The beginning of the end?
Lisée’s nightmare scenario comes true
The Toronto Star, Dec 2, 2000
QUEBEC CITY – IT WAS the nightmare scenario for Quebec sovereignists predicted by Jean-François Lisée in his book Sortie de secours, (Emergency Exit) a year ago.
Lisée, a former adviser to Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, warned that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien could win a plurality of Quebec votes, perhaps even a majority of Quebec seats, in the next federal election. That day, he said, would mark the beginning of the end for the Quebec sovereignty movement.
By Wednesday morning, when Mario Dumont, head of the Action démocratique du Québec party, rose in the Quebec National Assembly with a question on Monday’s election, the Bloc Québécois’ chances of keeping a majority of seats hung on a contested seven-vote majority in Champlain riding and 34-vote lead in Laval-Centre. And Chrétien had his plurality: 44 per cent of the Quebec vote compared to 40 per cent for the Bloc.
Dumont said the Parti Québécois’ drive for independence has isolated Quebec on an ice floe within Canada – « and, since Monday, the ice floe is melting. »
That brought Bouchard to his feet with some of the thundering oratory that is his trademark.
Support for Quebec sovereignty is like a « tensed spring » just waiting to snap forward, he said.
The independence dream is still alive, he argued, and supporters will come out to vote in another referendum.
Political scientist Louis Balthazar suggests it would take some fine gymnastics to deny that the federal election results are a problem for the PQ. « It’s obvious this will have a negative effect – the sovereignists, for the moment, are neutralized, » he says.
The PQ government’s reforms, first of the health-care system and now with a series of municipal amalgamations, are hurting it – and there are whispered questions about Bouchard himself, he says.
« Bouchard is getting older and his wife must be tugging at him to quit politics, » the Laval professor speculates. « He’s behaving like someone who’s not too preoccupied with setting the groundwork for a sovereignty referendum or making sure the PQ will be re-elected. »
Bouchard, who will be 62 on Dec. 22, bristled when asked on a television interview show whether he will be around for the next Quebec election. He intends to lead the PQ « for a very long time, » he said.
In any event, Balthazar believes the sovereignty movement might get the rebound it’s hoping for from an old ally – public opinion in English Canada, by which general impatience with the separatists could provoke the Prime Minister into making mistakes.
The situation today resembles the aftermath of the lost 1980 sovereignty referendum, he says. With Quebec sovereignists suffering « despondency, » then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau moved in for the kill. The 1981-82 amendment and patriation from Britain of the Constitution despite Quebec’s protests was a move that crippled the federal Liberals in Quebec until this week’s election.
« For English Canada, today, the Quebec question is all over, settled, dead – fini, réglé, mort, » Balthazar says.
« Chrétien could make a mistake like Trudeau did in 1981-82, launch some operation that would create a backlash. As long as we remain a minority in North America who continue to speak French, there will always be a nationalist movement. »
As if sensing he will be watched for an over-reaction on Quebec, Chrétien told his post-election news conference he has no illusions about the separatist movement disappearing. « I have always said that it will never be dead and buried, » he said. « These are words I never employ. There will always be people who will want separation for Quebec. »