovereigntist conditions, but the general political and economic climate that has hit rock bottom.
Those Canadians smugly satisfied that the sovereignty threat is gone are sadly mistaken.
The 35%-45% number of sovereignty supporters remains problematic and disquieting.
I recall Richard Nixon's bold trip to China, at the height of the cold war in 1972 and the subsequent opening up of relations between the America and the Eastern giant.
It seemed that a Conservative president accomplished what no Democrat was able to do. It was an unexpected and brilliant coup.
In this respect I believe that Stephen Harper, in a position of strength and power, can have the confidence and determination to do what no Liberal could achieve. That is to make a constitutional deal that would drive sovereignist numbers way down.
Now is the time.
While the militant sovereignist would bray at any deal, most Quebeckers realize that perhaps half a loaf of bread is better than none.
If Canadians think that the prospect is not in their interest, they are wrong.
Posted by Editor on 6/15/2011 12:15:00 AM